While watching the gang on MSNBC’s Morning Joe last week, I thought Bob Woodward had one of the best descriptions ever for the dysfunction in Congress.  He likened it to “permanent divorce court.”  Such is the essence of great message development.  

When I think of divorce court, the following images come to mind:  bitter disputes, petty behavior, irreconcilable differences, unwillingness to compromise, and lots of anger. In just three words, Woodward painted a vivid picture, quickly and simply describing the inability to get things done.   

Woodward, of course, is a widely acclaimed journalist and writer.  But we can all learn to use this kind of imagery in our everyday discourse.  Here are a few tips to get started:

1)    When describing your organization, think of analogies:  If you are a lawyer, you could say you advocate for your clients’ rights. Or you could describe yourself as “the Joe Lewis” of the law, delivering knock-out punches when it counts. 

2)    Use metaphors and similes: You could say, “It is essential to plan for a crisis before it happens.” Or you could say “Being unprepared for a crisis is like a firefighter walking into a building without protective gear and a helmet.  You’re going to get burned.”

3)    Don’t be afraid of adjectives and verbs – especially when explaining the “how” and “why.”  Ernest Hemingway preferred a good strong verb (well, he’d leave out the “good” and the “strong” part) to adjectives, but sometimes the “groundbreaking” practice that “trounces” the competition with “100 percent” accuracy needs to be explained in just that way.

4)    Dump the jargon.  Lose the “core competencies” and stop “drinking the Kool-Aid.”  Get to the point of how what you do matters to the audience that counts most.  And try to say it without business clichés.

5)    Be conversational.  Even if your words are in print, it’s better to say, “Get wet!” rather than “Immerse yourself in water.”

And always, always keep your audience in mind.  Will your reader understand?  Have you tried to frame what you’re saying so it makes sense to him or her?  Then, in the end, ask someone else. A second opinion helps identify gaps and/or makes sure that what we’re writing makes sense. Sometimes your invited critic will even offer a better turn of phrase.