Insights from our team: Three quick tips for better thought leadership

By Liza McIntosh

With 9,973,026 followers, Ariana Huffington is the fourth most followed person on LinkedIn. Above and below her on the list, you’ll find billionaires like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Mark Cuban. Huffington has achieved remarkable success in business, but her net worth isn’t yet measured out in nine-figure sums. On a list apparently organized by assets held, how did Huffington seize her position at the top?

You might argue that Huffington’s outsize influence stems from her media experience and acumen. After all, she’s founded two successful ventures, The Huffington Post in 2005 and, lately, Thrive Global, a behavior change company with a substantial work-wellness blogging arm. 

I’d suggest, though, that Huffington’s LinkedIn clout stems from a more foundational communications strength: she knows how to string together a sentence. Seems easy enough, right? Take the following passage from her recent article the on “Great Resignation”

"With a record 9.3 million jobs open right now, employers have no choice but to respond to the Great Resignation/Awakening. In the H.R. world, we’re no longer in a “why well-being” world. We’re squarely in a “how” world. And it’s clear that the “how” is not going to be about perks like ping pong tables, in-house D.J.s and lavish office buffets, but about introducing mental, emotional and physical well-being policies."

Huffington observes three important rules of good writing here:

  1. Show, don’t tell

You probably heard it first from your high school English teacher, but the adage holds as true for business communications as it does for creative writing. Convey your meaning to readers via concrete, memorable details. “Ping-pong tables, in-house DJs and lavish office buffets” evoke the problems with paying lip-service to employee well-being better than abstractions like job control, social support, or community relations.

  1. Start sentences with information already known to your readers. 

Notice how Huffington begins each new sentence with information she previously introduced: “We’re squarely in a “how” world. And it’s clear that “how” is not going to be about perks…” In beginning one sentence where the last one ended—with a “‘how’ world”— Huffington achieves the ever-elusive “flow” that is the hallmark of strong persuasive writing. If you want to convince your readers, you need to ensure that they can see the clear connections between your ideas.

  1. Limit the subject of your sentence. 

As a rule, there’s no need for the subject of a sentence to exceed five words. Huffington usually keeps hers to one or two: “Employers have no choice.” “We’re no longer in a ‘why’ well-being world.” Treat each sentence like a short story, introducing the main character early on so that readers know who or what to follow across the subsequent action. The bottom line: you know what you want to say, so don’t shroud your good ideas in qualifications or circumlocutions. 

As LinkedIn increasingly becomes a venue for thought leadership, it’s never been more important to write well.  At Copperfield, executives approach us for help in crafting thought-leadership that translates their ideas into inspiration and actionable insights for others. Part of the advice we offer them is that persuasion starts at the sentence level. Here, we’ve suggested three concrete steps you can take to improve the quality of your writing. In weeks to come, we’ll outline further techniques for refining your prose so that you can convince the audiences that matter most.