Pitching it at the right level

Today I attended a panel discussion, in which one of my clients interviewed their clients about their impressions of the firm. (I was reporting on the event for an internal publication). Asked about what makes a successful business pitch, several of the panel members said that avoiding ‘information overload’ was the most important thing to remember. The message was that small, focused presentations are more powerful than 200-page tomes – and that the firms they most wanted to deal with were the ones who could make complex information simple.

As someone who spends most of her working day turning wordy corporatese into clear, concise prose, I found it extremely gratifying to get confirmation that my services aren’t just cosmetic – I’m actually contributing to my clients’ bottom-line.

It also struck me that many of the other things these business folk were looking for from their associates – integrity, honesty, straightforwardness – were related to their desire not to be bamboozled by overly complex information. It’s hard to trust someone if you think they might be hiding something behind pompous, pretentious prose.

So here are my five top tips for keeping it simple and winning the trust of your clients – I’ll go into more detail in the coming days and weeks.

Watch your words Never use a word you wouldn’t normally use in conversation. Download the Plain English Campaign’s A to Z of Alternative Words (pdf). Pin it above your desk. Refer to it often.

Keep your sentences short If you can’t read a sentence aloud in one breath, it needs cutting. Stick to one idea per sentence – if there’s more than that, break the sentence up into two or more.

Don’t make your readers’ eyes hurt Keep your paragraphs short and break up complex information with headers and boxes.

Contrary to what you were taught at school, one-sentence paragraphs are OK.

Break the rules It’s OK to start sentences with ‘and’, ‘because’, ‘or’ and ‘but’. Words like these help to guide your reader through your copy. And you can quote me on that.

Beware the noun! Ruthlessly expunge from your vocabulary any long, abstract nouns – especially those ending in ‘-ness’, ‘-ity’, ‘-tion’ or ‘-ment’. Don’t say, ‘We have the capability to meet your risk management needs’, say, ‘We can help you manage your risk better’.