Perfect Pitch

Words To The Wise

A word connoisseur cultivates a knowledge of language and develops an innate sense of the meaning of words that enables him or her to choose the word that best fits a sentence. For example, starting a sales letter with "I have an urgent request" has much more impact than "Would you be interested in . . . "

Urgent is a compelling word in the context of a sales offering. Your selection of words helps determine how persuasive your writing is and how much impact it will have on your customer-a customer who is inundated daily with dozens of pieces of impersonal mail.

Start developing an extensive vocabulary for your presentations. The goal is not to prove how intelligent you are but to be natural and clear while trying to persuade your prospects. The more precise your written and verbal requests become, the more effective the results you'll achieve.

Precision is the secret to closing more sales. Precision develops as you expand your vocabulary, using the following guidelines:

1. Carry a pocket dictionary in your briefcase or purse. Don't rely solely on the spelling checker and thesaurus on a computer; many of them aren't nearly as extensive as an old reliable Webster's or Funk & Wagnall.

2. Read the opinion section of the daily newspaper. Look up all the words you don't understand.

3. Build a reference library of dictionaries, thesauruses and books about word power. A favorite of mine is Words That Sell by Richard Byron (Caddylak Publishing).

4. Pretend you have to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Go to a bookstore, and buy test preparation books. Study the vocabulary section. Use index cards, and write one word on each; turn the card over, write the definition on the back and study them whenever you have a spare moment. Eventually your expanded vocabulary will help create a person who has the power to capture and convert more customers.

5. Enroll in a course on writing for sales and advertising at a community college. Even if you have the budget to use an advertising agency, you need a basic knowledge of what pulls a response and what doesn't.

6. Read at least one new book a month. Choose a variety of books such as fiction, nonfiction, self-help, reference materials and poetry. You'll find marvelous ideas and words to trigger your imagination.

7. Use a journal to record ideas that sell. Don't miss the opportunity to write down any brilliant flashes you may have.

8. Start an advertising scrapbook. Collect "zinger" ads from magazines, newspapers, brochures and mailers. Don't discriminate-take ideas from everywhere. The goal is not to copy other people's work but to stimulate your creativity and originality.

9. Use simple words and sentences; they have the most sales impact. An overdressed thought is as distracting as an overdressed person. If, when you called on a customer, you wore a tailored suit with a chartreuse necktie or lots of jewelry, your accessories might be so distracting, they would detract from your message. In words, as in dress, less is often more.

Once you start making the above lessons a matter of habit, you will find composing sales letters much easier. Your new-found awareness of what constitutes effective writing cannot help but influence what you write.

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This article was originally published in the June 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Perfect Pitch.

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