top of page

Don't Write Like a CEO

CEOs are cautious and typically diplomatic by nature. But this caution can lead to unclear, jargon-filled writing that can, at times, say pretty much nothing at all. With a trained in-house business writing advocate through our licensing program, everyone from the CEO down can begin to write clearly and effectively.

After all, the point of writing a message is to create action, even if the purpose is to convey information only. Like radio waves or Wi-Fi signals, the information might float around, but it is not effective unless someone picks up the signal.

Take this example: "Increasingly, the country is witnessing the convergence of a pandemic and its economic consequences—with huge implications not only for our company and industry, but society at large that must be addressed in the coming year." Huh? The sentiment might be there, but it's hidden under vague, cautious and wordy writing.

Learn to write clearly enough for a reader/customer/stakeholder to act with engaging, concise prose.

Use the use tips to avoid writing like a CEO.

Be clear and precise. This is critical for writing to customers and the public, but especially when communicating with employees. Veiled concerns show right through vague, "happy statement" writing. Tell it like it is. Although you might be concerned about causing fear or discontent, most employees will feel more secure with your honest approach. If you write and speak in facts, they have less need to create rumors.

Plus, using a passive voice (it has been determined) vs. an active voice (we estimate) can lead to gaps in attention and thinking from readers.

Be concise. Avoid taking 30 words to write what you can express in 10 or so. Active writing also helps avoid wordiness.

"The employee committee decided to have a family picnic this summer and the main reason for their decision is that employees have been complaining that the company has not paid enough attention to family and their lives outside the office."

Can say simply:

"The employee committee plans to include families in a summer picnic to recognize the importance of family life.

Even reversing words in a sentence can make a clearer structure and a more concise text. When possible, place your subject upfront and center and use verbs to give the subject "action." For example, change "Our first attempt at meeting via Zoom will always be remembered by the team" to "The team will always remember that first Zoom meeting."

Avoid jargon. Perhaps no writing gaffe plagues CEOs and managers more than the use of jargon and overused phrases (like paradigm shift…). Avoid worthless phrases and trade abbreviations and terms. This matters when expressing management and financial matters, for employee communication, and especially when writing to inform or persuade customers. Jargon masks the meaning behind the words, and smart readers catch on quickly.

Here are a few examples of general jargon that can make readers' stomachs turn:

  • "Giving 110 percent." Aside from the fact it's mathematically impossible, the term falls on deaf ears. Isn't it better just to say "work as hard as we can to… ."

  • "Leverage" as a verb. It's a noun, and implies manipulation and control when used correctly. You apply leverage, and typically the use means to control or manipulate. Avoid the overused term that carries a negative connotation.

  • "Lots of moving parts" is sure to turn off readers. Technically, espresso machines or cars have lots of moving parts. Companies have people and processes. If a problem is complex, just say so. This is a hedging of the bets that tops many.

You want all communication from (and to) employees to be clear, factual and unambiguous. Expect the same from your own business writing and all materials you release to workers and the public. As a result, you likely will see improved understanding, productivity and growth. Learn how to write what you really mean. Our licensing program thoroughly trains you or a colleague to improve your business writing and provide a resource for clear communication instead of complex, vague prose. Call us at 425.485.3221.


Recent Posts
Search By Tags
bottom of page