The path to publication is generally fraught with pitfalls and perils. Wow, did I find that out when I was trying to get an article in Speaker magazine. I had pitched an article about how to create compelling copy in the summer, which was not due until the middle of the fall. After several months of looking around, reading bios and profiles and programs and marketing materials, I realized that “compelling copy” was (way) too advanced for where we, as an organization, were. What we needed, in my opinion, was to make a case for creating correct copy. (How can you be “compelling” if you aren’t “correct”? In other words, no amount of ignorant, incorrect copy can compel anyone to do anything.)
So, on my own, I wrote the article below. It was rejected, because, you see, “our members already know all this.”
Like hell they do.
Then I wrote the second article, like I pitched, and it was published, but not before the editor changed my text and created two mistakes by doing so. WTF, as the kids say. WTF, I say.
Here’s the original text, the one about “correct” copy.
Author’s note: There’s some very precise use of italics in this article. Please make sure the italics remains where I have it.
Your Writing Speaks: The Case for Correct Copy
I joined the National Speakers Association for one reason: I wanted to hang out with the smart kids. Just like playing tennis with a better player improves my backhand, joining the NSA would, I felt, motivate and inspire me—membership would “up” my speaking game. And has it ever! The exciting vibe of Influence 2017; the frantic note-taking at NSA-CF, where I am an Academy member; the tips and techniques so generously shared by NSA members both in- and outside my chapter—being a member of NSA has made me look at my own speaking activities in a whole new light. Hallelujah, I’m with the smart kids now!
So, let me ask you a question: How do you get your speaking engagements? Put another way: How do speaking engagements come to you? I bet a lot of you more accomplished speakers get engagements by word of mouth; after all, you’re known by reputation. I guess I’m really asking the people who aren’t the mega-famous thought leaders, the internationally best-selling authors; that is to say, people like me: How do you get booked?
If you’re like me, you’re chasing down potential hosts. You’re filling out applications for the opportunity to share your brilliance at a conference, a seminar, or a summit. You’ve sweated over your program descriptions and tweaked your program titles until they’re all tweaked out, you’ve crafted a compelling introductory email, and your bio at NSASpeaker.org absolutely sparkles. You’re probably twinkling on LinkedIn and other professional websites as well.
In other words, people are reading about you. In fact, isn’t it safe to say that sometimes people read about you before they hear you speak? And that, my friends, is why your writing is so very important. What you write, and how you write what you write, can make the difference between standing on stage or sitting at home.
Why? Why? Because it’s a tough old world out there. Because people recognize quality. People respond to quality. People follow quality. The authority of a self-confessed “thought leader” takes a big hit if his online bio contains multiple misspellings. The credibility of an “international best-selling author” crumbles if her book demonstrates a deplorable ignorance of basic punctuation. There may be plenty of speaking gigs to go around, but when five people are vying for the same speaking slot, applications that are rife with errors are tossed out like dryer lint. It is essential, it is critical, it is of paramount importance that your writing be flawless.
I admit it. I wasn’t always this way. When I managed to graduate from a fairly well-respected college with a degree in English (of all things), my knowledge of the “for-sure” precepts of American English could have fit into a teacup. A small teacup.
Gee, are quotation marks always placed outside periods and commas?
Gosh, when I’m writing, shouldn’t I put a comma wherever I’d pause if I were speaking instead of writing?
Golly, is there ever a time when it’s appropriate to use all caps for emphasis?
And then, after college, I was a construction contractor, a profession not exactly known for thinking deep thoughts about grammar. Things began to change, however, when I published my second book, a workbook about how to write an entertaining autobiography. And, bless their hearts, the purchasers of my workbook turned to me to edit their books! That’s when I realized that I had to speak intelligently and at great length about coordinate adjectives and descriptive phrases, and I absolutely, positively, had to recognize the difference between a hyphen and a dash at 50 paces. Since then I’ve edited 147 books, blogs, and bios, and I’m teetering on the precipice of publishing my fourteenth book, titled Comma Common Sense, which is sure to make me filthy rich.
So, let me ask you another question: Do you know why I used a colon in the first sentence of this article? Did you know that the answers to my college-era conundrums are “yes,” “no,” and “hell, no”?
Well, if you don’t and if you didn’t, please consider seeking out that knowledge. Why? Why? Because good writing makes you look smart! Writing well—correctly and compellingly—gives you a chance to be on stage; writing well gives you the opportunity to shine. Know it or hire it, but get it done.
Your writing speaks. What does your writing say about you? Don’t let the sun set before you take a cold, hard look at your professional writing. Dot those I’s! Cross those T’s! Use vivid words. Eliminate shoot-me-now pompous expressions (like “thought leader”!).
After all, we are the smart kids. We celebrate excellence. We are masters of our language—spoken and written. We are the NSA.
With fellow NSA-CF member Gayle Williams, Liz Coursen is co-owner of ModernSpeaker.com and EditCIRCO.com. She blogs about punctuation and grammar at EditNATION.com. Liz is author of 13 books, including Before You Even Open Your Mouth: Business Writing for Professional Speakers. She lives in Sarasota, Florida, with two dogs, two cats, and three tubs of tadpoles. Read more about Liz and the educational programs she offers at LizCoursen.com.
We “celebrate” excellence? What a crock of shit.