Unlocking the Future of Effective Writing: Highlights & Insights from Optimize23 Business Writing

It was my absolute honor to host and participate in the Optimize23 Business Writing event, a gathering that showcased the future of business writing for communicators, editors, and proposal writers alike. With over 1500 registrants from more than 750 organizations worldwide, the event was nothing short of a global knowledge feast, featuring 11 insightful talks from some of the brightest minds in the industry. Each speaker brought a unique perspective, sharing invaluable insights and practical strategies to elevate our writing and communication skills in the business realm.
Micheál McGrath

Head of Marketing

10 min read

In this blog, I’m thrilled to share a concise summary, key takeaways, and memorable quotes from each talk, providing you with a treasure trove of wisdom gleaned from the event. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the highlights of Optimize23 Business Writing!

Talk 1: How to Become a Better Writer

Talk Summary:

Let’s start with the most highly rated session of the day. The audience loved Juliet Fletcher. She shares valuable insights on becoming a better writer. She emphasizes the importance of clarity, brevity, and concise writing, urging writers to be fearless and intentional in their craft. Juliet highlights the need to read extensively, practice writing regularly, and be thoughtful about word choice and sentence structure. She encourages writers to be reader-centric, avoiding unnecessary jargon and complexity, and to edit their work mercilessly for improved clarity and impact.

Top 5 Takeaways:

  1. Write Fearlessly: Don’t be afraid to write down your thoughts. It’s easier to clean up and refine your writing once you have something to work with.
  2. Be Reader-Centric: Good writing is about the reader, not the writer. Understand your reader’s needs and craft your message from their perspective.
  3. Practice Conciseness: Be concise and get to the point of your message quickly. Avoid unnecessary words and sentences that don’t add value to your communication.
  4. Read Extensively: To improve your writing, read a wide variety of materials. Pay attention to writings that are clear and impactful, and learn from them.
  5. Edit Mercilessly: Edit your work without mercy. Remove anything that doesn’t contribute to clarity or the message you want to convey.

Read, read, read, and practice writing. Think about it like any habit. Pay really close attention and see if you can improve your writing in every instance of your communication.”

Talk 2: Enhancing Business Writing with VT Writer: A Focus on Objective Metrics

Talk Summary: 

In this insightful session, Emily Mahon and Eoin Wren, representatives from VisibleThread, discuss the challenges in maintaining consistency and quality in business writing across various content and reviews. They introduce VT Writer as a tool designed to assist in this process, providing automated, metrics-based feedback to writers, thus facilitating a scalable and standardized review process. The talk also previews upcoming features in VT Writer, emphasizing its role in promoting plain language usage and quality writing at scale.

Top 5 Takeaways:

  1. Consistency in Content: Achieving consistency in content and reviews is challenging, especially with multiple contributors. VT Writer aids in maintaining a uniform style and standard.
  2. Automated Feedback: VT Writer offers automated, objective feedback, removing friction and negativity from review cycles and speeding up the editing process.
  3. Scalable Platform: The tool can be integrated into various workflows, allowing for a scalable review process that can be adopted by a large number of writers effortlessly.
  4. Insights and Reporting: VT Writer provides valuable insights through its reporting platform, helping identify areas of improvement and training needs for writing teams.
  5. Upcoming Features: New enhancements and features in VT Writer will further support and incentivize plain language usage and quality writing across organizations.

Using automation and metrics removes opinion and friction from reviews. It removes much of the negativity experienced with review cycles, and we can achieve consistency across reviews no matter how much content is being reviewed.

Talk 3: Learning from Healthcare – Understanding Your Persona

Talk Summary:

In this session, Alyssa, a representative from Encompass Health, shares insights into the importance of business writing in the healthcare industry. She discusses the challenges consumers face due to jargon and complex concepts in healthcare communication. Alyssa highlights the importance of clear, concise, and empathetic language, speaking with people rather than at them. The talk also delves into the strategy behind their content creation, focusing on understanding and addressing the needs of different audience personas at various stages of their healthcare journey.

Top 5 Takeaways:

  1. Understanding Audience Personas: Encompass Health focuses on understanding their audience personas, considering not just demographic information but also the stages of their healthcare journey.
  2. Clear and Concise Language: The language used in communication is clear, concise, warm, empathetic, and compassionate, aiming to speak with people, not at them.
  3. Strategic Content Creation: Content is strategically created with a focus on the needs of the audience, aligning with the company’s broader goals and strategies.
  4. Measurement of Success: Success is measured by ensuring that content aligns with audience needs and supports the company’s strategic focus areas.
  5. Continuous Improvement: The company’s brand guide and content strategies are continuously refreshed and improved to adapt to changing environments and audience needs.

We try really hard to reach each consumer with clear and concise language to make healthcare navigation easier.

Talk 4: Three Words Most Proposals Use Incorrectly

Talk Summary:

Jeff Goldfinger, with his extensive experience in proposal writing and training, illuminates the audience on the misuse of three crucial words in proposals. He emphasizes the importance of every word in a proposal, highlighting that each term counts significantly. Jeff explains the characteristics of assertions, assessments, and declarations, providing clarity on their proper use. He stresses the importance of making truthful, verifiable assertions and grounded assessments, ensuring that declarations are well-articulated and understood by evaluators.

Top 5 Takeaways:

  1. Every Word Counts: In proposal writing, every word is crucial. The choice of words can significantly impact the proposal’s effectiveness and acceptance.
  2. Truthful Assertions: Assertions should be truthful and verifiable. Avoid making ungrounded statements that can undermine the proposal’s credibility.
  3. Grounded Assessments: Assessments are opinions or speculations and should be grounded. It’s essential to distinguish between sincere assertions of fact and ungrounded assessments.
  4. Clear Declarations: Declarations need to be described clearly and comprehensively to ensure evaluators fully understand their meaning and value.
  5. Avoid Common Mistakes: Writers often misuse assertions, assessments, and declarations in proposals. Understanding and avoiding these common mistakes can lead to more compelling and successful proposals.

Every word matters, especially in the last 24 to 48 hours just prior to pens down. Little things get looked over, and remember, the goal of a proposal evaluator is not to grade you well. They want to eliminate as many non-compliant proposals as possible.

Talk 5: How to Implement Plain Language Strategies in Your Organization

Talk Summary:

Deborah Bosley elucidates the importance of implementing plain language strategies within organizations. She emphasizes that plain language, characterized by clarity, conciseness, and credibility, is crucial for effective communication. Through various examples and data, Deborah demonstrates how plain language not only enhances customer experience but also saves time and money, reduces mistakes, and decreases the likelihood of litigation. She provides persuasive strategies and insights on how organizations can adopt and expand the use of plain language.

Top 5 Takeaways:

  1. Plain Language Importance: Plain language is essential for clear and effective communication, making information easy to find, understand, and use.

  2. Business Value: Implementing plain language can save organizations time and money by reducing miscommunication and increasing efficiency.

  3. Customer Experience: Clear communication enhances customer experience, builds trust, and improves a company’s reputation.

  4. Compliance and Regulations: Various laws and regulations require the use of plain language in different sectors, emphasizing its importance in legal and compliance contexts.

  5. Implementation Strategies: Organizations can start with small plain language projects and gradually expand their scope, using data and positive outcomes as persuasive tools for wider adoption.

Plain language is the use of proven writing and design strategies that make it easy for your audience to find, understand, and use your information.

Talk 6: Emerging Trends in Writing: From AI to Measurement

Talk Summary:

In this session, Kevin Press, Principal of Kevin Press Communications explores the emerging trends in writing, focusing on the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the importance of measurement. The talk provides an overview of various AI applications that are revolutionizing the writing process, making writers more efficient. The speaker also discusses the future of AI in writing, emphasizing that while AI can enhance productivity, it will not replace writers. The session also touches on the importance of creating content that is not only purpose-driven but also engages the reader effectively.

Top 5 Takeaways:

  1. AI Applications in Writing: Various AI applications are available to assist writers, each with unique features designed to improve efficiency and productivity in the writing process.
  2. AI Will Not Replace Writers: The speaker believes that AI will not replace writers but will serve as a tool to make them more productive and efficient in their craft.
  3. Purpose-Driven Content: There’s a need for content that is not only purpose-driven but also effectively engages readers, standing out in a sea of sameness.
  4. Future of AI in Writing: The future holds a significant shift in the writing industry due to AI, with writers and content creators needing to navigate through these changes strategically.
  5. Measurement in Writing: Measurement plays a crucial role in understanding the impact and effectiveness of content, with AI offering tools to analyze and predict content performance.

The future holds the most dramatic shift we have ever had to navigate as writers or content creators due to the emergence of AI in writing.

Talk 7: Seven Deadly Sins of Business Writing

Talk Summary:

The talk hosted by myself, discusses the common pitfalls encountered in business writing and offers solutions to improve clarity and effectiveness in communication. It emphasizes the importance of clear, concise, and personable writing while avoiding jargon and complexity. The speaker also highlights the significance of setting clear objectives, using active voice, and measuring the impact of communication on the organization.

Top 5 Takeaways:

  1. Clear Objectives: Before starting to write, set clear objectives to maintain focus and clarity throughout the text.
  2. Avoid Jargon: Refrain from using jargon, acronyms, and technical details that might confuse the audience.
  3. Use Active Voice: Active voice makes sentences clearer and more direct, improving the overall readability of the text.
  4. Be Concise: Write short and straightforward sentences to convey the message effectively without unnecessary complexity.
  5. Measure Impact: Track metrics like open rates, click rates, and grade levels to understand the effectiveness of communication and its impact on the organization.

On average, $62 million per year is spent on resolving poor communication between employees in large organizations!

Talk 8: The Art of Proposal Writing


The video features a panel discussion with experts Ginny Carson (Chickasaw Nation Industries), Julia DeSantis (Noridian Healthcare), and Anatalia Macik (Aptive Resources), who share valuable insights and recommendations on proposal writing. The discussion covers various aspects of the proposal writing lifecycle, including pre-proposal strategy formulation, creating customer-focused proposals, and leveraging technology to enhance the proposal writing process. The panelists emphasize the importance of clear communication, understanding customer needs, and using appropriate language to create impactful proposals.

5 Takeaways:

  1. Customer-Focused Proposals: Understand and address the client’s needs to create proposals that are customer-focused and tailored to their requirements.
  2. Effective Communication: Clear communication within the proposal team is crucial for successful collaboration and goal-setting.
  3. Language and Terminology: Pay attention to the language and terms used in proposals to ensure they resonate with the client and convey the intended message effectively.
  4. Leveraging Technology: Utilize available technology and tools to enhance the proposal writing and collaboration process.
  5. Continuous Learning: Stay updated with industry trends and best practices to improve proposal writing skills and outcomes

The biggest thing is telling everyone what it is that you're collaborating on and towards, setting goals clearly when you're asking for feedback.

Talk 9: Narrative Alchemy: Elevate Your Proposal Writing with the Magic of Storytelling

Talk Summary:

Rachel Charlton, the founder of Sticky Communications, shares insights on enhancing proposal writing through the incorporation of storytelling elements. She emphasizes that proposals, while not traditional stories, can still engage and resonate with clients through narrative techniques. Rachel introduces a communication shape that aids in crafting compelling proposals, providing practical examples and strategies for implementation. She encourages writers to view themselves as mentors guiding clients (the heroes) through a journey, offering valuable solutions to their challenges.

Top 5 Takeaways:

  1. Incorporate Story Elements: Proposals can benefit from storytelling elements, making them more engaging and resonant with clients.
  2. Understand Your Role: Writers should see themselves as mentors guiding the client (the hero) through a journey, not as the main characters.
  3. Crafting Compelling Proposals: A unique communication shape can aid in crafting proposals that not only inform but also engage and persuade clients.
  4. Engage with Clients: Understanding clients’ needs and expectations is crucial for crafting proposals that speak to their unique challenges and goals.
  5. Continuous Learning: Writers should continuously learn and evolve, drawing inspiration from various sources and being open to trying new approaches in proposal writing.

Proposals aren't exactly 'Once Upon a Time' stories, but you can incorporate elements from stories that will cause your proposal to resonate with your client.

Talk 10: Leveraging AI in Proposal Writing- Balancing Skill and Ethics

Talk Summary:

Rebecca Link provides an insightful presentation on the use of AI in proposal writing, emphasizing the balance between skills and ethics. She highlights that AI is not a replacement but an enhancement tool in the proposal writing process. AI tools, especially large language models, offer phenomenal capabilities, including generating graphics, basic pricing structures, and content creation. However, users should approach these tools with caution, as they might provide inaccurate information and have potential security concerns. Rebecca encourages the audience to explore AI tools while being aware of their limitations and ethical considerations.

5 Takeaways:

  1. AI as an Enhancement: AI tools are designed to enhance, not replace, the human element in proposal writing, offering support in content creation and data analysis.
  2. Security Concerns: With the openness of AI models, there’s a need for securing these tools to prevent misuse and protect confidential information.
  3. Ethical Use: Users should approach AI responsibly, considering the potential harm and ethical implications of using AI-generated content.
  4. Continuous Learning: As AI tools evolve, users need to educate themselves continuously to leverage these tools effectively and ethically.
  5. Experimentation: Engage with AI tools, experiment with their capabilities, and understand their limitations to use them effectively in proposal writing.

AI will never replace the emotion or the persuasive pieces or the innovative pieces the human brain can achieve.

Talk 11: Learn to Create a Disciplined and Repeatable Writing Process with Shipley

Talk Summary:

The speaker emphasizes the importance of a disciplined and repeatable writing process in crafting effective proposals. He introduces the POWER approach: Plan, Organize, Write, Examine, and Revise. This method helps teams efficiently communicate their solutions to prospective or existing customers. The speaker also highlights the significance of customer-focused writing, clarity, and the use of graphics to enhance message impact.

5 Takeaways:

  1. POWER Approach: The acronym stands for Plan, Organize, Write, Examine, and Revise, guiding teams through the proposal process.
  2. Customer-Focused Writing: Proposals should primarily address customer needs, presenting benefits clearly and compellingly.
  3. Graphics Usage: Incorporate graphics early and often to add value and aid understanding, but they should be simple and uncluttered.
  4. Clarity and Conciseness: Clear, concise writing with correct grammar and tone is crucial. Avoid jargon, cliches, and overly complex language.
  5. Continuous Improvement: Regularly review and update proposals, learning from both wins and losses to improve future efforts.

Readership increases by 43 to 60 percent when complexity is reduced by three grade levels.

In wrapping up this recap of the Optimize23 Business Writing event, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the speakers who shared their expertise and to the team at VisibleThread for making this event a resounding success. Each talk shed light on the multifaceted world of business writing, offering practical tips, innovative strategies, and deep insights to help us all become more effective and impactful writers. As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of communication, the lessons learned from this event will undoubtedly serve as guiding stars, helping us craft messages that are not only clear and concise but also persuasive and powerful. 


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