FORTY-TWO MISTAKES on the back cover of a memoir…How does that happen??

You think you’ve seen everything, and then a 90-year-old gentleman who sits behind you at church hands you his memoir, which was published by a local press, and you see no fewer than FORTY-TWO mistakes in the back-of-the-book material. You’ve got misspelled words, incorrect capitalization, crazy quotation marks, hyphens when you need dashes, hyphens when you don’t need them, commas where they shouldn’t be…every mistake under the sun is made in these two paragraphs.

Here’s the original text, and the text with the numbered mistakes follows.

There’s just no excuse for this.

As printed:

ABC is a combat veteran of WWII 1943  –  1945
…with ‘Mommy’s permission, he joined the United States navy at the age of 17. ABC was born in Northern Illinois the city of Rockford, Illinois 1925. He went to WAR in 1943 in the U. S. NAVY. Under Physical examination Naval medics found the sailor candidate to be too ’color blind’ to serve on a Naval vessel, ”You are now a Naval Seabee!” The Seabees were the construction battalions for the Navy. We built docks for our ships, airfields for our NavaL Flyers, hospitals, roads and camp sites through-out the South Pacific.
ABC, graduated from Drake University under the GI Bill in 1950 claiming a number of degrees of  ’learning’  Humanities, Construction,  engineering. He earned many fields of endeavor. His classroom was the arena of ’live experience’. His teachers were the ’old men’ of the Seabees in their 30s and 40s. He claims his educators served him ’rewardingly’ for his future life experiences. He claims his book XYZ brings you a synopsis of an education no youth could buy!
Ponder and enjoy XYZ, a collectiom of photos and recordings of a Seabee OF  WWII).

With mistakes numbered (before the mistake):

ABC is a combat veteran of [1] WWII [2] 1943  –  1945
…with [3] ‘Mommy’s permission, he joined the United States [4] navy at the age of 17. ABC was born in [5] Northern Illinois [6, 7] the city of Rockford, Illinois [8, 9] 1925. He went to [10] WAR in 1943 in the U. S. [11] NAVY. Under [12] Physical examination [13] Naval medics found the sailor candidate to be too [14] ’color [15] blind’ to serve on a [16] Naval vessel, [17] ”You are now a [18] Naval Seabee!” The Seabees were the construction battalions for the Navy. We built docks for our ships, airfields for our [19, 20] NavaL [21] Flyers, hospitals, roads and [22] camp sites [23] through-out the South Pacific.
[24] ABC, graduated from Drake University under the [25] GI Bill in 1950 claiming a number of degrees of [26, 27] ’learning’ [28, 29] Humanities, [30] Construction, [31] engineering. He earned many fields of endeavor. His classroom was the arena of [32, 33, 34] ’live experience’. His teachers were the [35, 36] ’old men’ of the Seabees in their 30s and 40s. He claims his educators served him [37, 38] ’rewardingly’ for his future life experiences. He claims his book SEABEE brings you a synopsis of an education no youth could buy!
Ponder and enjoy XYZ, a [39] collectiom of photos and recordings of a Seabee [40] OF [41, 42] WWII).

Lemme ask you a question: how the hell do you spell “collection” with an “m”???

 

The River that is Comma

Let’s start talking about COMMAS.
I am going to dip my toe into the river that is Comma, and take a look at some really obvious, glaring mistakes I see people making with comma use. The first mistake we’re going to look at is the bad habit of putting commas around information that is essential to the meaning of the sentence.
One of the roles of the comma is to add information that is nice to know but not absolutely necessary to the sentence. The rule is that you must be able to remove the information (and any adjacent commas) and still have a sentence that makes sense.

Let’s look at this sentence:
Certified yoga instructor, Michelle Owens, will lead a class that beginners and experienced yoga practitioners alike will enjoy.
Here, the information added is the name of the yoga instructor, “Michelle Owens.”

However, if you take the name of this “certified yoga instructor” out of the sentence, does it make sense?
No, it doesn’t.
You could say this:
A certified yoga instructor, Michelle Owens, will lead a class that beginners and experienced yoga practitioners alike will enjoy.

You could also say this:
Michelle Owens, a certified yoga instructor, will lead a class that beginners and experienced yoga practitioners alike will enjoy.

But that’s not what was said. “Michelle Owens” is necessary to the meaning of the sentence as written, and so those commas are incorrect.

Let’s look at another sentence:
Her husband, Bill, came with her.
If you took the information in between the commas (which is called “parenthetical” information), out of the sentence, you’d have: Her husband came with her. No problem there.

Here’s another example:
My dog, Grace, came with me.
I have one dog. Her name is Grace. “Grace” has to be in between commas.
Okay. Here’s a wrinkle.
I have two dogs. Their names are Grace and Penny. Grace came with me, and Penny stayed home.
My dog Grace came with me.
It is necessary to specify which dog came with me, so “Grace” becomes necessary to the meaning of the sentence. No commas.

Here’s why I thought I’d start this conversation, and here’s why it’s so important that you put out promotional materials that are correct.

When you are going to give a program about punctuation and grammar to an authors group, it’s just a tad provoking to find that the person putting together the host’s flyer has gone in and changed your text, the text you spent hours working on, introducing no fewer than eight mistakes. It’s really a terrific example of what you don’t want to happen!
One of the mistakes that were made was introducing commas where there were none before.

Let’s look at this sentence and focus first on the commas surrounding my name:
The guest speaker is author, editor, and professional speaker, Liz Coursen, who will discuss, “WRITE Right, Right NOW! An EXCITING Editing Workshop.”
The rule is that when the commas are removed around the information about the “guest speaker,” the sentence still makes sense. Does it? No. The name of the “guest speaker” is necessary to the meaning of the sentence, which makes the comma in front of my name incorrect. Did I have that comma there in the original sentence? No, no I did not.
Oh, but there’s more! Is the name of the workshop necessary to the meaning of the sentence? Why yes, yes it is. So the comma after “discuss” is incorrect as well. Two extra commas, two mistakes—neither made by me. Damn it!
Did the woman who “edited” my information and inserted the mistakes attend my workshop? Despite a personal, if glacial, invitation, no, no she did not.

So, lesson learned: Tell people you want your promo material put out JUST LIKE YOU WROTE IT. I wouldn’t think you’d have to say it but, obviously, you do.

More on commas soon. Just be thinking about them, okay?

An observation about editing.

I have presented four editing workshops in the past month. “Before You Even Open Your Mouth,” which I presented three times, is specifically for professional speakers. “Write Right, Right Now!” is specifically for authors, and I presented that once. Each workshop featured two self-tests, and each of the self-tests had 21 sentences.  The sentences on the self-tests for the speakers groups were speaker related, and the sentences were from “professional” speaker websites; the questions on the self-tests for the author group were more author related, and those were taken from the websites of editors, publishers, and professional authors.  I didn’t get too “deep” into editing because of time constraints, so I focused on basic principles: it’s versus its, spelling, the placement of quotation marks, noun-pronoun agreement, and so on.

The reason I’m saying all this is because I started noticing—and my audiences weren’t far behind—that the writers of the “featured” sentences not only made one (or more) punctuation/grammar/misspelling mistake in each of the sentences, their writing itself was bad. People in my audiences were trying to improve the writing as well as correct the mistakes. I had to keep saying: Ignore the writing! We’re here to talk about punctuation and grammar!

And my point—finally—is this: The lack of a foundation in basic punctuation and grammar rules leads directly to poor writing. In other words, you can’t build on a shaky foundation. Punctuation, at its core, is about organizing thoughts. Without a logical way to organize a thought, the thought can’t be communicated clearly.  You might be able to write poorly but correctly—God knows lots of people can pull that off; however, I do not believe it’s possible to write well but incorrectly.

I hadn’t really seen this connection until yesterday, when I finally had enough experience presenting these workshops to realize that each time I’d given the workshop my audience was frustrated about the quality of the writing, and I decided that the reason the writing was so bad is because you can’t have good writing without good punctuation. It can’t happen. It doesn’t happen.

The siren song of sloppiness.

Rule #1: Don’t speak for free. When you do, the organization thinks you’re crap.

Rule #2: Don’t speak in your hometown. One county over, you’re like the Second Coming. In your hometown, you ain’t chopped liver.

I learned those lessons years ago. Learned them, but ignored them.

Last year I volunteered to present a punctuation and grammar program at the Sarasota Authors Connection. This business about editing is important; people need to know. I’ve been attending its meetings for years, and spoke there (for free) two years ago about book tours. I got the spot as the speaker at the May meeting, which was last night.

I worked very hard on my promotional material for the flyer. I spent hours trying to get everything just so.  I sent the text in as a PDF, simply so there couldn’t be changes, but the person doing the flyer couldn’t use PDF, so back it went in Word. When it was published, I was flabbergasted to discover that 8—EIGHT—punctuation and grammar mistakes had been introduced to my text.

I wrote the flyer writer a relatively calm email, and then a second inviting her to the program. She needs it! She definitely needs it. But the point is this: why did I spend hours putting together a flawless text if she is going to take it upon herself to introduce mistakes? I did tell her that if I was thinking about coming to the program, the program about editing, and I saw 8—EIGHT—mistakes in the text about the editing program, I’d laugh my head off and wouldn’t go. And, irony of ironies, the one mistake I did make, saying the meeting started at 6:15 and it started at 6, she didn’t touch! How stupid is that?

Well, since the location is fairly close, I went out three weeks ago to make arrangements for the projector and think about the best way to set the room up for the workshop. I got permission to put tables out and, instead of having to break down the room right after the meeting, I got permission to return the next morning (first thing!) and break the room down.  I called last week to verify that the plans were still in place.

I spent hours putting together an author-specific PowerPoint. I spent hours putting together not one but two author-specific handouts for the two self-tests, which coordinated with the PowerPoint. To keep things easy, one self-test was printed on blue paper, the other on yellow.

I got there yesterday at 3:45. I set up the room. I displayed my nine books on two six-foot tables, with a table skirt, business card racks, phone charging with Square in place—the whole nine yards. This is what I do.

At 5:30 the organizer came in and went nuts. Can’t do this, can’t do that, blaa, blaa. Then she lit into me for criticizing “her friend” who “is not an author and doesn’t care about writing” for the mistakes in my copy.  According to the organizer, eight mistakes is “no big deal. No one cares!” You have to picture someone who is sloppy, someone who looks like a hillbilly bag lady, getting in your face and saying this to you, when you’re about to put on Manolo Blahnik heels and your good pearls to address her group, to educate her members.

I broke down the room, returned the projector, and took my books out to the car. I stood outside in my jeans and a T-shirt, and then a friend of mine, who is not in the group but who came at my invitation, walked up. She’s also a professional speaker, and we talked and I decided I’d give the program with the handouts. Easy.

I changed into my “author lady” outfit in the ladies’ room, and did it. Did I miss the PowerPoint? You bet. Was the program as good as it should have been? No, not at all. Did the audience members get my best? No, I’m sorry to say, no they did not.

But when it was over, I picked up the garment bag with my jeans and shoes in it, and my clipboard with the extra handouts on it, and I just walked out. Easy. No hurried change of clothes in the bathroom. No returning of the PowerPoint projector. No schlepping of boxes of books. No race to beat the closing. No having to return to break the room down first thing the next day, when I’ve got to take my mother out to lunch.

I got home, and it was like a revelation. Why am I knocking myself out to do all this stuff, when no one cares? It doesn’t matter! I can show up like everyone else, looking like a street person, with a cardboard box of six books in my hands. And, really, why do I care about educating authors about basic principles of American English? Why do I have to do a PowerPoint? Why do I care about how my text looks on some group’s flyer?

Well, I do. It turns out I do care. There’s something in me that won’t be sloppy. I guess the trick is to find people who are committed to excellence, people who are interested in learning and not playing defense—finding those people and hanging out around them.

To the audience last night at the Sarasota Authors Connection: I’m sorry. I should have hung tough and given you my very best. To Susan and Paula: fuck off. You are sloppy and I won’t be associated with you.

Life is too short to be around sloppy people.

 

 

Answers to the “‘Professional’ Speakers Who Really, Really Need to Watch What They Say” Quiz

1. 12 REASON WHY YOU SHOULD ATTEND THIS PROGRAM
“Reason” should be plural.
2. He is in the development phase of launching a book publishing company which will published and distribute his leadership and business management books, audio and video products.
Too awful to even edit. But, of course, I have to. All right.
“Which” should be “that.”
“Published” should be “publish.”
And, for clarity, I’d stick another “and” in between “management books” and “audio and video products”: leadership and business management books, and audio and video products.
But—believe it—the best thing to do is rewrite completely.
3. In the 1970’s, 70 to 80 percent of all civilian and military aviation accidents were occurring as a result of human error. (From someone who charges $10,000 plus!)
The plural of a year is formed by adding an “s”: 1970s or ’70s.
4. 2/3 of career professional don’t enjoy their work.
Don’t start a sentence with a number if you can help it, and never start a sentence with a fraction. Plus, “professional” should be plural.
5. Topic Development: Right Story, Right Time to Throttle Your Expertise into More Business
This is not a sentence but a sentence fragment (since it’s a title, that’s okay). However, to “throttle” means to choke, as in “try to kill,” which is not the right word (at all) for this sentence.
6. Throughout history there’s been leaders who have shook the world with their passion, voice, message, and charisma.
“There have been leaders,” not “there has been.” Leaders conjugate correctly.
7. She knows what will work, and will not work, in order to see growth using brain-based, differentiated instruction and inclusive co-teaching.
What the heck is “brain-based”? That’s about the stupidest sentence I’ve ever seen.
8. Being a member of the Miami Public Speaking Association has it’s perks.
It’s = the contraction of it is or it has. (Not many “perks” there!)
9. Stress serves you, which is it’s true purpose.
It’s is not the possessive of it is. It’s is the contraction of it is or it has.
10. “Its the number of minutes in each day”, she says.
Two mistakes: Its should be “it’s,” and the comma needs to be inside the quotation marks.
11. In 2011, he found his beautiful bride Margot and together they paid off over $115,000 in debt in just 2yrs and 6 months!
This is a comma splice: you need a comma after “Margot.” Spell out all whole words up to ten, and don’t miss the space between the number and “years.” And “years” should not be abbreviated anyway.
12. His passion is making a difference in people’s lives by teaching critical thinking skills that leads them towards self-sufficiency.
“Skills” is plural, so “leads” should be “lead.”
13. These organizations represent some of the best public speakers from across the country and has helped booked speakers at dozens of events at corporate, non-profit and educational institutions.
Noun-verb mistake: “organizations” is plural, and “has” is singular.
14. The average employee will spend 3.2 years of their life in meetings.
Noun-pronoun problem: “employee” is singular, “their” is plural.
15. Personal branding can make a huge difference in a student being able to differentiate themselves from competitors that are vying for the same job offers and open positions.
Again, noun-pronoun problem: “student” is singular, “themselves” is plural.
16. These events are much more intimate than our public offerings and often impromptu as we hear of a speaker who is in town and willing to share their time.
Same thing: “speaker” is singular, “their” is plural.
17. Have you ever met someone who had a great idea but they weren’t effective at delivering their message?
And again: “someone” is singular, “they” is plural.
18. In this fascinating, interactive and fun workshop, every person on the team learns to discover and use their strengths to reach team goals—even “impossible” goals.
Same thing: “every person” is singular, “their” is plural.
19. She was very organized and prepared wonderful handouts that each participant could use to identify their strengths, weaknesses and fears in regards to public speaking.
One more time… “Each participant” is singular, “their” is plural.

“Professional” Speakers Who Really, Really Need to Watch What They Say

My newest book, Before You Even Open Your Mouth: The Writing Guide for Professional Speakers, illustrates the need for professional speakers to really pay attention to what they say—in writing. Event planners, potential hosts, potential audience members…people are reading about your services 24/7, so it behooves you to make sure your prose is clean and it is correct.

Below are sentences and sentence fragments from “professional” speakers who look anything but on one particular so-called speakers bureau website. Oh, wait, there’s a second “professional” speakers website represented as well; Question 16 comes to us compliments of the National Speakers Association. The source isn’t the point, however, because it’s a real mess out there, no matter where you look. So here’s the question for you: Why are these people shooting themselves in the foot before they even open their mouth?

Answers follow next week!

  1. 12 REASON WHY YOU SHOULD ATTEND THIS PROGRAM
  2. He is in the development phase of launching a book publishing company which will published and distribute his leadership and business management books, audio and video products.
  3. In the 1970’s, 70 to 80 percent of all civilian and military aviation accidents were occurring as a result of human error. (From someone who charges $10,000 plus!)
  4. 2/3 of career professional don’t enjoy their work.
  5. Topic Development: Right Story, Right Time to Throttle Your Expertise into More Business
  6. Throughout history there’s been leaders who have shook the world with their passion, voice, message, and charisma.
  7. She knows what will work, and will not work, in order to see growth using brain-based, differentiated instruction and inclusive co-teaching.
  8. Being a member of the XYZ Public Speaking Association has it’s perks.
  9. Stress serves you, which is it’s true purpose.
  10. “Its the number of minutes in each day”, she says.
  11. In 2011, he found his beautiful bride Margot and together they paid off over $115,000 in debt in just 2yrs and 6 months!
  12. His passion is making a difference in people’s lives by teaching critical thinking skills that leads them towards self-sufficiency.
  13. These organizations represent some of the best public speakers from across the country and has helped booked speakers at dozens of events at corporate, non-profit and educational institutions.
  14. The average employee will spend 3.2 years of their life in meetings.
  15. Personal branding can make a huge difference in a student being able to differentiate themselves from competitors that are vying for the same job offers and open positions.
  16. These events are much more intimate than our public offerings and often impromptu as we hear of a speaker who is in town and willing to share their time.
  17. Have you ever met someone who had a great idea but they weren’t effective at delivering their message?
  18. In this fascinating, interactive and fun workshop, every person on the team learns to discover and use their strengths to reach team goals—even “impossible” goals.
  19. She was very organized and prepared wonderful handouts that each participant could use to identify their strengths, weaknesses and fears in regards to public speaking.

FORTY-THREE WORDS AND PHRASES WHOSE TIME HAS COME…AND GONE

Gosh I get bored reading the same words on everyone’s website and in everyone’s blogs.
Can’t we be a little bit more, um, you know, creative?
43 Words and Phrases Whose Time has Come…and GONE.
One of the things about being a thought leader is avoiding clichés. Here is a list of words and expressions that you might want to consider not using.
Thought leader
Align/misalign
To take something “to the next level” or “to a different level”
To go up or down “a notch”
To “reach out”
To “go missing”
Glom
Awesome (God is awesome, Mother Nature can be awesome, but that’s about it)
“You guys” (especially when addressing a woman older than, say, 50)
Deep dive
Scale, scalability
Optimize
Rad
Best practices
Skill set
Tool box/tool set (toolset is worse)
Way better, way more
Connect the dots
Hacks
Buzz
Robust
Brain dump
Leverage
Buy-in
Riff
Majorly (as an adverb)
Stakeholder
Drill down
Ahead of the curve
At the end of the day (Thank You to my author friend Jane V. Blanchard)
Crafting
Disruptive
Double down
Dude
Spend (as a noun)
Onboarding (as a verb)
Task (as a verb)
Impactful
Stoke (used in anything other than “I stoked the fire” context)
Score (used in anything other than a sports context)
Über
Rock, as in totally
Totally

The best writers don’t use clichés.

Liz Coursen, author

Self-Editing for Content Writers: The Style Guide for Everyone Writing Internet Content

Before You Even Open Your Mouth: The Writing Guide for Professional Speakers