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The 4 Pillars of Good Business Writing and Speaking

Examining what makes for a solid read/talk.
Nov | 27 | 2013

Nov | 27 | 2013
Updated: November 17, 2021

I have been on a reading rampage as of late, even more than usual. Blame or thank my iPad and bunch of long flights. That’s not to say that I read every business book that comes my way. Authors and publishers like sending me them because I write for some high-profile sites.

It’s not that difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. (I’d argue that the following list applies to public speaking as well, but I’ll focus on books.) I’ve come to the realization that most good business writing includes ample doses of each of the four elements:


I for one appreciate it when authors have done their homework and can tie current events to historical ones. Have we seen this movie before? Where? How is the present similar/different from the past? Why?

Or, as the kids say, bring your receipts.

Compelling Data and Visualizations

We live in an era of Big Data, but only 12 percent of all business books contain numbers. OK, I’m kidding, but I’ve read plenty of books in which the authors failed to use any numbers to buttress their arguments. On the other side of the coin, writers and speakers frequently abuse stats. Mark Twain thought so. Still, I’m more inclined to buy speakers’ core arguments if they come with statistics.

Such as:

Speaking on employee burnout for Hubilo SUBMERGE.

I find most figures and graphs in business books and keynotes downright lazy. Designers are worth their weight in gold, although you can help them out by creating your own mockups. I’m a fan of Canva (affiliate link). My designer certainly appreciated my efforts when we crafted the cover and figures for Reimagining Collaboration.

Stories/Case Studies

Data and history are necessary but insufficient conditions for a compelling business text. Show me don’t tell me, as a Rush song goes. Bonus points if your social media book doesn’t cover well-trodden ground like Comcast Cares or United Breaks Guitars. Pioneer new case studies if you can.

Designers are worth their weight in gold.


Yes, these are important too. What’s your viewpoint? Only after you’ve shown me facts, data, and stories am I likely to believe your opinions.

Simon Says

These four elements don’t guarantee a good book, much less a bestseller. Ditto for talks. I’m more likely, though, to enjoy and recommend business texts with these four things.


What say you?

Originally published on Huffington Post.

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1 Comment

  1. Helder Pereira

    I agree with your four elements. I tend to prioritize books with data supported facts and also books that are written by people that actually actively work in the field portrayed by the book. Also, I look at reviews (amazon and goodreads) and use those reviews as a base to choose which books to buy and read. But I really give preference to books whose subjects are supported by research and solid data.


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