3:10 To Yumi – A Presidential Perspective on Good Writing

Carol Palmatier asked:

Looking to improve your article writing? Look no further than the current political landscape.

Ask any political junkie what makes or breaks a candidate, and you’ll get any number of answers: public gaffs, private blunders, bad policy decisions, incredibly poor choices in friends and supporters. All have the potential to derail a promising campaign.

This season, a new threat to success is strikingly clear. In today’s sound-bitten world, it comes down to being Yumi. And Yumi is all about good writing. Whether you are writing articles, speeches or site copy, one rule remains clear.

Let’s look at how the three most viable candidates chose to announce their candidacy:

“I announced today that I am forming a presidential exploratory committee. I’m not just starting a campaign, though; I’m beginning a conversation — with you, with America. Because we all need to be part of the discussion if we’re all going to be part of the solution. And all of us have to be part of the solution.” (Sen. Hillary Clinton, in Presidential Exploratory Announcement, January of 2007)

“Today, I announce my candidacy for President of the United States. I do so grateful for the privileges this country has already given me; mindful that I must seek this responsibility for reasons greater than my self-interest; and determined to use every lesson I’ve learned through hard experience and the history I’ve witnessed, every inspiration I’ve drawn from the patriots I’ve known and the faith that guides me to meet the challenges of our time, and strengthen this great and good nation upon whom all mankind depends.” (Sen. John McCain’s announcement speech, April 25, 2007)

“Let me begin by saying thanks to all you who’ve traveled, from far and wide, to brave the cold today. We all made this journey for a reason. It’s humbling, but in my heart I know you didn’t come here just for me, you came here because you believe in what this country can be. In the face of war, you believe there can be peace. In the face of despair, you believe there can be hope. In the face of a politics that’s shut you out, that’s told you to settle, that’s divided us for too long, you believe we can be one people, reaching for what’s possible, building that more perfect union.” (Sen. Barack Obama, in his campaign announcement, February 2007)

Okay, pretty standard politico-talk from three bright, popular senators. Nothing too earth shattering, and in the larger global context, not all that far apart in context and meaning. So what makes the difference between written words that merely inform and ones that inspire? It comes down to simple math.

Do this – go back through each senator’s opening remarks and simply count the number of times the candidate mentions “Me” (themselves) vs. “You” or “We” (the American people). The ratio of “Me” references to “You” references is what we call “The Yu:Mi” factor. The most inspired and inspirational writers understand the importance of hitting at least a 3:1 Yumi ratio.

Senator Clinton hangs in the balance; her speech contains as many “You” phrases as “Me” phrases, at four each. Senator McCain blows the balance entirely; talking about himself a full eleven times and about us merely once. Okay, two if you’re being generous and giving him “this great and good nation” as one more. Still, 2:11? Hmmm.

Now look at Senator Obama’s words. Clearly, he understands the power of the Yumi factor. His opening remarks contain 12 references to “You”, and a mere three about himself, or “Me”. He has hit on a fantastic Yumi factor of 12:3, or 4:1. Not only is this Yumi, it’s delicious.

Witness the results:

Both McCain and Clinton have urged voters to focus on the issues, not on Obama’s fancy speeches and inspirational rallies. Evidently, they see the effect of Obama’s words on the crowds. People feel what he is saying and they connect on a very personal, almost primal level to his words. Politics aside, it’s powerful stuff.

Sometimes good writing comes down to old fashioned math. Learn to write about your audience, not about you. Really, it’s just plain Yumi.


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