[Say What You Do Better] Lesson Six: Why Your Poetic Language May Not Land

Often, my clients write beautiful, moving statements about their work.

“I help people find and act on their inner courage.”

“I help people dive deep into what is true for them and then live from that truth.”

“I help people move through the world with more ease and flow.”

But when I read those statements, even if I feel the spark of truth, I can’t tell the context. I can’t tell WHERE it’s happening, WHO it’s happening to, or WHAT happens as a result.

And that leaves these beautiful and poetic statements floating out there in the ethers. Unattached to anything specific.

Pleasant to be sure. Hmmm. Nice. Warm fuzzies.

But I don’t know what it means really means exactly.

I am not inspired to take action or move towards them. I am not inspired to say, “hey, I want that thing, and I want you to give it to me now.”

Our brains aren’t good at filling in the details from broad statements like this.

What is context?

Context is the information that surrounds a particular piece of writing (or spoken language) and gives it meaning. It’s the description of the circumstances in which an event occurs or the setting where it takes place.

Context is WHERE is this happening, WHO is it happening to, and WHAT happens next.

Here’s the challenge. Context is often implied. For example, in this lesson I haven’t spoken much about the context of business owners writing web copy or talking in a networking situation (both examples of context) or getting more clients more easily because I think it’s implied. It’s assumed given all the other lessons I’ve written. (And because like you, I sometimes forget to be really clear!)

The problem comes when we assume our readers or listeners are filling in the context when they aren’t.  And when they don’t, we, the business owners are the ones who lose out.

And then we feel sad when folks don’t respond to our offer to come to a webinar. Or when people don’t’ sign up for our teleclass series. Or when the prospective coaching client says they’ll think about it and goes away without signing up. We decide that people don’t value us, don’t value our work. When really, they didn’t quite get what the work was and what it made possible.

And because money is a thing we need to sustain our bodies and to keep doing our work, most of us need to be like Hungry Hippos, out there gobbling up every opportunity to create clients that we can.

We make this mistake because we are so close to the work we do that we don’t see what’s missing in the communication.

So you help people find and act on their inner courage? Great! What is the context?

WHERE does that happen? Where do they find and act on that courage as a result of working with you?

At school? At work? In a family setting? In the wilderness? While making a career move?

WHO finds and acts on their inner courage as a result of working with you?

High school kids? Accountants? Grandparents? Artists?

WHAT happens as a result of working with you?

That high school kid stands up to a bully?

That accountant asks for a raise? Or fires their cranky and demanding clients?

Those grandparents sell their house and start traveling the world (assuming there isn’t a global pandemic)?

The artist starts spends eight more hours a week in their studio and doubles the price they charge for the art they create?

Without that context, people don’t know if you’re the person they need to work with. They might like and admire what you do. They might find what you write inspiring. But they won’t be moved to hire you, to pay you money, and to do the work.

So, let me tell you why you might be saying, “but Isabel, I can’t be that specific!”

One: You see that the WHERE, WHO, and WHAT are different client to client. You don’t want to pin it down.

That’s ok. You don’t have to have one homogenous WHERE, WHAT, and WHO. If it’s different contexts, then say so. And give me a sample of a couple of the contexts.

You can use inclusive language. “Whether you are a kid in high school, or an artist trying to pay the bills”. “Whether you are working your first job or you retired five years ago.”

You aren’t trying to find the one phrase that describes all the situations. That gives you big, broad, vague language that isn’t likely to connect. You are looking for the language of specific context and details that bring to life what you say is possible.

And again, your audience will be much better at zooming out from the specific examples to the bigger story of courage than they will be coming up with their own specific examples from a broader story of courage.

And giving those concrete outcomes doesn’t mean that you are PROMISING those as outcomes.

(At some point, if the contexts are too scattered and too diverse, that can become a business strategy issue, a way your focus gets pulled in too many directions, but that’s a conversation for another day.)

Two: You have trouble seeing the context. Your mind can grasp the essence of the things you don’t naturally generate the details.

Many of my clients are visionaries who see the big picture, who get excited about the vision they hold of how the world can be different. I love this about them.

And visionaries often aren’t great at dropping down into the concrete. At naming the context. At going from that big, expansive, inspiring essence of what they feel matters down into the specific details of how that comes to life for a single human being.

It’s a muscle. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, you can develop it through practice.

I am not always great at it naturally. I write big, vague stuff ALL THE TIME. But I work at it every day. Every time I write and email or a Facebook post, I look it over. Can I be more clear? Can I be more concrete? Can I give more context?

The best way to find those specific details? Go over in your mind the clients you’ve worked with. What happened for them? How did courage show up? Or a new truth? Or more ease?

Don’t have enough client examples to draw from? Get more experience (another lesson for another day). And in the meantime think of humans you know and love who have lived it. Your sister. Your best friend. Your neighbor. Your colleague.

Three: You are afraid to make a bold promise or claim the full scope of your impact.

I saw this a lot in the early days of the coaching profession. Coaches would be humble. “Oh, all I do is listen deeply to my clients, they do the rest.” That’s great. But it doesn’t help you communicate to someone why they might want to hire you. And maybe it worked back in the day where you might be the only coach that someone knew. But not now. Not when half the people in a room at a networking meeting are coaches.

I’m not asking you to be an asshole. Of course your clients do the work. But at some point, you need to find the part of you that takes responsibility for the positive changes they make. “Because of me, they left that job they hated with the nightmare boss who criticized them and found a new one that pays better. Because of me, they had the skills to navigate that disagreement with their spouse about who cleans the bathrooms, and come out the other end feeling more loved and supported! Because of me, they started posting daily on Facebook and filled their next group program.”


Don’t despair. This is a muscle.

Don’t be embarrassed. I still screw this up.

Don’t freeze up and stop writing.

Write what you want to write. Write what you know to say.

And then read it over.

Where could you be more clear? Where could you add more context? Where could you add more WHERE, WHO, and WHAT?

  1. Plan on working on this for 20-30 minutes if you can. If that’s too much, do 10 minutes.
  2. Grab a piece of paper and a pen:
    1. Drawing on all the writing you’ve done so far, write the clearest statement you can of who you work with and what you do for them. If you are writing by hand, write in the center of your page. If you are writing on a computer top of the page is fine.
    2. Reread it. How clear is it WHERE this is happening? WHO it’s happening to? And WHAT happens as a result? Is it clear and concrete or abstract and big idea?
    3. If you are writing by hand, use the edges of the page to brainstorm WHERE this is happening and how you can say the WHERE. If you are on a computer, type it below.
    4. If you are writing by hand, use the edges of the page to brainstorm WHO and how you can say the WHO. If you are on a computer, type it below.
    5. If you are writing by hand, use the edges of the page to brainstorm WHAT and how you can say the WHAT. If you are on a computer, type it below.
    6. Using all of the above for inspiration, write 3-5 new statements, adding in much more context about where, who, and what.
    7. BONUS ASSIGNMENT: Take something you’ve written recently and put out in the world. Read it over. Can you see where you could have added more context? Try rewriting it. How does it read now?

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