6 words is the new black
An elevator pitch
Say your biggest prospect joins you on the elevator in the lobby. As you zoom up to the third floor, what one thing are you going to tell her about your product, service or idea? That’s your focus sentence.
Christopher Smith, writing and editing guru at Entergy Corp., challenges communicators to summarize their articles in 288 characters or less. This practice not only helps writers find their focus but also reveals what information is essential to your message — and what is not.
What’s your walk-away sentence — the one sentence you want your readers to walk away with after reading this piece?
Remember, you want your reader to be able to stick this sentence under her arm and get out the door with it. Make sure your sentence is a toaster, not a refrigerator: a simple, short sentence, not a dissertation.
A bumper sticker or billboard
Consider this efficient story summary: “One if by land, two if by sea.” Of course, legend has it that Paul Revere’s famous eight-word call to action launched the American Revolution.
Six words is the new black. Decades after Ernest Hemingway famously crafted a six-word story — “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” — to settle a bet, the six-word story format has taken off.
- SMITH Magazine calls for six-word memoirs.
- The Harvard Business Review suggests summing up your leadership style in six words.
- sixwordstories.net is dedicated to publishing prose in six words. (Some are almost unbearably compelling: “Family’s tears hurt more than chemo.”)
- Harper has published Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.
When my speaker e-zine announced a six-word speech contest, I had to wonder whether the six-word format had jumped the shark. Still, boiling your bigger piece down to six words is a great way to find your focus.
Write a classified
Seth Godin, marketing guru and author of Purple Cow, offers another way: Write a classified ad.
“What’s the offer?” he asks. “What do you want me to do? You’re paying by the word!”
Maybe, he says, you’ll write something like:
“Lose weight ow. Join our gym.”
“Six words,” says Godin. “Promise and offer.”
Now, you can make it longer.
Maybe you’ll add some words to make your copy clearer or more emphatic. Maybe you’ll illustrate your point with an example, anecdote or testimonial. Maybe you’ll add a statistic to make your point more urgent.
“You can play with all of that,” Godin says, “keeping in mind the original classified, keeping in mind that you’re still paying by the word (because attention is expensive).”
Advertising Age’s “Top 10 Slogans of the 20th Century” all weighed in at five words or less:
- Diamonds are forever (DeBeers)
- Just do it (Nike)
- The pause that refreshes (Coca-Cola)
- Tastes great, less filling (Miller Lite)
- We try harder (Avis)
- Good to the last drop (Maxwell House)
- Breakfast of champions (Wheaties)
- Does she … or doesn’t she? (Clairol)
- When it rains it pours (Morton Salt)
- Where’s the beef? (Wendy’s)
Can you summarize your story angle into five words or less? If so, you’ve got a story idea.