In 1987, I covered one of the most horrific stories ever reported. A man named Gary Michael Heidnik was arrested for kidnapping, torturing and raping six women, whom he kept imprisoned in a hole that he dug in his Philadelphia basement.
Not surprisingly, the media attention generated by this gruesome story was somewhat of a circus. The defense attorney who stepped to the plate was a charismatic young man by the name of Charles Peruto Jr., whose father was already a local lawyer superstar.
Like father, like son, the young Charlie loved media attention, and we loved him right back. Charlie got it.
So on the day the news broke; I shoved a microphone in his face and asked, “Mr. Peruto, why would you take this case?” To which he responded, “I’ll give you one million reasons why.” One million dollars was the sum Peruto was allegedly paid. For our report, that was a keeper.
Keepers are short, crisp and catchy snippets that drive home a point in an interesting and attention-grabbing manner. Keepers are not limited to media but are an effective way to cut through the clutter and spice up business communications as well. By animating your message with an analogy or visual example, not only will you increase retention, but you will help your listener understand the concept.
Here are some examples of keepers versus their more dull counterparts:
Dull: Conservatives have looked at this seat and decided that they would not be relevant candidates against a five-term senator.
Keeper: “Running against this candidate is like having your teeth pulled without Novocain.”
Dull: The sex addicts who use the Internet undergo a speedy progression of their addiction.
Keeper: “The Internet is the crack cocaine of sex addiction.”
Dull: Intussusception is a medical condition in which a part of the small intestine has invaded another section of the intestine.
Keeper: “Intussusception is triggered when the bowel folds over on itself like a collapsible telescope.”
Just as important as keepers are the words and phrases we use when delivering presentations, leading meetings or trying to convince a boss why more resources are necessary to keep a project moving forward. Often, presenters fall flat because instead of using language that is catchy and convincing, they sound as if they are trying to convince themselves. Here are some examples:
Not convincing: We believe the airport is safe.
Convincing: Safety is our top priority.
Not convincing: I don’t think the two incidents are related.
Convincing: The two incidents are completely unrelated.
Not convincing: It is not our policy to discriminate.
Convincing: We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind.
These examples illustrate using an active or passive voice. Active words can help you inspire and sell your vision. You can easily practice this when preparing for a meeting or important conversation. Like the editor of this paper or a reporter pressed for space, try these quick fixes the next time you write to trim the fat.
- Be your own editor. Go through every segment and ask yourself whether it adds to what you are writing or saying. Try paraphrasing to see if you can say the same thing using fewer words.
- USA Today approach. Pretend you’re speaking to USA Today readers to help you put concepts in the simplest terms possible to make it understandable for others.
- Apply analogies. Simple analogies that create visual impressions that are catchy and memorable such as “fingernails on a chalkboard,” “it was so hot you could fry an egg on the pavement” or “has a mind like a steel trap.”
- Ad copy approach. Ads are written to address people’s wants and needs. The words appeal to our emotions and stress the benefits of a product or service, like energy efficient, quiet, leak-proof, high performance, good value and long lasting.
- Tweet it. If you only had 140 characters to make your words matter, how would you say it? Less is always more.
You can quote me on that!