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Persuasive Writing Strategies That Grab the Readers Attention and Get You Results
As a writer, you have the challenge of communicating without feedback and without the benefit of voice characteristics, facial expressions or body language. Wow! That really changes the rules, doesn’t it?
What this means is you have to understand your readers and anticipate their reactions to each and every word you write. You need to make your words come alive in the readers mind to compensate for their inability to hear your voice or see your body. More on this in a few moments.
Okay, so you want to write something, what is one of the first things you need to do (no not pick up the pen)? You must determine the desired outcome … that is, figure out what it is you are trying to accomplish. Sure this seems basic, but how many articles, white papers, e-mails, letters even advertisements have you seen that have no focus or direction? It’s like the author just sat down and threw up on the paper. Bottom line, determine what you want to accomplish. Are you trying to convey an idea, influence decisions, convey information or move people to action? How will this influence your message? You need to decide on your desired outcome right up front.
The next question you should consider is “who is your audience?” What I mean is, you need to ask these questions: “What are my reader’s wants, desires, needs, characteristics, concerns, problems? What do I need to know to help influence them?” If you are writing to an individual then understand that person, if writing to a group then understand the general characteristics for that group. If part of influence is to appeal to desires (and it is) then knowing your reader(s) is part of the desire equation.
One step people often fail to consider is the impact of the writing media. There are two elements to the media. One is the packaging. Is your communication electronic or is it on paper? Is it an e-mail, forum posting, newsletter, paper mail, printed book, magazine article or something else? How will it be distributed, will it be e-mail, website, postal service, flyer, in a package, etc. Consider how each of these will influence the perceptions of the reader. Is your writing just one of many messages being received all at the same time or will the reader just receive yours? Where will the reader be, when, and in what frame of mind will he or she be when your written communication is received?
Is this a lot more work than you were expecting before you even started an outline? Well, if you really want to be persuasive, these steps are important and the effort will pay off.
At this point, you know what you want to accomplish, you know a little or a lot about the background of the reader, and you know the media you’ll be using for the written communication. Now it’s time to determine what your messages are. This is really a balance between what you want to convey and what the listener needs to read to be convinced in the directions you are trying to persuade. If you don’t think of your message in terms that are acceptable to your reader, you’re efforts will sink faster than a heavy rock in a pond of water.
Next you can lay out an outline. There are lots of formulas to follow that can give you a framework. Here are five that may be used individually or in combinations:
1. A common copywriting formula is AIDA (attention – like a grabbing headline), interest (capture and keep the readers interest), desire (build desire), and action (move the reader to action).
2. Another formula used in selling is Neil Rackham’s SPIN Model. That is S (understand the Situation – as a writer you might describe the situation in a way that gets the reader to relate to your persuasion perspective perhaps by appealing to desires – especially unmet ones), P (identify the problem), I (show the implication of the problem), and N (lead the reader to realize he or she needs what you are persuading towards).
3. Case studies can be very effective for influencing. The simple model works well. Problem – Actions – Results: state the problem (and implications), provide the actions taken to resolve the problem, and then describe the results achieved (and relate these to the reader).
4. Break your writing up into key topic areas (this may mean messages or information) and then have several bullets to support each. Make sure your material has a logical flow (typically, this would be either chronologically, along the lines of your arguments logic, or in a series of steps).
5. Use metaphor/stories where the characters and situation mirror people and situations you are trying to influence. This is a great way to let the reader come to the “right” conclusion on his or her own.
At this point, it is time to start writing, so…
STOP! NOW! Okay, keep reading. I just wanted to make a point. You want to get the readers attention quickly right up front. There are a couple of ways to do this. It could be a bold claim, something bizarre, a big promise, a statement creating curiosity or a statement highlighting a major problem. All of these tied to the reader in some way.
A great example of a starting sentence that really captures the imagination is at the beginning of Charles Dickens book A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” What does that conjure up in your mind? Here is a fantastic e-mail subject line from Jason Potash (a true internet marketing genious): “Top Marketer Gets Mauled In Public Bathroom…” Wouldn’t you like to find out more? I sure did and opened it right away and had a great read.
You also want to immediately establish upfront that what you are writing about is relevant to the reader. There are six things the reader will be looking for and they are best summed up by Rudyard Kipling’s little poem: “I keep six honest serving men, they taught me all I know, their names are what and why and when … and how and where and who.” It doesn’t take much to get these six key items across early in your writing. Often it can easily be done in just one sentence. If you have any doubts, just take a quick look at your newspaper and read the first paragraph of a couple of articles, or take a look at the first sentence of a good novel.
Your challenge is to make the what, why, when, how, where, and who pertain to the readers interests. Here is an example targeted to someone interested in persuasion”: “Mastering the art of persuasion (what) can make you (who) rich beyond your wildest dreams (why) in just few short years (when) if you will simply commit to practicing these influence skills for 45 minutes a day (how) which can be done in the comfort of your home when you have a few spare minutes to write (where).
Build credibility, early on if possible. You can use social proof by mentioning endorsements, alliances with people who are respected, and testimonials. You can use the power of authority by mentioning your professional designations, licenses, certifications and other credentials. If appropriate, list designations next to your name under the title (for example “by John Doe, PhD, MD”). Be careful not to go overboard in tooting your own horn. For example, I might mention something like “while doing research in persuasion for my doctoral thesis, I discovered …” This tells you several things, I am either a PhD or working toward my doctorate (the latter is true in my case), and I am an expert in persuasion.
Citing facts and statistics with references to back them up can all help credibility. If quoting numbers, the more specific you are the more credible. For example, if discussing non-verbal communications as a key factor in communications you could say “according to a research study done at UCLA, 93% of communication is non-verbal.”
Research has shown us that case studies are even more effective than facts at building credibility and persuading. As noted earlier, a great case study method is Problem – Actions to resolve problem – result achieved.
Do you really want your readers to finish reading what you worked so hard to write? You do don’t you? THEN KEEP THEM INTERESTED. How? Well, I already mentioned one key technique and that is to establish relevancy early on.
Would you like to learn one of the biggest secrets to persuasive writing? Would you really? Here it is. Brace yourself. ASK QUESTIONS. Asking questions forces the reader to think about answers. Questions open up “mental file cabinets” in the readers mind. You can lead the reader with questions. You can get the reader to consider key issues. You can tap into emotions. You can ask the reader simple questions that require a small mental commitment related to what you are trying to influence and then tap the desire to remain consistent to previous commitments when asking the reader to consider something bigger.
Next tap into the readers emotions. You can do this with a story or metaphor that is likely to touch someone’s heart or trigger remembrances of similar reader experiences. See the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books for great story ideas.
Another way to trigger emotions is to ask the reader to remember a past experience. STOP for second. Can you remember a time when you accomplished something really significant, really important? Do you remember how good it felt? The excitement? The sense of achievement? Now imagine using these written persuasion strategies successfully for the first time and realize that this is how you will feel now.
What I just gave you was an example of tapping into the readers emotions (hopefully I tapped into yours – this stuff really is incredible and you will feel an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment when you learn it).
Paint vivid mental representations for the reader that make the senses come alive. This will help your reader remember what was said and will bring your message to life in the readers mind. If you were selling beachfront property you might say something like “imagine stepping out your back door onto the warm sand and looking out to a brilliant orange sunset, feeling a warm breeze on your face as gulls fly overhead, and then walking along the beach, taking in that special smell of the salt air, watching the deep blue water well up into giant frothy waves breaking along the coast for as far as the eye can see …”
Remember how I promised to share with you one of the biggest secrets of successful writing? Well, I’m going to give this secret to you soon, but first … you need to know that CURIOSITY is one of the very best ways to keep your reader involved and interested. I was listening to an audio program by the great marketer Joe Vitale. He started off with something like “would you like to know the two greatest headlines ever written?” Then he mentioned one, but never the second one. I kept listening to audio after audio for that second great headline. He had me hooked. Create curiosity with questions and statements that leave the reader wondering what the answers are or wondering what happened.
Use linguistic patterns of influence in your writing. These are things like presuppositions. An example would be “you’ll be surprised to discover how you can make even more money than you thought your would.” One of the presuppositions here is that you will make money. Another pattern is the single bind. An example is “the more you find yourself questioning your ability to influence with these techniques, the more you’ll realize just how effective they really are.” Here, either you question your ability to use the techniques and find they are effective or you feel they are effective up front. Either way you feel they are effective. Kind of weird, huh? You can learn more about language patterns by studying any decent NLP course.
Now I’m going to risk a scolding from any English Teachers out there with my next statement. Forget perfect grammar and punctuation, communicate with your readers the same way you would talk to them, the same way you would talk to someone standing right in front of you. Right now, my writing is speaking to you. There may be hundreds of other people reading this article, maybe even thousands, but as you read this, I want you to know I am talking to you.
If you get creative with your punctuation, you can do amazing things to direct the rhythm of your writing, to create pauses, to emphasize key points and much more. You can use capitalization, bolding, italics and color to emphasize key points. You can use a coma, a colon, a semi colon, a dash, or a “…” to create pauses. You can use parenthesis to place sub-ideas or explanations within a sentence and so much more. Take advantage of punctuation. It’s a great way to give the reader a sense of how your writing would be spoken.
Here is something really cool. Appeal to the reader’s universal core desires. You may or may not know your individual readers. If you don’t, it can be difficult to write to their desires. But, you can appeal to universal core desires (these are desires everyone has). Universal desires include reproduction/sex, food, and power. You can learn more by studying Kevin Hogan’s great course “Covert Hypnosis” were he discusses in detail each of the 16 basic desires identified by Dr. Steven Reiss.
Build up the value of the information you are sharing. For example, if an idea you provided could earn the reader an extra $20,000 in sales in the coming 12 months, say so. If you had to spend thousands of hours doing research, invest thousands of dollars buying courses and reference material, if you had to walk six miles up hill each way barefoot in the snow to get to the library to do that research (OK just having fun with you) tell the reader what it took to provide the information. This creates value.
There is so much more that I could discuss, but this is an article not a book. Let me share with you one of the most powerful secrets of successful writing (remember, the one I promised you earlier). It may surprise you. It is simple. It might disappoint you if you take it too lightly. But I can promise you this, pretty much every successful writer will agree that what I am about to suggest is critically important. Here it is. Are you ready? When you are ready to write, JUST START WRITING AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE DETAILS OR GETTING IT PERFECT.
Perhaps the greatest barrier to persuasive writing is that most people quit before they start or once they get started, they keep stopping and trying to make each word and sentence perfect … and never finish. So, JUST DO IT. Prepare and then when you sit down to write, just let it flow. You can go back and edit later. In fact, many good writers use a checklist to go back and review what they have created. But first you just need to get what you have to say down on paper. Don’t worry about the details, don’t worry about missing facts (you can find them later), don’t worry about references (you can find these later also) and don’t worry about grammar.
Well friends, that about wraps up this overly verbose writing session. Obviously, there is much, much more to persuasive writing, but hopefully, I’ve given you a basic framework to make your writing task easier and your written work more effective.
If you want to learn more about persuasion and influence strategies that can really give your writing more impact, I would highly recommend two course by Kevin Hogan. The first is “Covert Hypnosis.” It goes into great detail on how to persuade at an almost unconscious level through story and appealing to core desires. The other course is “The Science of Influence” series which provides the latest research and cutting edge persuasion tools. You can learn more about both courses along with many other persuasion resources at http://www.PersuasionToolbox.com.
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