08/07/2013 08:04 EDT | Updated 10/07/2013 05:12 EDT

How to Use Words to Get Ahead in Life


This is an address I gave this week @Singularityu to the participants in its 2013 Global Impact Competitions. They will spend 10 weeks in self-selected groups coming up with innovations or technologies that can positively impact the lives of one billion people.

There are 80 of them from dozens of countries who have competed for this privilege and I am here for a week as a volunteer communications coach to help them script a pitch and prepare a video to raise capital or to find partners.

This involves teaching them how to use language differently than ever before. I would guess that 90 per cent of language is used by people for ego or status purposes, to describe their feelings or needs, to get attention and to threaten or persuade others to give them what they want or need. In school, students are taught how to "write" by memorizing or borrowing material then regurgitating it in order to impress a teacher. That's not what this is about. This is about words, in the professional sense, that must be used sparingly and for an economic purpose, whether it's to communicate with colleagues, customers, partners, investors, society, voters or organizations.


-- Don't try and start at the beginning, just start

-- Nothing comes out right the first time, writers are self-editors, so keep pruning and revising

-- Test your ideas, innovations, prototypes, policies or theses by anticipating then addressing questions, counter-arguments, challenges, objections, criticism


1. Know your audience: who are they; captives or paying customers? Are they general-interest or specialized?

2. Audience dictates content as well as vocabulary. Is this a general-interest presentation or an "investor ask"? Distil don't dumb down. Duration also dictates content.

3. Is delivery oral or written or video-graphed? This determines content, vocabulary

4. Oral communications: performance is everything. One is narrator best. If nervous rehearse more.

5. Always scripted. Don't read. Best to memorize or have notes or talk off slides.

6. Visuals are helpful but should not be focus. They should not overpower or be off track. Make every picture worth at least 1,000 words or leave it out.

7. Find a narrative, tell a story and only one story at a time

8. Don't describe technology. Only describe the people who use it or will use it

9. Use concrete, not abstract words whenever possible

10. Use anecdotes, metaphors

11. Avoid jargon, acronyms

12. Spoon feed, assume the audience knows nothing and comes from elsewhere

13. Content should be peer reviewed or heard or read by an outsider

14. Finish your script then sleep on it

15. Return in order to be ruthless: As American novelist William Faulkner said "in writing, you must kill all your darlings"


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