How Funeral Directors Can Build Their Written Communication Skills

Posted October 7, 2020

5 min read

Have you ever stopped and given thought to just how valuable the written word can be?

Writing is extremely powerful. Writing drives action, thinking, and emotion.

“It is, by far, the most important tool we have to communicate with others and to deliver our messages effectively,” says Petra Lina Orloff, President and CEO of Beloved, a company that produces custom, personalized, handcrafted obituaries and eulogies for families.

Funeral homes that offer Beloved’s unique memorials provide a valuable service to their families, and then those stories, in turn, become marketing pieces for the funeral home. (In fact, Beloved often acts as a representative of a funeral home when interacting with families. You can think of them as a funeral home’s own staff of writers who can help write incredible obituaries.)

Many would argue that digital communication has replaced writing, but the digital world still needs to be contextualized, and writing does that.

Just think about it: effective writing propels behavior—anything from clicking a link to purchasing a product—but writing is only effective if it speaks about its subject while speaking to its audience, explains Petra. “If either side of that delicate balance is lacking, then the message will not be delivered or received,” she explains.

Knowing how critical written communication still is today for funeral professionals, we spoke with Petra to learn more about how directors can build their written communication skills.

Continue reading to see 3 main changes you can make, starting today, to improve your writing as a funeral professional.

1. Write to Build More Trust

One of the first tweaks you can make is to start watching how often you use language related to the pandemic.

Do your best to speak clearly about the pandemic, and not use coded language that refers to a difficult, uncertain, or complicated times. “We are living in a pandemic now, and we must embrace it and find a way around obstacles,” says Petra. “What can be done now? That is all families are interested in. In the same way, writing about ‘when this ends’ is not helpful or fruitful. Stay in the present,” suggests Petra.

Part of the reason this language is ineffective is because it doesn’t build trust or confidence for readers.

When you write, when you author something, you become an authority, another reason why social media is such a powerful tool, says Petra. “So make certain you sound like an authority. Instill trust and confidence. That doesn’t happen if you tell families, ‘there is still much we don’t know’ or ‘we are uncertain.’”

Another example that’s being commonly used: talking about “unprecedented times.” In actuality, a global pandemic is not unprecedented, there are plenty of historic instances to which we can refer, explains Petra, so be mindful about using this phrase. “Also, the word unprecedented is a bleak, hopeless, dark word and your writing, unless you are Edgar Allan Poe, should never be bleak, hopeless, and dark. Words have power, so you must choose them wisely.”

2. Take Notice of Every Word Choice

Are you using language that only other funeral professionals understand? Or are you using phrases that most would see as “workplace jargon”?

Petra gives another term to so-called corporate speak: garbage language. “It’s cool. It’s hot. It’s hip. And, most people think they sound sexy and important when using it. However, it comes across pretentious, self-aggrandizing, and superficial,” she says. Put another way, too much jargon is typically off-putting to families.

“Perhaps I’m a bit too midwestern, but plain talk for plain people is what I always recommend. For example, when I discuss Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence with my mother, I talk about a beautifully written romance. When I speak about the same book with scholars, we discuss the class tension, the conflict of convention, and eternal struggle of individual desire. These are two separate conversations, tailored specifically for their audience,” she says.

The same thing applies to writing: write as you would speak. If you are writing for an audience of colleagues, the conversation, the vocabulary, the subject matter, and the context will be much different than if you are writing for your client families. “So, my advice, always write as you speak, exactly as you speak, to your audience,” she explains.

3. Be Prepared to Write More than One Draft

Another way you can improve your writing is to take the time to write more than one draft. Good writing happens in the editing and revision phase, not in the drafting phase.

“Also, make sure that you do a bit more than use spell check when you are finished. Read your piece out loud, slowly. You will be certain to catch more typos, wrong words, and grammar issues if you read aloud than if you read silently,” suggests Petra. As with anything, writing well takes practice and experience, says Petra. “If you need something written expertly, hire an expert writer. You worked very hard and very long for your credentials, and writers work equally hard for theirs.”

In summary, write in a way that fosters trust, where you are mindful of every word choice, and where you take the time to write more than one draft. Doing so will help you write in a way that is persuasive, informative, educational, and/or memorable, depending on what’s called for.

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