Award-Winning Submissions: How to use storytelling and Hemingway to stand out from the competition!

 We all know that terrible feeling. The most inopportune moment, inspiration fails you and you don't know what to write. It's just that sometimes the words don't flow effortlessly onto the page. But what do you do if you've committed to writing an awards submission?

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Cue ‘award submissions whisperer’ Sarah Mitchell, Founder, Director at Typeset and Global Copywriting, and co-host of Marketing Breakout podcast. Having been on both sides of the camp (yes, Sarah has previously written award-winning submissions and also been an awards judge) - this wordsmith guru had more than a few tips to share with us. She offered up her expertise at the recently held WITWA Award Application Workshop: Insider Tips on Writing a Great Awards Submission and wants us to ask ourselves: How can I be more concise in my writing? How can I make my writing more appealing to a judging panel? And how can I use storytelling techniques in order to stand out from the competition?

Use the inverted pyramid technique to ensure that the most important (and impressive) information is at the top. Panel judges will want to see proof in action. Don't tell them what you did, show them through case studies and evidence. Quantify the information you provide back to the outcomes and impact with the least important information at the bottom.

As a professional copywriter Sarah embraces brevity. People spend more time skimming than reading. You have to be precise. It's not easy when you're itching to get all your thoughts down on paper, but Sarah encourages "blurting it all out". Then, take some time away from your application. When you sit down and take another look at the ugly first draft, ask yourself: "Is every word working for me?".

Be ruthless; remove unnecessary words such as just, that, will, can, really, some, should and very. Avoid over-used words and phrases like 'Think outside the box', 'At the end of the day' and 'At this point in time'. Don't give into the temptation of using jargon. You will only isolate your reader and they will lose interest. Cliches are a no-go. If you really want to raise the bar, going forward, don't pick at low-hanging fruit. To be honest, everybody wants to move the needle (see what I did there?).

How do you paint a picture in the judge’s mind? Use brand storytelling techniques BUT Sarah cautions: "Have mercy on the judges!". Write your story as if you're telling it to a 'new' friend, co-worker or family member. Write for a single person - a layperson - not a whole panel of judges. 

A participant asked the question: How much of your personal story should you include? It turns out judges are also human and including adversity in your awards submission makes it intriguing. It's okay to write about the difficulties with references to life events and how, despite these challenges, you still reached your end goal.

Adopting Ernest Hemingway's writing style will make you carefully choose your words. You become clearer when you're trying to make a good impression. You want your content to pack a punch, but this doesn't mean leaving out essential details. Balance with use of both long and shorter sentences and use of precise words. Check for repetition throughout your application, as it will bore the judges. Using bullet points, lists and sub-headings is a good way to get your point across.

Sarah advises to strip everything away and don't get too precious with every word. Edit. Edit. Edit.

Before you submit your awards submission, Sarah provides these tips:

  • Start early: Give yourself plenty of time to do your submission. Leaving it to the last minute means you miss the opportunity to get feedback including editing and refining your application;

  • Follow the instructions: Make sure you answer the question!

  • Be concise: Don't veer off course.

  • Ask your network to help you: Work colleagues, friends but not your mum!

  • Make it easy to read: Practice reading your submission out loud. It will be easier to hear the tone and how it sounds. Does it flow or are you tripping over your own words?

  • Proofread it: Consider working with a professional editor or have a friend to read it through and give you feedback. Both grammar and spelling need to be perfect!.

Written by: Veronica Ennor