Great Things Happen When You Write Killer Memos

When you follow the five-step process you’ll write fantastic memos.

And then the fun really starts.

Video Transcript

Hi, my name is Trevor Thrall. I’m one of the founders of E38 Academy and a professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. I’ve been teaching national and international security for over twenty years and I have helped thousands of people learn how to write killer memos.

Hi, my name is Trevor Thrall, one of the founders of E38 Academy and a professor at George Mason University. In my first two videos I talked about the fact that the world runs on policy memos and analytical reports and how there’s a big opportunity for people to accelerate their careers and improve their work life by mastering the art of memo writing. I also shared what makes a great memo and how to build one. If you put in the work, you will be able to write absolutely fantastic memos, or what I call killer memos.

Today I want to share a few stories about the impact of writing killer memos.

At the highest level of government we can see the impact of memos everywhere, like the memo Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser wrote him outlining the strategy Carter used to help negotiate a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, or the memo the CDC Director wrote President Ford about whether the public should get vaccinated for swine flu.

But what I really want to do is share a couple of personal stories where killer memos made a big difference.

Let me start one of my own stories. Back in the 1990s I worked for a small nonprofit organization in Michigan tasked with developing new online education programs. At one point we hatched this plan to help upgrade the skills of the automotive supply chain – all the people working at the hundreds of companies supported the big automakers like Ford, GM, and Chrysler. My job was to figure out how to communicate the idea in a memo for the governor in order to get her to give us some money.

My boss warned me that the governor was super busy and that every word had to count. I was nervous and I will admit that I spent longer writing that short memo than any else I’ve ever written. We spent time figuring out what the governor’s priorities were, how to explain the current situation and the benefits of doing things differently. We gave the project a catchy name and explained in just two pages what the need was, what we would do, and the benefits it would generate. In the end the governor loved it and gave us $2 million! Now, there was a lot going on; the memo was just part of the story, but it was incredibly helpful for us to tell our story and sell the idea to the governor’s office.

And then there is a former undergraduate student of mine who I’ll never forget. She took my course on homeland security policy and that semester my students had to write a series of five policy memos, all centered around a particular terrorist group each student was researching. Her writing, like most of my students, started out okay, but she really got into the course, loved the material, worked hard to improve her writing, and her last couple of memos were just outstanding.

Her last memo was so good, in fact, that she used it as her writing sample when she applied for a job with the Defense Intelligence Agency. A few months later she called and told me she got the job. I’m not saying that’s the only reason she got the job, but given that writing concise, clear, and convincing analyses is exactly what the intelligence community does, I am willing to go out on a limb and suggest that her memo helped seal the deal.

Obviously, I can’t promise any specific benefits will result from learning how to write a killer memo and there are no guarantees in life, but I have seen dozens of situations where a killer memo or report made a critical difference. Simply put, writing killer memos is a really important skill and good things can happen to people who write them.

Thanks for taking the time to watch this video. Please leave me a comment below and let me know what great things could happen for you if you started writing killer memos?