The Power of Words: 21 Writing Techniques

Scott Keyser

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*PS. Below you will find an auto-generated transcript of this episode.

Arek Dvornechuck: Hey, what's up, branding experts? Arek here at Ebaqdesign, and welcome to OnBranding Podcast. And my guest today is Scott Keyser, also known as "the Writing Guy." So Scott is a true wordsmith who understands the power of language to move, inspire, and persuade. And with over 15 years of experience, Scott has helped over 5,000 entrepreneurs and professionals to find their voice and to achieve the results they want from the words they write. Scott has also worked with top-tier clients, including The Economist Group, the Big Four accounting firms, three international law firms, and two barristers chambers. And Scott also authored two books on Copywriting. One is called "Winner Takes All," and the Other "Rhetorica."

So on today's podcast, we're gonna talk about how to formulate the right words to sell anything, whether it's a product or service, or just an idea. Hello Scott. Thanks for joining us today.

Scott Keyser: Hi, Arek. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you so much. So basically, you help people with three main things, right? Transform their writing win their bid, or nail their pitch, right? So it can be applied to many different things. So maybe we should take a step back, and can you just talk to us a bit about your background and how did you became the"Writing Guy?"

Scott Keyser: It depends, Eric, how far you wanna go back. I've had a lifelong love affair with the English language because it's the most amazing language, so rich and varied, and it's a lifelong process of learning. But funnily enough, actually, you know, talking of background, I was at primary school, so I was eight years old. And I wrote a story called I Am a Shoe, where I imagined that I was a piece of leather being fashioned into a shoe. And these nasty old factory men were sticking needles in me, and I was going, ouch. And ooh and, basically, a kind of imaginary Trip. Maybe Trip is the operative WordWord for what it was like being a shoe and on the end of somebody's foot. And the reason I bring it up is that I was at primary school with a lovely girl called Caroline. And Caroline, just last week, was going through her school reports and her archives as you do, and she came across my story. I'm assuming she sent it to me, and that took me back, what, 55 years?

So it started early, but obviously, your listeners will be more interested in more recent developments. When I started my career, I took a lot of wrong turns. I was the world's worst account executive in advertising. I didn't really enjoy it, and I should've always been on the third floor of Joe Walter Thompson in London, which is where the creatives were, the copywriters. But I came to writing relatively late in life at the age of 30 when I was in Australia, and I was traveling around. I was going out with an Aussie girl at the time, and I was traveling around, and I just sort of bludge my way into a PR company and started writing what they used to call "below the line" things, so merchandising, copy, brochures. I even wrote the odd radio commercial, and I suddenly realized, or sort of remembered, that I was good at this and I could make money doing it. And what was more I enjoyed it. So I did that in Australia for a couple of years, and then when I came back to London, I continued; I came back to London with a portfolio of work and got a job with a contract publishing house called Forward Publishing. And I worked as their main copywriter for about three years. The very day that they won a major banking account was the day that they interviewed me, and they said why don't we put you on. This new banking account was our main copywriter, and that kind of kept me fed and watered for three years.

And then I did various other things. I went into, and I actually joined Ernst & Young as part of a very small team of National Proposals Consultants and that's where I cut my teeth on bids, tenders, pictures, and proposals. And I did that for three years. That was a really grueling job, and we were regularly doing 90-hour weeks,but it, turned me into a really good bid writer. And that eventually inspired my first book, Winner Takes All, which you mentioned in your introduction. And so that's why one of the three things that I do is I help major professional services, mainly professional services firms, to win more bids and tenders. And when I was at Ernst and Young, we helped a UK firm to double its tender win rate.

But since then, I've trained over 5,000. Professionals, so lawyers, accountants, engineers, consultants in what I call persuasive writing.And on the back of that I've developed a writing system which when I wrote about it in my second book was 21 techniques. But in the last 18 months, I've actually nailed that down to 15. Very simple. Five planning, five drafting, five editing. And that pretty much brings us to, today because I've realized that obviously AI, generative artificial intelligence ChatGPT and Google's, Bard is all the rage at the moment. And I've realized that when people master my writing system, that helps them get the most out of ChatGPT or Bard.

Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah, that's a great introduction. And I'm glad you mentioned that ChatGPT and Bard, yes, it's booming nowadays and I've been using it myself just to do some research, but that's really interesting that you mentioned that, so you're saying basically that when people use ChatGPT or Bard and then they refer to your techniques, for example, that helps kind of a structure. The whole process and put it in the right like a structure or move in the right direction.

Scott Keyser: I wasjust gonna say just to sort of clarify it for your listeners. So I mean, it's obviously early days for all of us with AI and ChatGPT and Bard. In the last few days I've been playing around with it and I suppose there are two major ways in which my writing system can help people get the most out of AI and one is to write a really interesting and concise and creative brief. Because obviously what AI spits out at you in terms of text is really only as good as the brief you give it. And so being able to craft a really powerful and clear and concise and compelling brief for the algorithm is a major first step. And so having done that, I mean I've asked AI to do different things. One of the things I asked it to do, which is ironic, was to. Explain to me the difference between the active voice and the passive voice and the reason, it sounds uber grammatical, but the reason I bring it up is because a lot of business writers overuse the passive voice without even really realizing that they're doing it.

And what AI gave me on that brief, in response to that brief,was something that was accurate and it was competent. But it was dull. It was pedestrian and dull and not surprisingly, it had no humanity to it. There was no particular tone of voice.It certainly had no personality. And where knowing my writing system kicks inis that when you master my system, and it's really super simple when you master my system, you know which levers to pull in order to take what AI is given you and then take it to the next level of quality, impact and results in terms of clarity, conciseness, and impact. But if you haven't mastered my system and you don't really know what levers to pull, then the risk, and I think it's a very big risk, is that you will just accept what AI gives you, which in many cases will be suboptimal or not as good as it could be. Does that help?

Arek Dvornechuck:Yeah. It's gonna be very generic. I totally agree with you. I've been experimenting with ChatGPT. Maybe Bard is not as good as of now. But it brings us to those 21 persuasive techniques, which you actually get down to 15. so there are three different groups, so five for each.

So maybe we can talk about at least a few of them. Which you feel most important ones. And so that for example, my listeners probably are, entrepreneurs or creatives. Creatives need to write briefs, right? Entrepreneurs, they want to write their own, copy for the websites, emails and stuff like that, persuasive copy. Either way is gonna benefit them, whether they hire you or work with you, whether they do it on themselves. Or whether they use ChatGPT. What would you say are some of those most important techniques?

Scott Keyser: From mysystem. When of course, I would say this, wouldn't I? They're all important. But how do I answer that? There, there are a number of ways I could answer that. First of all, I've divided the system into five, five and five. Five planning, five drafting, five editing, and in fact, the five planning techniques, which are expressed as STORM, which stands for Structure, Timing, Objective, Reader, and Message, are incredibly important because, in my kind of whatever it is, 25 years experience of using these techniques. Planning is the most creative, but themost neglected part of the writing process. If everybody pays lip service to planning, they say, yeah, of course we should plan. It's a good idea. We need to do it. But actually, when the rubber hits the road, when it comes down to it, most people don't plan it. And if they do, they do it badly. So the five planning techniques are absolutely vital. Structure is more important than language because no matter how beautifully you write, if your communication is still structured, If your reader doesn't know where they are, where they've been or where you are taking them, then they're gonna stop reading. You're gonna lose your reader. And when we lose our reader, we've failed as communicators.So structure is vital. Timing is also important because if we don't set time aside to plan, then it's simply not gonna happen. The Objective is, why am I writing this? And another word for objective is purpose. So what? In what way am I trying to change the reader's behavior? Because my system is not about writing pretty flowing words or sentences. It's about one thing really. It's about changing the reader's behavior. It's getting them to do think or say something differently than they wouldn't have done if they hadn't read your words. And then the R in STORM, you asked me, which is the most important and it's this one. The R is reader. So write for your reader. I refer to almost as like a meta technique because it underpins the other 14 techniques in the Rhetorica system. It's called Rhetorica, by the way. And I've just taken the word rhetoric, which is the art of persuasion, and I've made it my own.

I listened by the way to your, yeah, I tried, I've registered as my own trademark and I listened to your very interesting interview with Andrei Mincov, was that his name? Trademark guy. And he was really interesting. So I've done with Rhetorica what he was recommending. It's my own WordWord, even though rhetoric. Yeah, I've trademarked that, but Right. Just getting back to the technique write for your reader is essential because if you don't write for your reader you ain't gonna have any. It's as simple as that. It's all about your reader. And this is, Ironically and paradoxically, Arek, this is not about writing. This is not a writing skill. This is more about emotional intelligence. This is about shiftingmindset from being writer centric to being reader centric and making everythingyou write, not about yourself, but about them. Because the moment we do that, we our writing automatically becomes relevant.

And studies have shown that people will read extremely long documents as long as they're well-written and relevant. So that, that's the Rof a storm. And then the M is message, what is our main message? What is the main message such that if we manage to convey it and implant it in the reader's brain, then we've succeeded. And conversely, if we failed to do that, we failed in our communications. So those are the five planning techniques which are absolutely vital. And I'm happy to talk about the drafting as well, which is obviously where the rubber hits the road and where we've got our plan, we reader centric, and then now we need to start committing to word choice, choosing the right words and sentences and all the rest of it.

Arek Dvornechuck: So let's talk about that. So, you just described five planning techniques. The strategy, how to plan how to have a good structure, good timing, how to find the objective of your writing. And the most important, as you already mentioned, is, to focus on your reader, to write for your reader. Like you mentioned, all of them are important considerations, but. Just focusing on your reader is probably the most important one if you had to choose one. And then the message you wanna convey and the acronym for that is STORM,

Scott Keyser: Yeah. ST O R M. Structure, Timing, Objective, Reader, and Message.

Arek Dvornechuck: Exactly. So it brings us to talking about, writing itself as you mentioned, right? Drafting. So can you talk about some of those techniques?

Scott Keyser: Sure.The acronym that I'm rather proud of for drafting is SCOTT, which stands for"Shorten your sentences", "Cure noun-itus", which is the overuse of nouns, particularly abstract nouns. The O of SCOTT is "Omit needless words", which is how we write concisely. The first T is"Trust" in plain English. In other words, which is neither formal nor slang, but sits in the middle of what we call the "register." And then the second T is "Turn your passives into actives". In other words, write predominantly or mainly in the active voice rather than in the passive. So that's SCOTT. Now the thinga bout what's interesting about those five drafting techniques and you can prove this scientifically using the readability statistics in WordWord. You don't need to use all five to improve your readability. Merely by using one of those five techniques, you will see your readability go up. So if we shorten our sentences or if we omit needless words or if we replace abstract nouns with verbs, words of action, and doing. Then automatically we're gonna see our readability as measured by a percentage increase. It's gonna go up.

Arek Dvornechuck: No, that's a great point. And I know it myself, I hire some writers to help me run my blog. And I've learned over the years that this is extremely important to make sentences short, easy to read use a lot of verbs. Use plain English when, whenever possible. And also, which you already mentioned at the beginning of our interview. To turn your passive voice into more active voice. And we do that. And I'm guilty of doing this myself, and we have all these tools, readability tools and they give us specific tips. "Hey, there's a lot of passive sentences, passive tone of voice, turn it into more active voice." So can we go through this again? I think I missed one. So, the S stands for short sentences

Scott Keyser: The Cis cure Noun-itus now, Noun-itus, it was coined, not by me, but actually by another Brit, another writing doctor called Rupert Morris. Who wrote a very interesting book in 1998 called How to Write Very, Very Simple" and he coined this term, and I think it's a brilliant term. It's basically the overuse of nouns, particularly abstract nouns. Some of your listeners may be wondering what's the problem with nouns? The thing about a noun, just taking you back to school for a moment, is a noun is a naming word. And the thing about nouns is they just sit there naming stuff, but they don't drive the story along. They don't drive the narrative. I'll give you a very simple example.

We might say something like, our specialism (noun) is the provision (noun) of health, (noun) solutions, (noun). So that's a short sentence bogged down in four abstract nouns. And so it's got no energy. It's really mired in the Noun-itus. The cure is really simple and easy. We just, wherever we can, we turn those nouns into verbs. So we end up saying something like, we specialize in providing those are verbs, health solutions. So it's a more balanced sentence already. We've got two verbs, specialize and provide, and we've got two nouns, health and solutions. So it's more balanced. But there is a problem. There is a problem in that. One of those words is what I refer to in my book as a SOW. S O W, A severely overused word. And that WordWord is"provide." Every time we use the WordWord provide and it's so overused in B2B writing, it's not funny. It's really not. Every time we use the WordWord provide, we have to follow up with a noun. I'll give you some examples. We provide advice, we provide briefings, we provide encouragement, we provide support. Just use the main verb. We guide, we advise, we brief, we support. So for the third and final version of the example I've just given you, you are banned from using the WordWord provide because it's a carrier. It carries the Noun-itus virus that forces you to seek out the main verb. And we end up saying something like, we specialize in solving (verb) your(personalization) health issues, concerns, challenges, problems, whatever it may be. So we've got two strong verbs in specialize and solve. We've personalized it and we've got two nouns because we can't do away with all the nouns in our writing, would be absurd. Our writing wouldn't make sense. So I'll just give you the first version again and you can hear the difference."Our specialism is the provision of health solutions." Full of noun-itus. We end up with when we cure noun-itus is we specialize (verb) in solving (verb) your health problems or issues or concerns. The verbs invigorate it and they make it shorter because the verb is always shorter than it's now an equivalent. Sol is shorter than solution, isn't it? Specialize is shorter than specialism. The verb is shorter than management. Perform the verb is shorter than performance. So you win in two ways. Not only do you invigorate your writing with verbs, you also make it shorter.

Arek Dvornechuck: Andyou hear the other point that you make about keeping short sentences, right?And using short words as well. Yeah. I think that's great. And our listeners can understand the concept by listening to those example that's actually really interesting that you just talked about,

Scott Keyser: I work for the last 22 years or whatever you mentioned in your intro. I've trained over 5,000 professionals now, lawyers, accountants, engineers, highly educated, intelligent, clever people, and they come out of my one day workshop and they say, this stuff is so simple. All these years we've been complicating it and needlessly formalizing and complicating our language. And my techniques are just like, they're almost like fifth grade stuff, The active, and the passive voice is pretty much as grammatical as I get, but the others are, anybody who is already literary who already knows how to read and write will get my techniques in minutes,

Arek Dvornechuck: So these are the fundamentals that we have to actually pay attention to because if we skip those fundamentals, then it's really hard to move forward with, and make it compelling We've discussed, five techniques for planning for the strategy. Five techniques for writing for drafting. And then another five techniques.

Scott Keyser: So there are five editing techniques which we move on to, and they're expressed asSTRAP, S T R A P and the S stands for score your readability, which is using the readability statistics in WordWord. That basically within 30 seconds will give you a percentage score as to the readability of your writing. And I'm happy to spend more time talking about that. Sothat's the S , Score your readability the T is Test for structure. So even though structure is essentially a planning technique, it remains so important throughout writing process that even when we're editing we need to check that, structurally it hangs together. There's internal coherence, it makes sense. And then the R of STRAP is one of my favorite. And in fact, I posted something on LinkedIn this morning about it because it's so ludicrously simple and so elegantly effective. The R stands for ROL. Read your writing out loud. And that's something that every professional writer does because when we read our writing out loud, we hear every single WordWord audibly. It forces us to utter every single word. So it's a great editing and checking technique. It slows us down. It also allows us to assess the tone of voice of our writing and judge how it's gonna sound to our reader and make them feel.

And you know, even if we're writing something, creative, let'ssay we're writing poetry or we're writing a novel, I would still advocate reading out loud because particularly in poetry, obviously the cadence and the rhythm.

And the music of a poem is so vital. As I say, I was writing about this just this morning, and when we read it out loud, we can feel it. We can not only hear it, but we can feel it in our bodies because as our voice is creating sound waves and vibrations in our body. And we can feel the cadence and the rhythm and the music of whatever we're writing or the lack of it, which in itself is useful. So the R is, Read out loud, something that all your listeners must do when they're writing. And it's something that every single pro writer does. And then the A of STRAP is very simple, Ask someone else to read it because when we are writing, it's very easy to get too close to our work. Asking somebody else to review it. Ideally, somebody who's not involved and maybe not familiar with the topic is a great way of giving us distance on what we've written. And then the P of STRAP is the very last thing that we do that stands for proofread. Because we need to make sure that however long our document is, there are no typos in it. Because typos, even one typo in our writing, what does it convey to our reader? It tells the reader we couldn't really care, we're careless.That's not a message we want to give to them. So that's STRAP. S T R A P.

Arek Dvornechuck:Yeah, that's great. I totally agree. I really like the one "Read Out Loud", which I started doing, few years ago. And since then I keep doing this every time. I write something and I tell my writers to do that. And because this is like probably the best way to judge your own, writing to your own style, you can hear it. You're forced to read out loud and then by doing so, you can, actually see if it all makes sense. You can remove the words that are not necessary or parts that not necessary. You can make it more concise.You can make it more interesting and you can replace some of the words with better, synonyms and stuff like that. So that's extremely important. I totally agree with that. And also, ask someone else to read it. That's, also very important to get like someone else's perspective because sometimes we are so close, we are in our own world. We know it, we know the subject, but it also needs to make sense to the outside world, right?

Scott Keyser: You put it in a very good way. I'm just making a note you're quite right, Arek. We, as writers, we can get stuck in our own world and we need to step outside that and step into the reader's world actually. So that's a very good way of putting it.

Arek Dvornechuck:Yeah. That's super interesting. I'm glad we had an opportunity. To discuss some of those techniques. And again, we are gonna link to Scott's book for you guys to check it out. It's available on Amazon. You can also visit Scott's website. It is Write for Results. That's his company again, we gonna link To your website, and let us know what's the best way to connect with you. Are you active on LinkedIn?

Scott Keyser: Yeah, I'm very active on LinkedIn. As I mentioned. I posted something there about R O L this morning R O L and AI, actually. It would be great if some of your listeners could take a look at that. But yeah, connect with me on LinkedIn. Just put in the search bar Scott Keyser, the writing guy, and I'll come up.

Arek Dvornechuck: Awesome. So we're gonna link to your book, to your website, to your LinkedIn for you guys to check it out. And again, these are fundamental techniques. Scott has nailed them down over decades, and even it was 21 before, now it's just 15. It definitely can help you write your copy. Or you can just use these techniques in combination with some AI. AI is booming nowadays. I'm glad you brought that up because a lot of people using it, but if you're using this incorrectly of basic prompts, you're gonna get basic results and very generic results. So it's a good tool to just start, probably, find some ideas, do some brainstorming, but then, of course, you would just, Have to revise that, refine that to really get to some copy that sounds like a human right. And it's actually persuasive, and it's actually original and unique. Thanks for coming on the show again. I appreciate that.

Scott Keyser: Thank you, Arek. I hope it's been useful and of interest to your listeners. I really do.

Arek Dvornechuck:Yeah, it's been great. Thank you so much. Talk to you soon.

Scott Keyser: Thanks a lot.

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