A key to success in consulting lies in simplifying your communication: no corporate-speak, no academic-speak, just subject-verb-object like you learned in second grade. Your prospects and clients weary of plowing through your long complex sentences, voiced in the passive tense, with dependent clauses losing their subjects and objects. They stop reading. They don’t want to talk to you anymore.
You can un-learn your bad behavior in speaking and writing. You can achieve simple sentences that take responsibility for what you are saying, promising, and concluding. It may take some practice, and it certainly requires the discipline of reviewing what you have written, and editing to simplify, until these good behaviors are part of your mind-set.
Here are some guidelines.
- Return to “See Spot Run.” When you learned to create a sentence, you were taught to establish the subject (who was doing what), a verb (what the subject was doing), and an object (to what or whom the subject was acting upon). Remember? Well, start there.
- Avoid the passive tense. If you stick to “see spot run” you will begin with your subject and follow with an active verb. “Dick showed Jane the letter.” With this sentence the reader knows who did what with whom. In the passive tense, the reader would read, “The letter was shown to Jane by Dick.” The passive tense, when content becomes more complicated, tends to obscure the responsibility of who will promise what to whom, who will be held accountable for certain actions. In business, the passive tense is the language of avoidance and obscurity, which is why you should avoid it.
- Use action verbs. Action verbs are about “doing” and “committing” yourself to a behavior, promises or results. Say ” I will deliver ….” not “I would deliver…” or “I may include…” The words “would” and “may” imply that your deliverables are conditional on some other action (even if there is no other action), whereas the “will” is a direct commitment. Only use these conditional phrases when you mean to limit your commitment. And then state clearly the condition of the limits of your commitment.
- Write shorter sentences. It is not sophisticated to write long, complex sentences. You do not prove your intelligence or your education this way. Laying out in simple short sentences what value you offer, what promises you will make, what deliverables you provide when… this approach gains the confidence of your prospects and clients.
- When writing a list of values or deliverables, use bullets. If you are addressing three or more items in a list, create bullets or a numbered list. This allows your reader to quickly understand what is being said.
- When writing a list of values or deliverables, repeat the preposition before each item. If bullets or numbered lists are for some reason unacceptable, and the list is better contained within a long sentence, be diligent about your handing of the preposition that precedes each item — repeat it for clarity. For example, “The Ongoing Support phase will result in new procedures to reduce document-processing time, to ensure greater reliability of data collection, and to increase profitability.”
The secret here is to be so clear in your language that your reader’s mind never stops absorbing your information (your pitch, your deal, your conclusions or your recommendations), and that your reader never hesitates and thinks “What does that really mean?” or “Am I being tricked here?” These hesitations are the seeds of distrust.
Your prospect or client may not be able to articulate why your sentence structures and careful use of grammar are effective. But the clarity of your presentation, written or spoken, will reassure your client that you will do what you say, and that you are trustworthy and honest.