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Be a Copycat!

How a bizarre human habit can help you get the job you want and keep the clients you have.

Years ago, I wrote a long, complex speech and then lost it to a computer glitch.

I was on a tight deadline so I immediately set out to reconstruct the speech from memory. Fortunately, after a few hours, I recalled an old trick from my days as a computer programmer and I was able to retrieve the original. What luck! But here's why I'm telling you this story: I was shocked to discover that my second attempt matched what I had written the first time, almost word for word.

We tend to repeat ourselves, to say the same things in the same way, often using the same words. That's interesting by itself but not particularly useful -- until you learn this: when we come across our own verbiage, we tend to be more amenable to what it conveys, even though we may not explicitly recognize it as our own. In other words, we recognize our own stuff at some unconscious level, and we like how that feels.

This is useful information. Here are two applications of this truth that you can start using right away.
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Repeat your client's language back to the client. When I was starting out as a speechwriter, I worked on one particular project with a partner far more experienced than I. We sent along our draft and days later called the client for feedback. This client did not like what we had turned in, did not like it at all. He went on and on about what we had done wrong, left out, and phrased incorrectly. Then he presented in rich (and loud) detail precisely what it is we should have written.

After we hung up, I told my partner that I figured we were there for the night.

“Oh, no,” he said. “I can fix this in a half-hour.”
“But he just told us everything was wrong,” I said.
“He also told us exactly what to say,” said my friend.

He pointed to the computer screen, where he had copied down the client’s rant as if taking dictation. “He said what he wants. I’ll just clean it up a little and drop it in.” Which is what my partner did.

The client called the next day, raving again, but this time in a good way.

“It’s exactly what I had in mind,” he said. "It sounds just like me."

Of course it did.

We like to hear our own words read back to us -- even when we don't recognize them as our own.

When applying for a job, describe yourself using the ad. Whenever I’m writing a letter to inquire about an assignment, I begin with a cut-and-paste copy of the ad and make as few changes as possible. Somebody will read my letter, and that person will almost always be familiar with the ad. This person may even have written it.

Since I write my letter from the text of the ad, the language I use will be familiar to the reader, pleasingly so.

Maybe the ad reads like this:  “We’re looking for candidates with at least five years of experience working with demanding clients in high-pressure industries. Our support for them must present confidence grounded in expertise.”

My reply will include something like this, and I'll italicize the key words for you:  “I have more than five years of experience working with demanding clients in high-pressure industries. I give them support in the form of confidence grounded in expertise.

Writing back the key phrases in the same words triggers that comforting recognition of something personal, something familiar, something that fits -- something they like.

And if my little copycat trick is recognized, that’s fine, too. It shows that I read the ad closely.
Effective writing is not only facts and style. It's often psychology. Take every advantage you can find.

I still have a single, one-on-one coaching slot opening up in early August. You get weekly, personalized sessions with homework and feedback. Interested? Email me.

Mike's Calendar
Topic Organization Date Location
PR & Business Writing Series
Part I
Federal Government Cabinet Department August 3 Washington, DC
PR & Business Writing Series
Part II
Federal Government Cabinet Department August 7 Washington, DC
Speechwriting for Military Writers and Others Georgetown University Aug 26-28 Online 
Register by clicking here.
Creative Writing Georgetown University Sep 23 - Oct 28 (weekly) Online 
Register by clicking here.
Speechwriting: The Method & The Art Professional Speechwriters Association October Online 
Registration TK
PR Writing Series Trade Association October Washington, DC
European Festival of Political Rhetoric European Speechwriters Network Nov 6-27 Online
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Burke, VA  22015
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