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Writing Sales Copy – A Lesson in Third Grade English
Dear Business Builder,
My 12 year old son has set himself up as the “Bomb Cop” around our house.
The moment everyone lets their pants down a little and then bends over, the boy happily shouts, “Oh no!” – and then fainting helplessly with laughter.
It happened to me last night. In front of the nanny. Frickin’ embarrassing.
Now, as your friend and mentor, I would hate for anything like that to happen to you – especially when you pitch your book to a client.
Showing off your keester – proving you played hard the day they taught grammar and punctuation in Third Grade – is not the way to get your career off the ground fast!
No, I’m not rejecting you. In fact, this matter affects my health more than your work.
Look, I get tons of assignments and samples from writers who want to work with me. In addition, I also edit sales letters from “A” and “B” writers who work for my agency, Response Ink.
And if I have to correct some dumb and/or careless mistakes in grammar or punctuation, my head explodes.
So, in what I’m sure is a futile attempt to stave off a heart attack or stroke I’m sure the next time I see a brain-dead error in sales — here are 17 simple tips I’ve found. on an educational website that can help…
1. Verses should agree with their subjects.
2. Also, don’t use repetition.
3. Be more or less specific.
4. Parents’ words (although important) are (usually) unnecessary.
5. There are no sentence fragments.
6. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
7. Don’t be short-tempered; do not use more words than necessary; it’s too high.
8. One should not say everything.
9. Don’t use double negatives.
10. Avoid ampersands and abbreviations, etc.
11. Idioms should be avoided.
12. Remove the commas, which are not necessary. However, relative terms should be placed in parentheses.
13. Do not use a superlative word when diminutives or diminutives are sufficient.
14. Use words correctly, regardless of how others use them.
15. Minimization is always the best way to express an amazing idea.
16. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
17. Scroll carefully to see each word.
Now, I understand that in addition to the above rules, those of you who have sheepskin on your wall were also taught some things about proper communication in English that are not true – such as…
1. One word sentence? Remove it. It’s impossible! I have found that when used wisely, one word sentences and one word paragraphs in persuasion add emphasis and make the page look interesting.
2. Who needs dumb questions? I—that’s who! Verbal questions are a great way to stop prospects in their tracks and get them thinking. My talking point, “What’s Wrong With Getting Weight Fast?” sent for years.
3. Reduction is unnecessary and should not be used. Baloney! Contracts should always be used in sales copy – unless NOT used adds appropriate emphasis: “Don’t buy the stock today” is less emphatic than “DO NOT buy the stock today”.
4. The first word is not the last word in the sentence. Not true. Remember: Our goal is to write in a friendly way – and our hope is that many people break this rule and give up.
5. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. WRONG! Conjunctions and linking words… when used at the beginning of a paragraph, can be very effective in stimulating reading.
6. It is a mistake to divide the infinite. Again – if you’re talking to those you want to be with, sometimes it can be helpful.
7. Avoid verbiage like the plague. (They’re old hat.) That is as dumb as a bag of hammers. Clichés, similes and other metaphors are not only eloquent but also free; he likes to draw vivid pictures in his mind. And as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words.
8. Also, always avoid offensive words. Some of the most effective headlines ever written use catchphrases to make them memorable. The famous Bencivenga “Lies, Lies, Lies” “12 Smiling Swindlers” etc.
9. Comparisons are as bad as clichés. WHO he wrote these rules? Comparison is key to selling copies. To make my case, I often compare what is happening in the economy or stock market today to what happened years ago.
And to make things easier, I often compare something that happens inside your body to something that happens outside of it: “This appendix is like a rotor-root for your nerves.”
And, of course, comparing the high value of the benefits that my product provides with its low price is a proven winner.
10. Written similes are like feathers on a snake. Again – similes and similes… are used in conversation… and are a quick way to get your point across.
11. Kill all the screams! Not always! Clever use of exclamation points in your marketing copy is a great way to emphasize important points! Overuse can kill, however!
12. Remove the quotation marks. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate catchphrases. Tell me what you know.” You can quote me on this: Waldo was a magical man. Citing the endorsement of a well-known or well-known expert on your idea, topic or product is a powerful way to establish your credibility.
13. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it many times: Reject exaggeration; not one writer in a million can use it effectively. Exaggeration is like art: No one can explain it, but everyone thinks they know it when they see it. As a writer, you must judge for yourself whether your tone and words are appropriate or offensive.
14. Punishments are for children, not for those who complain. Tell that to Arthur Johnson: He knew that light humor – including puns – can stimulate reading and response, especially in headlines and subheadings!
15. Walk around the cage during the day to avoid conflicts. Nonsense. Colloquialisms communication. See above.
However, there are some rules that I MUST strictly follow – and I see them broken more than any other…
Use the apostrophe in its proper place and leave it out when it is not needed.
Ah, apostrophes. Those little demons seem to be wreaking havoc on everyone I know. The problem is, misusing apostrophes is my fault.
I can’t explain why, but when it’s misused in the copy I’m reviewing, critiquing or editing, it makes me see red.
My blood pressure “skyrocket’s,” the tiny “veins” on my forehead, a gallon of adrenaline “get’s” pumped into my bloodstream and I have to resist the urge to shake the poor “Whos” off.
In my humble opinion, nothing – ANYTHING – makes your sales copy look less witty than misusing or misusing the humble apostrophe.
And wouldn’t you know that? Almost everyone in my office … every kid I work with … every salesperson who sells products to my company … every client I have … and even the top writers I copy the top of every day … don’t use the apostrophe correctly if you hold a gun to their “head”!
Look! This isn’t brain science or rocket surgery: There are three – and three WHEN the apostrophe is called for…
Time #1 – Making the voice stronger:
RULE A: If the stem of the word is not possessive and does not already end in “s,” adding an apostrophe followed by “s” makes the word active.
“This is Clayton’s story.”
DON’T “This is the story of the Claytons.”
RULE B: If the word already ends in “s,” no additional “s” is needed. An apostrophe at the end of a word is enough.
“That’s the story of Martin Weiss”
DON’T “That’s Martin Weiss’s letter”
RULE C: Nouns that have a preposition do not need an apostrophe, regardless of whether they end in “s”.
“Is this yours?”
DON’T “Is this yours”
“Is this his?”
DON’T “Is this his?”
“Is this his?”
DON’T “Is this his?”
“Is it theirs?”
DON’T “Are these theirs?”
“He said his medicine”
DON’T “It said it was medicine.”
And NO “Said his” medicine.
Time #2 — Combine two words into one using abbreviations:
An apostrophe is used to replace a missing letter in a compound word.
I = I
Don’t = Don’t do it
I won’t = no
I couldn’t = I couldn’t
He is = He
He is = He
They = They are
Clayton is = Clayton’s
Time #3 – Colloquially, to indicate that a letter or part of a word or number is missing.
Clayton has been called the “Sultan of ‘seduction.’
Back in ’87, the stock market crashed…
I feel good.
I don’t have to fix these things anymore – do I?
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