Flash Fiction:
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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Introductory Letter for Conference

I work for a Business Intelligence software company named Information Builders. In preparing for Summit, our annual user conference, we created a letter from our CEO to the attendees. I think the process by which we shaped it provides a pretty good example of how cutting matters even for relatively small tasks.

Our writer was playing off the Las Vegas venue and our "no barriers" theme, while trying to generate excitement about the learning opportunities at Summit.

Here's the original, 283 words:

Welcome to Summit 2007 and Caesars Palace in Las Vegas! I am excited to share with you five action-packed days of experience, collaboration, and innovation.

This year’s conference will focus on showing you how Information Builders’ solutions can eliminate the barriers to your organization’s success. Featuring over 160 sessions, including new presentations and perennial favorites, there will be unlimited opportunities for intense discussions, networking, and information gathering. This is the prefect learning opportunity for those who have just started using Information Builders’ products as well as those who have relied on our technologies for more than 30 years.

Responding to our customers’ requests has always been a primary focus for Information Builders. This philosophy is evident in the agenda that we have assembled for Summit 2007. One of this year’s new features is a full day dedicated to exploring topics specific to major industries. By focusing on how our technologies can be applied to resolve your unique issues, you are sure to bring added value to your organization.

We are also excited to introduce our improved education track – aptly named Basic Training. Our most requested educational, expert, and technical courses have been compiled here for a win-win conference experience. While we’ve changed some things to meet the demands of our customers – many of the favorites are back, including tracks that highlight each of our product lines and give you a glimpse at of what lies ahead, lots of labs showing you the nitty-gritty product features and techniques, and plenty of opportunities for you to meet with experts in a one on one.

Summit 2007 will be the only place in the city known for risk where you are guaranteed to hit the jackpot.


That's not bad, and I wouldn't have been upset if it went out exactly as written. That said, it could be better.

First, consider the form. This has the form of a personal letter, which lets us use a colloquial tone. (Also, our CEO isn't stuffy, so I wouldn't want his letter to seem too formal.) It's also likely to be skipped if we don't do something fast, relevant, and punchy; we needed a relatively small and impactful page.

Next, consider what we could do to improve it: eliminate the passive voice (and even non-passive forms of "to be"), use fewer words to say the same thing to make it read more quickly.

Here's what we came up with, 223 words (a 21% cut):

Welcome to Summit 2007 and Caesars Palace in Las Vegas!

Get ready for five action-packed days of experience, collaboration, and innovation, showing you how Information Builders' solutions eliminate the barriers to your organization's success. Over 160 sessions, including new presentations and perennial favorites, will provide unlimited opportunities for intense discussions, networking, and information gathering -- the perfect learning opportunity for new users as well as those who have relied on Information Builders technologies for more than 30 years.

Our primary focus -- responding to our customers' requests -- shines through in the Summit 2007 agenda. For example, we have dedicated a full day to exploring topics specific to major industries. You'll learn how to add value to your organization by applying our technologies to your [industry's?] unique issues.

We are also excited to introduce our improved education track - aptly named Basic Training. We've compiled our most requested educational, expert, and technical courses for a win-win conference experience. While we've changed some things to meet customer demand, many favorites are back -- including tracks that highlight each of our product lines and give you a glimpse of what lies ahead, lots of labs showing you nitty-gritty product features and techniques, and plenty of opportunities to meet with experts one-on-one.

In the city known for risk, Summit 2007 guarantees that you'll hit the jackpot.


It's tough to make education exciting, but I think this comes off pretty well.

I still wasn't sure what "win-win conference experience" was, so the writer changed it to "winning conference experience". (She made a few other good smallish changes, too, but those weren't my work so I won't post them here.)

There may be a little more that could be excised. But the cuts so far have achieved something more important than just a 21% reduction: they gave every action an actor. It's not just that "there will be" unlimited opportunities, it's that we've planned 160 sessions to provide them to you. It's not just that Summit will be a place where you are guaranteed a jackpot, Summit itself guarantees you the jackpot. In other words, we're actively doing all of this for you, dear Mr. / Ms. Customer, and you should be thrilled with how well we're going to pull it off.

That's the beauty of eliminating the passive voice. It's more efficient and it makes everything clearer and more expressive, even more emotional. It helps you connect with the person for whom you're writing. Good stuff.

Summit is taking place right now, by the way -- which is why I'm willing to publish this post -- and it has been a great experience so far. If you're a customer of ours and you're not here, you should really check it out next year.

Good writing!

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