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How to write for your CEO – and sound like them at their very best

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Holy cr*p! You’ve been asked to write an email to the whole company…on behalf of your CEO. Get it right and it’s a bucket load of brownie points. Get it wrong and it could be your company’s share price going down as well your reputation. And that may be no exaggeration – stories of leaked CEO emails abound. From Mark Zuckerberg venting about information being leaked (ironically) to the Microsoft CEO announcing a salary freeze.

The stakes are high. And it’s not just what you say that’s crucial – it’s how you say it too. Should the email, for example, be in the CEO’s voice or your company’s brand voice? If a piece of communication is from one person and has their name on it, it’s best it’s in their voice. But, ideally, it should also reflect (or at least not jar with) the company voice too.

So, how do you make sure the email sounds like them, not you? And how do you bring in elements of the company’s brand voice?

  1. Watch them in action
    Ease yourself into the job by getting hold of some examples of the CEO communicating. You could collate emails, forewords and articles etc attributed to them. The problem is…
    a) The CEO may not have actually written them.
    b) They might not be in the CEO’s natural voice – it’s easy to slip into a formal or stilted tone in written communications.
    What’s better, is to gather some videos of the CEO talking – ideally to employees. If none are available, and you have time, you could ask to join some meetings or presentations where the CEO’s speaking so you can (with permission) take videos of them.

  2. Get a feel for their voice
    Next, it’s time to immerse yourself in these examples and soak up the vibes. As you’re watching the CEO speak or reading what they’ve written, try to gauge the overall feel. Are they light-hearted souls or seriously serious? Old-school formal or casually chatty? Respectful or irreverent? Enthusiastic or matter of fact?Are they reassuring? Encouraging? Confident? Upbeat? Optimistic? Thoughtful? Energetic? Calm? Fun? Conversational?

  3. Dig into the detail
    Now, you can get analytical. Play detective and look at the different facets that create the overall feel of their voice and make it their own.The kinds of things it’s good to hone in on are:Vocabulary and registerDo they tend to use longer, more formal vocabulary or shorter, everyday words? Would they say ‘purchase’ or ‘buy’, for example? Is there anything interesting, unusual or instantly recognisable about the language they use?

    Favourite words or phrases
    Maybe, they regularly say ‘really’ or ‘brilliant’. Or they often wrap up by saying ‘Let’s do this!’. What catchphrases are they known for?

    How do they express themselves and get their point across? Do they use metaphors and similes? Do they tell stories? Do they include lots of facts? Maybe they give motivational encouragement or inspiration? Or perhaps they’re a fan of techniques like repetition, acronyms or alliteration?

    Sentence length and tempo
    What’s the rhythm of their communications? Do they use long, languid sentences or short, snappy ones? Do they mix it up?

    Do they tend to use contractions, such as ‘we’re’ or ‘isn’t’? Or do they write or say the words in full?

    Active or a passive voice?
    Would they say: ‘the report was produced by accounts’ (passive voice) or ‘accounts produced the report’ (active voice)?

    Direct or indirect?
    Do they usually use the first and second person (e.g. ‘We’ll give you the support you need’) or the third person (e.g. ‘The company will give employees the support they need’)?

    Do they tend to ask questions in their communications? Maybe they ask rhetorical questions that they then answer or conversational questions to the audience.

  1. Compare with the company voice
    By now, you’ll have a good feel for your CEO’s voice and its various facets. You’ve maybe even spotted some idiosyncrasies that make it unique. Next, it’s time to compare their voice with your company’s brand voice.Even if you’re really familiar with your company’s voice, it’s worth digging out the brand guidelines and looking at the description and instructions for creating it.Can you see any similarities with the CEO’s voice? These are things you could dial up when writing on behalf of your CEO. Maybe the company and the CEO both use short, crisp sentences, for example.

    Are there any glaring differences? Maybe, for example, the CEO’s voice is much more formal than the company’s brand voice. If that’s the case, it’s best to write with a voice that’s as casual as seems authentic for your CEO – for example, by using contractions and lower register words. Don’t push it too far though or it won’t come across as believable and could shake people’s trust in, or even respect for, the CEO.

    You could also look for any facets of the company’s brand voice that you can weave into the CEO’s voice to pull the two closer together. Are there are certain words or phrases you can adopt? Or techniques you can use, like storytelling or metaphor?

  1. Plan, write, edit…and keep editing
    Now you’ve got an idea of how you want the CEO to sound in the email, put that to one side.It can be difficult to work out what to say as well as how to say it, all at the same time. So, before you start writing, plan what facts and messages you want to get across where in the email. Next, write the email without worrying too much about the voice so you’ve got down WHAT needs to be said.

    Then, go through the piece and think about HOW the CEO would say each sentence or get across each point. You could even try saying each sentence out loud in the CEO’s voice before you write it down – it can be easier to add someone else’s style to spoken words rather than trying to write it down, initially.

    Also, think about how you can bring in elements of the company’s brand voice or make sure the CEO’s voice isn’t too far removed from it.

    Remember, you’re writing like the CEO at their best and in representation of your company. So, if there are facets of their natural communication that aren’t great or jar with your company’s voice – like too much jargon – cut them out. And keep editing ruthlessly until it feels and sounds right.

  1. Get a second opinion
    However pleased you are with what you’ve written, it’s always a good idea to get someone else’s feedback. So, once you’ve finished editing, share the email with a colleague who knows the CEO well and ask where it sounds like them and where it doesn’t sound like them. If need be, keep editing.

  2. Get it approved by the CEO
    If possible, ask if you can be there as the CEO goes through the email you’ve written (as nerve-wracking as that might be) so they can explain any changes they ask for. Or ask them to explain their amends by adding comments. Then, next time you write on their behalf, you can hit the spot faster.

Need some help?

Sounds complicated? It can be, but it’s worth doing – and we’d love to help. We have:

  • Loads of experience working with CEOs (including working to tight deadlines).
  • Expert copywriters who can support you or do the entire job for you.
  • The skills to do this kind of project super efficiently and to a high standard.

Why not get in touch for a chat? We’ll save you time and stress, and free you up to focus on other things.