Recently, I graded a new batch of writing assignments that executive MBA participants at a globally ranked business school had submitted during one of my writing workshops.
I had set a daunting assignment for the executives:
They were entrepreneurs who needed to email one of two globally respected billionaires to introduce an innovative product or service. They were to request an investment of x million in exchange for 20% equity in their companies.
But there was more. Participants were given 30 minutes to write the 100-word cold email in class but could reference supporting documents/further information. Their emails also needed to include the subject, salutation, closing remarks, signature, and contact details. The executives had no warning about the topic they would write about.
No easy feat. And the participants protested the rigid constraints they needed to adhere to. I knew from experience that it was more difficult to write a short piece than a long one, but I insisted. I also acknowledged that it was unrealistic to expect either billionaire investor (Bill Gates or Aliko Dangote) to commit to an investment based on the strength of one email from an unknown party. But that wasn’t the point of the exercise. The point was to determine whether the executives’ write-ups were clear, enticing, and persuasive. I also sought to test their critical reasoning skills since they had significant work experience.
So, they wrote their pieces and submitted their work on the designated online platform. After the session, I graded their writing outputs and saw a pattern emerge. Some write-ups were bland, while others began on a good note but needed to be specific. Few were excellent, and that was an eye-opener for me. During the subsequent debriefing sessions, I planned to share insights from their work and encourage executives to suggest ways their assignments could be improved. Typically, such debriefing sessions are engaging and provide additional opportunities for the participants to learn from their mistakes and refine their work.
Now, you might not be given restrictions when writing to important parties. But it’s important to note that as a professional, executive, entrepreneur or business leader, you will write a persuasive piece at some point in your career or business. Therefore, apart from adhering to the three rules of effective business writing listed in this article, you must ensure that your email, memo, address, report, etc. addresses the three building blocks of actionable writing. These three Ps will serve you well:
If you’re unclear about this component, shelve everything first. Don’t write a single line until you decide the desired outcome, and then work backwards. You cannot even create a title or a heading until you know the rationale for writing. Without a clear purpose, you’d become stuck midway through the write-up and may go off on a tangent.
The purpose of the class assignment I set for the executives was threefold: introduce their innovative products/services, intrigue the investors with an enticing offer, and request an investment.
To nail your purpose, ask yourself the foundational question. Then ensure you introduce it early in your writing — in the first or second line. Know your point and get to it as quickly as possible in the first paragraph.
You’ll need to build your case strategically by structuring your piece to bring you closer to achieving your goal. So, if you provide logic, evidence, or supporting materials, you must tie them to your purpose and clarify the connection.
Considering the cold email the executives needed to write to Gates or Dangote, being precise would have meant the following:
a) Explaining what their products/services did
They also needed to avoid writing trite or vague statements such as ‘We’ve produced an innovative product that will revolutionise the health sector’ or ‘We’re the leading fintech company in x region poised to transform the industry”, without providing proof or details.
b) Making their equity offers appealing by showing how they would complement the investors’ businesses based on y or z (i.e., the investors’ focus or leanings)
In other words, the products/services offered needed to be relevant. Relevance is a powerful tool you can adopt to become a more persuasive communicator because it addresses the WIIFM (what’s-in-it-for-me) angle of the recipient that makes your position irresistible.
c) Including a call-to-action by stating what the entrepreneurs (the executive MBA participants) wanted the investors to do after reading the emails
This action could be requesting a telephone conversation or suggesting a meeting for a presentation. The necessary information, such as telephone numbers, email addresses, and scheduling details, would be included.
Part of ensuring your writing is precise is knowing how to format your work to make the content scannable and digestible. Therefore, use bullet points or sub-headings to highlight critical information and limit your sentences to 20 words where feasible.
Busy people have multiple demands on their time, so be precise when trying to curry their favour.
When writing a persuasive piece, offering a promise is one way to ‘hook’ your recipient. It needn’t be anything grand, but it should show you’re committed to the desired outcome. The promise assures the reader that when he/she supports you, you’ll do your part and collaborate effectively.
Examples of the promise could be:
- I look forward to working with you until we achieve this mutually beneficial goal.
- I am open to further discussions to address your concerns.
- What further insights or clarification would you like me to share?
- Thank you for your suggestions. I have revised my recommendations and would appreciate your thoughts to conclude this phase on schedule.
Your promise should also be concise. A line or two is sufficient to communicate your commitment and professionalism.
Unfortunately, many write-ups the executives submitted lacked a promise, which made their work less convincing.
Remember that your recipient is unlikely to commit to an endeavour if it appears he/she will be required to shoulder most of the burden. Being generous with your effort and time will coax acceptance.
Now, you might not be an executive MBA participant who is required to write a cold email of 100 words to a billionaire investor in 30 minutes.
However, note that you must incorporate the three Ps when writing persuasive pieces to important people. These components will differentiate your work from others and announce you from afar.
But like any other communication skill you wish to master, you must become committed to the process. So, start today. Include the three Ps in your writing whenever you need to influence someone.
You won’t regret it.
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N.B: First image and third images are courtesy of Peggy and Marco Lachmann-Anke via Pixabay. Second image is courtesy of Gerd Altmann via Pixabay.