Yes, I’m specifically talking to you… Because if you want to create anything – anything at all – that demands your reader’s attention, you need to get their attention first. And that means thinking hard about subject lines. And headlines. And even first lines…
Grabbing your attention
OK, when you think about it for even a moment you know perfectly well that anyone, anywhere could be reading this piece. But it’s still somehow compelling to be addressed as an individual. As if you are the only person who matters to the writer.
In fact it’s the written equivalent of a skill that has been perfected by some of the most powerful people in the world.
Nelson Mandela – to name just one – could make you feel you had his complete attention. That when he was talking with you, you were the only person in the world who mattered to him.
Unfortunately – or so my wife tells me – so did the murderous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. She met him face to face, and understood almost at once the power of his personality. And his ability to persuade people that he was the man to follow.
Making your writing magnetic
Here’s a question to ponder… Why are some people immediately interesting? And why do others struggle to hold your attention?
There could be many reasons. The most obvious one, of course, is that elusive quality we call ‘charisma’. But, as we’ve seen, even Idi Amin had that.
Another might be ‘cheerful enthusiasm’. Admittedly if it’s enthusiasm of the trainspotting variety you may want to run a mile (unless, of course, you’re a fellow trainspotter). Even so, a passion for your subject can often be infectious.
But perhaps the most important is an ability, on their part, to find out what interests you. And then talk about that with the same enthusiasm and passion they might show in talking about themselves or their business.
And that’s the golden rule for making your writing ‘magnetic’. Who, precisely, are you talking to? What are their specific problems and challenges – and how can your offering address those challenges? And how – in one sentence – can you encapsulate those challenges, and suggest you have a solution for them?
You may well find the beginnings of an answer in our earlier article, The Blish Model – how YOU can write the perfect newsletter – which actually does exactly that…
Short, sweet and punchy
In the meantime, here are a few suggestions to chew on…
Consider those Sun headlines. You may well regard them as vulgar, tasteless, and occasionally downright annoying, but they do their job. They engage the reader’s attention. They excite curiosity. And (more often than not) they almost force you to read what follows.
In fact, they’re the equivalent of your email subject line and your newsletter headline. And in an email you actually get two opportunities to do the same thing (which can often be very useful).
The first paragraph of the actual story will often contain the ‘bare bones’ of the news (or comment) item. A quick summary of the facts, or a bold (if often highly coloured) statement of opinion.
That, too, has a job to do – to excite your curiosity (so you’ll continue reading). Or to engage your interest (if only to see how that bold assertion could possibly be justified).
In a factual (or in some cases, supposedly factual) report, you’ll then get the ‘main narrative’. Usually it starts with the most important (or, if you prefer, the juiciest) facts.That’s followed by other content which is less compelling but completes the story. (That’s if your attention hasn’t already been distracted by something else…)
In a comment piece, of course, you’ve been seduced into following a line of argument which – unless you simply dismiss it and look for something else to read – will take you, logically, through a series of steps to its conclusion.
Which might be quite a good model for an email intended to be gently persuasive…
More in our next!