Beyond Awesome. Better Ways to Say “Great Job!”

It’s nice to give praise. To tell people they did a great job or that you really enjoyed the coffee/meal/cake they made you. Positive feedback helps reinforce desired behaviours and sends a message of appreciation. Something that’s much needed in the workplace and home. But have you stopped to consider how you give praise?

“You did a great job Sally, well done”

“That presentation was awesome. Great job!”

“Amazing cake, thank you!”

Do you spot a theme?

Yes, the words are positive. But then if they weren’t, it wouldn’t be praise.

The other thing you may have noticed is that the words are all fairly general. They’re not specific and are easily swapped around with one another. “Awesome” could apply to the cake, presentation or job that Sally did.

So what?

The problem with using generalist vocabulary is that it lacks true impact and doesn’t really say what you were impressed with. The effect lessens with each usage. The problem with telling everyone that they do a great, awesome or amazing job, is that over time, the effect of that compliment diminishes.

How to give more constructive praise

It all comes down to the words you use. Be more thoughtful in your choice of vocabulary. Perhaps Sally did a “meticulous” job, or maybe she was “right on brief“. Both of these give Sally an idea of what you’re so happy about, helping guide her with future projects. She’ll be just as, if not more pleased than if you’d said “great“.

And that “awesome” presentation may well have been “inspiring“, “thought-provoking“, “highly competent” or even “well-judged and very funny“. So much more helpful than an over-used statement of  “awesome“.

And of course, you’d be absolutely right to describe a delicious cake as “amazing”, but how about getting a bit more creative with your compliments – “so rich and chocolatey”, or “light and delicious”, or even “just the sugar hit I needed right then”. You’ll be so much more likely to be offered an extra slice…

Let’s face it, no-one’s going to get grumpy with you if you happen to tell them they did something awesome. I certainly wouldn’t. But to give them a thoughtful compliment or well-considered piece of praise could well make their day.

And wouldn’t that be awesome?

 

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That most precious of things. Space.

Today, for the first time in months I am on my own.

I realise that others, on their own for months, might see this as no cause for celebration. The space and isolation can feel as oppressive as constant contact and noise.

Our need and preferences for space vary so much. Too much and we feel lost, alone. Too little and we feel cramped and irritable. And the ‘right’ amount can differ depending on our mood at the time.

I started this blog intending to write about the value of spacing out copy for better readability. I know, you can barely withhold your excitement right? I’ll get to it. But first please bear with me as I amble into a more philosophical terrain for a few paragraphs.

Space matters for all sorts of reasons

Remote working with kids

Why use another room when you can stand in almost exactly the same place as your parents?

This is me. Lockdown chic at its best. I was trying to work at the time, and for a reason known only to themselves, my kids decided they would use the tablet in the same square metre as me. I know other parents (of kids and pets) can relate. Indeed, another friend sent me a very similar picture of her two kids pretty much sitting on top of her as she tried to relax for a few minutes.

Children love this lack of space and close contact. Indeed, it’s known that mammals need to be cuddled. It builds up our bodily systems, reduces stress and helps us sleep. I remember crowding my parents as a child – a mark of dependency we become keen to lose as we enter those teenage years. I try to remind myself that one day these moments of full-on physical affection will stop and to enjoy them – as much as that’s possible – while they’re still a feature.

This lack of space and the constant noise has felt wearing. But as I pad around my newly empty home, I feel alone. As if someone turned the volume down unexpectedly. It’s not the release I hoped it would be.

Space can absolutely feel like a bad thing. A new space at the table. An empty bedroom. An unslept-in side of the bed. It can be easy to forget – for a moment or two – that you’ve lost someone. Then the extra space reminds you. Perhaps for a fleeting instant, you hear or catch a glimpse of that precious person. But no… there’s nothing but space.

Space to think

We’ve been encouraged to think of the sudden presence of space in our towns and cities as a good thing. As a sign of our respect for one another and our love for one another. By staying home and staying safe we were helping one another and helping the country.

Wall art about pandemic 2020

Quite what this means for the ones To Whom The Rules Do Not Apply as they drove to ageing parents and family members many miles away we can only speculate. Their insistence that rule-breaking was acceptable because it was done with integrity has been questioned enough.

Space can feel ridiculous. We step into the road to avoid walking to close to others. It feels like contemporary dance. As if we’re choreographing our public lives. “Yes of course I’ll stand against these nettles so you can walk past”. We Brits have embraced this distancing with surprising ease.

But now we also pull our children back as they cheerfully run near to others. It gets me every time. What are we doing to our kids? Will this constant talk of “don’t get close” backfire? How will they build relationships as teens and adults if leaving a gap between one another becomes habit? Perhaps it will become the teenage rebellion of future years. Flouting social norms by grouping together, standing near others, sitting on the lap of someone you don’t know.

The final frontier? No thank you

And then there’s Elon. I feel as if I am one of the few people who couldn’t give a monkey about his mission into space. There seem to be so many more Earthly matters to contend with. And honestly, I couldn’t think of anything worse than going into space. For one, I can’t get past the irony of the situation. People are paying to be blasted off our beautiful planet into an environment that’s so vast it’s called “space”. All the while, they’re shut into a room no larger than my office (and believe me, that’s small) with several other people.

 

Crikey, I’ve gone on a bit, haven’t I? Onto more writerly matters.

 

Space matters when you’re writing.

Clumping everything up into one big paragraph turns what could be inspiring, motivating or amusing into a verbal scrummage.

How can you get your message across when the reader doesn’t know where the important points are?

Listening to comedians emphasises this brilliantly. A good comedian always pauses to let the audience get the joke. It’s their paragraph break. Their white space. Listen to the audience’s reaction. Initially, they titter politely. And then, when they fully comprehend the joke, they roar with laughter.

This is a great excuse to get Phoebe Waller-Bridge into my post. Her silence – the space – whilst talking about genitals (yes, that’s what I meant to write) is all the more hilarious because of her silence. She lets her audience fill in the gaps and appreciate what she just said. It’s at around 4.30 minutes into the reel if you’re interested. (And I know you are.)

Another reason that space matters when you’re writing.

I’ll fully confess to having lost some of my mojo recently. Can you relate? The uncertainty, stress and claustrophobia took their toll. Creativity isn’t something you can just drum up. You need to nurture it. And for me, that means time alone.

A walk, a soak in a bath or shower, even plodding through the washing up. They all work for me and give me time to reflect and get lost. To make those creative connections and answer the voices in my head. Having space to myself again gives me the opportunity to create better writing with less work.

It’s a more efficient and joyful way of working.

Six ways you can use space to improve your writing:

On a page/screen:

As a person:

 

Helpful? Or a waste of space? Let me know what you think and tell me how you use space in your everyday life.

Want to write a bad email? Start like this…

It slips off your tongue easily and finds its way off your fingers and onto a keyboard even more easily. But kicking off with an apology is one of the fastest ways I know of starting an email on the wrong foot.

Sorry. Forgive me. My apologies.  Whoops-a-daisy. My bad.

You get the picture.

Why you shouldn’t start with sorry

The person reading your email will be ready to wonder what you’ve done. Should they feel aggrieved? Impatient? Irritated? You’re certainly suggesting they have a right to be. As we humans are highly suggestible there’s a chance that even if they weren’t aware of the wrong you’d committed, and couldn’t have given two hoots, they may be a bit less than impressed with you than they were 10 minutes previously.

An example…

Let’s say you’ve sent something a bit later than promised. Train delays, kids off school, cat to the vets with a mystery cough… life happens. You finally whizz off the email to your contact, starting with an almost out of breath “sorry this is so late…”.

What’s the first thing the recipient thinks? “urgh… late again”. They sigh as they sip their coffee and add a little black mark against your name in their imaginary list of “people I deal with”.

If you were just an hour or so late, you’d have been better not mentioning it at all. There’s a chance they hadn’t even realised your note was late. If you were over a clear deadline or a day or so late, you could replace an effusive apology with a more assured “thank you for your patience…” – a trick you might have seen elsewhere.

Thank you for your patience

It’s something doctors say, you’ve probably heard it before…

You’ve been waiting in a stuffy waiting room with only copies of the “People’s Friend” for entertainment. It’s been 45 minutes and you’re ready to create merry hell. The doctor eventually calls you in and says “thank you for your patience”. They may even explain why they’re so over their schedule. Because your doctor is lovely and you know they do a good job, you readily forgive. After all, you don’t mind being patient do you? 

Instead of apologising for a small and understandable deficiency on their part, the doctor praises you for a positive behaviour. It’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference to the way you feel. “Thank you for your understanding” works just as well. You make people feel good about their behaviour, shifting the emphasis off yourself. But sometimes this isn’t appropriate; perhaps a big fat “sorry” is in order.

When the situation demands an apology.

You don’t need me to tell you this. In situations that require an apology, you should say sorry.

But you don’t need to start your email with an apology. Get into the solution, help resolve the situation. Something along the lines of “I see what has happened. I’ll get back to you with XYZ by lunchtime tomorrow”. Then add your apology.

In fairness, if you’ve made a mistake that demands an apology you probably need to get on the phone and talk it through. But because you’ll be following up that phone call with an email as well, you need to remember to think carefully about how and where you place that necessary apology.

Sorry? What was that?

Say sorry. Show sorry. But start an email with a “sorry”? There’s never any need to do that.

 

Do you agree? Or not? Let me know.

Five Things I Learnt from #StoryPower 2018

Image of books in a library with the text "Telling Tales. 5 things I learnt from #storypower"I’m normally restricted to the company of my needy cat and delivery drivers who need me to sign for various parcels, so the thought of heading into London for a conference was exciting. And no ordinary conference – one that promised to help me grow as a copywriter thanks to the “Power of Storytelling” hosted by the behavioural research agency “Watch Me Think”. And with the added happy anticipation of an evening’s romance (the 9-year wedding anniversary for myself & Mr Sands), I headed into town for some professional development.

I learnt lots from #StoryPower. Much more than I can reasonably cram into a blog post. So what follows are my favourite five takeaways. As it turns out, #StoryPower was the highlight of my day – the wedding anniversary romance didn’t quite live up to expectations, but more on that later…

Numbers Are The Lazy Route

Ouch! I’m certainly one of those people who believes in the power of a good fact or statistic, so this point made me sit up and listen. (I weakly defend myself with the excuse of it being a hangover from my time in corporate marketing where dropping a good margin % figure into a presentation gave you rockstar status). But this compelling talk from Anthony Tasgal made the point that “numbers numb us, while stories stir us”. We should take the time to move our audiences, tap into their desire for connection and debate. We can still use the fact of course, but should take the time to build a story around the numbers and make our audiences feel happy, satisfied, vindicated…

Compelling Writing is Child’s Play

Two brilliant minds presented on a similar theme – reawakening the child that still hides deep inside us. Vicki Perrin of BBC Radio2 works with the 500 Words children’s writing competition, whilst Emily Murdock is part of the grandiose-sounding Ministry of Stories who front their children’s writing charity with the intriguing and involving Hoxton Street Monster Supplies. Details of the imaginative products on sale in the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies including Tins of Fear – you can choose between “Escalating Panic”, “Mortal Terror” or (a regular in our household) “A Vague Sense of Unease” – spiked the room with creativity. Vicki’s touching talk brought to life the importance of running with our imaginations, and not hampering our stories with the shackles of grammar, spelling and convention. A lifting alternative to a line regularly attributed to Hemmingway “write drunk, edit sober”, this encourages us to “write like an 8-year old, edit like a 38-year old” (substitute the decade for your age of choice…).

Tom Cruise Can Help You Become a Better Writer

Stuart Chapman from Lego shared an approach to storytelling that I love. He calls it the “Tom Cruise Skill Level Over Time” method.

Stuart pointed out that pretty much all Tom Cruise films follow the same pattern – he starts out as a decent guy doing OK. He then has a crisis of confidence and loses his ability to do what he was doing. He then meets a beautiful woman who helps him rediscover his mojo. He then goes on to become even better than he was before and saves the day. It’s amusingly accurate – think Top Gun, Jerry McGuire, Jack Reacher…

It’s a clever way to build up a story about your services. By creating an element of doubt (the crisis of confidence) in your reader, you can then go on to be the beautiful woman who can help your reader become even better and “save the day” (or something like that).

It’s Clever to Look Silly

Richard Shotton shared something that many of us unconsciously already knew – people are more appealing when they admit or exhibit flaws. It’s known as the “Pratt Fall Effect”, and essentially tells us to revel in our disadvantage. Few companies do this – inadequacies are a pretty scary thing to admit to after all. But the Pratt Fall Effect tells us if we pretend perfection, we’re less likely to be considered. Listerine is a great example of a product that wallows in its poor flavour, whilst Hans Brinker is a chain of hotels renowned for self-confessed terrible customer service.

But by admitting to flaws, these brands and companies prove their honesty and add believability to their other claims. People are wily; they will always assume you or your product have a flaw. If you leave the deductions up to them, they may well believe the flaws are something you’re actually quite good at.

It takes courage to go down this route, but I’ll be thinking of using this tool occasionally. Certainly for myself (when I get round to it) and possibly for brave clients who are up for some gentle safe-denigration.

Honesty is The Best Policy

A neat segue from the previous point, Ian Leslie talked about the importance of honesty. Not just from a legal and defamatory perspective, but from the angle of tapping into the hidden truth – Hemmingway (yes, him again) said we should “write hard and clear about what hurts”. And it’s the truth – if what you’re writing about feels uncomfortable in some way, it probably needs to be said. Your emotions carry across the page (“no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader” – as said by Robert Frost). We respond to stories that are fundamentally truthful – and so should use this to our advantage.

 

#StoryPower spoilt us with beautiful stories, witty anecdotes and stirring tales. I was moved to tears on more than one occasion – special mentions to Vicki Perrin, Daniel Meadows and Asif Noorani for that. And a huge thank you to the lovely lady who gave me a tissue when I could barely hold back the snuffles after watching the opening scene in “Up” in Asif’s presentation.

And what about the wedding anniversary romance? A non-event I’m sad to say. I returned home full of romantic anticipation to a husband with extreme man flu. We had fried egg & oven chips for our anniversary dinner and he was in bed by 8.30. Romance may not be dead, but it certainly has the lurgy right now.

Do you enjoy a good story? And what are your favourite ways of using stories to involve your readers and create a connection?

12 Copywriting Tips for Small Business Owners

cup of coffee, pot of pens and paper with the text "12 copywriting tips for small business owners" and the hashtag #IGave12As a small business owner, you need to master a range of skills. Copywriting is one of those that seems simple at first glance but can quickly become overwhelming. As part of #MicroBizMatters day I’m giving 12 tips to help other micro business owners.

Are you ready? Coffee in hand? Let’s go…

  1. Writing doesn’t need to be a drama. You’re just communicating with your audience. If you feel anxious as you approach your keyboard, then try some mind tricks to help you relax into it. One such trick is to pretend you’re talking to just one person – you’ll feel yourself slipping into a much more comfortable frame of mind, ready to write!
  2. Worries about your grammar? Install Grammarly – it’s what all the copywriters are using. It handily checks your grammar & gives you a little nudge if things look incorrect. Beware, the free version has a fondness for Oxford commas & American spellings, so use it with good judgement and align it with your preferences.
  3. Forget yourself. You’re not writing for yourself. You’re writing for your audience. So make sure your writing talks to them about what they’ll get. Not what you can deliver.
  4. Bad writing is better than no writing. After all, you can’t edit a blank page. So no matter how uninspired you feel or how bad your cold, get something down on the page. Chances are it won’t look that bad when you review it. Speaking of which…
  5. Sleep on it. Leave everything you’ve written for a good few hours before you send/upload/share it. Overnight (or even longer if you have the time) is best. You’ll be amazed at how much you want to change on your final reading.
  6. If it’s not your idea, say so. After all, you’ll just get into hot water if you try to pass off an idea or passage as your own. And in any case, it’s an opportunity to link to or mention your contributor, by which you broaden your audience.
  7. Share! What’s the point of writing fine words if they just sit on your laptop or blogging account without ever seeing the light of day? Share, share and share again. And then repurpose it so you can share it even more. The world deserves to see your brilliance wouldn’t you say?
  8. SEO is dead. Or so they keep saying. If you want your online writing to index well with search engines, you need to write naturally. Keep it relevant to your audience and use a broad range of vocabulary that refers to your “keywords” – not that anyone admits to using these anymore.
  9. Keep it simple. Forget the long words and keep to simple language that’s easily understood by anyone and everyone. There are no prizes for the number of readers who don’t understand you.
  10. Leave out unnecessary words. The more words you include, the more your audience needs to process, and the more likely they are to stop reading. Cutting out words such as “to”, “of”, “then” and “that” where they’re not needed will go a long way to making your copy that little bit easier to read.
  11. You don’t need to start at the beginning. It can be easier to get stuck into the meat of what you’re trying to say and then build the copy up around it. Don’t get hung up about finding the perfect opening paragraph – just leave it, write the rest of your document and then come back to it later on.
  12. Get help. No-one is an island. If you’re really struggling, get a copywriter (shameless plug, my apologies!). Otherwise, ask willing (and capable) friends and family to proofread your work and give you feedback. A brainstorming session with your network can go a long way to giving you new ideas for your next few blog posts or emails.

Do you have 12 things to share? Then why not get involved with #IGave12 yourself? You can do anything that involves the number 12 – write a blog post giving 12 hints or tips, pledge to buy 12 items from micro businesses in the next 6 months, spend 12 minutes promoting or supporting another micro business, follow 12 new micro businesses on social media – the list is endless as long as you use the number 12 and tell people what you’ve done by sharing with the #MicroBizMatters Day team using #IGave12 or posting to the MicroBizMatters facebook page!