Create Copy That Persuades

Create Copy That Persuades

I recently learned from a master. Mike Long ( or @mikewrites), an award winning speechwriter, screenwriter and instructor at Georgetown University shared tips on creating speeches, op-Ed’s, and essays that actually persuade.

Long said it’s important to learn emotion trumps reason.

“We are not rational creatures,” Long said. “A mother will save her drowning baby even if she can’t swim. We feel then we think. We write by building a case out of fact. We have to select fact driven articles that inspire emotions.”

The key to creating a compelling opinion piece is humanizing your opponent.

“Do you want to win or feel superior? Stop thinking of your opponent as a monster. You have to think of them as just as decent and kind as you. You don’t have to believe it in your heart – you can still believe they are a bastard – but you have to write like they are you. You have to ask, ‘what would it take to persuade you?’ What would a reasonable person do to defeat it?”

One op-ed won’t change someones mind. You can’t make purely emotional arguments. So how do you do it?

Persuasive opinion journalism takes a set of facts and pulls you to agree without calling on ideological code words. In other words, here’s what we can achieve with this measure. It’s a mistake to get wrapped up in left vs right. You goal is to find those in the middle that are open to something.

Bad ones show you how wrong you are and how right they are. Instead you want to advance peoples lives and show them why something matters.

Before you write, you need to think about what’s the point you want the reader to think about after they are done reading.

Long suggests having “The Meeting.”

You probably have to work with a group to get all the information and ideas for the piece, you need to control their expectations from the beginning. Long said the meeting should include the people who have the power to tell you what they want in the piece and the people who can veto it.

Before the meeting, make a list of 5–6 subordinate topics or categories of benefits (afford, economy, health). These will be subjective statements which you can prove by backing evidence into it.

At the meeting get their input. Ask them to tell you the categories they’d like to have in the piece or points they want to make. Narrow it down to 3.

Long urges the writer to speak as little as possible in this meeting.

“When you get to the end of the meeting say, ‘Since we’re all in agreement, I understand this is what you want me to do. Thank you.”

Then go back to office. Send out an email that says thanks for helping me figure it out. Here’s what we agreed on.

Get ready, because the next day, you’ll get email back from someone wanting you to change things. Send them an email back thanking them for letting you know. Tell them “I’ll be happy to change it. Will you run it past everyone or do I need to?”

As a writer, you don’t have a lot of ways to push back, but this fixes it. Once all parties have agreed to things in front of each other. Make the person initiating change get the ok from everyone else.

When you are writing for someone else, writers often feel they need to finding the persons voice.

Long said there’s no such thing.

“When you can make a reader feel the emotion and passion and understanding, anyone will think you’ve written it in their voice. It’s not about capturing the voice, it’s about being plain and simple. Be clear and direct and you’ll be heard.”

Once you’re ready to write, you need to know the structure. There’s the Opening, the Middle, and the End.

The Opening (peg, problem, promise). You’re looking for a connection to the news. That’s your peg. You need to identify what’s wrong. That’s the problem. Finally you need a clear statement about how you propose to fix it – the promise.

The promise must include the word must or should. (The governor should, Congress must) You’re looking for something that allows you to offer a solution that they might not be aware of. It’s better if it’s something you don’t normally publicize.

The peg sentence will start with something like, ” This month in the journal of or this week the foundation released.” It’s the timely piece that makes your opinion relevant and newsworthy.

The first paragraph is three sentences. The more you put in it, the less likely people are to read it. Don’t get hung up on anything other than getting their attention.

The Middle is where you put what you think and back it up by what’s true. Site something in the news that translates to your point of view. It’s assertion followed by objective evidence. What you think, followed by what you know.

You’ve got to do research to find the right evidence. Is the evidence useful to prove the subjective claim? 1. Does it help? Related to the point. 2. Is it objective?

The End (restatement and call to action). It’s where you recap the big idea. Restate the promise and solution. Make sure you have call to action. That means give them something to do with their arms and legs like vote, donate, contact, or offer belief

You’ve hooked them now. Following these guidelines will have you well on your way to persuading readers and moving them to action.

Better Editing Makes Better Stories

Better Editing Makes Better Stories

There are two kinds of editing. Copy editing fixes what is grammatically wrong. Style editing is about the form and how things connect. Here are seven tips to make you a stronger editor.

1. Use direct language. Be simple, not showy. AP Style changes. Oxford comma preferred. What’s the most effective way to communicate what you are saying? Use it. Make sure you know your medium. Speeches are written to be understood,not to conform to grammar.

2. Use simple words. We try to fill up the page and impress people. Instead, we should simply get the message across. Don’t waste peoples time. The smartest person can explain it quickly and simply.

3. If a sentence is to busy, break it up. Write with the sense of drama in mind. Readers naturally understand the rise and fall of the sentence. They can swallow it and move along. If it jumbles up (more than 12 words), try to break it up.

4. Cut big paragraphs in two. People read a little bit and move along. Boredom is your enemy. Attention spans are short. Think about Larry the Cable Guy. His philosophy is “if you don’t like this joke, hang on, in 7 seconds I’ll have another one.”

5. Avoid passive voice. Inspect the opening. The first sentence in the paragraph needs to have the point you were trying to make. If it doesn’t advance the narrative, get rid of it. Show no mercy. Take a cue from Clint Eastwood. When directing, he always cuts 2 of his favorite scenes from the movie because he says they are probably just for him.

6. Avoid cliches. Circle them. Mark them and replace it. Why do we use them? It’s easier than coming up with something original. It relieves us of being precise about our meaning. Not sure what a cliche is? Think about phrases like: under the radar, thrown under the bus, scalable, actionable, synergy, peel the onion, core competency, wheelhouse, window of opportunity.

7. Stop saying very. And extremely, greatly, and every other intensifiers.

Make sure you’re passing along these techniques if you’re the editor of another writers work. Don’t just edit, educate. It’s easy to change their work and move on. If you’re goal is to only get the work off your desk, you’re missing a chance to help someone improve. Edit face to face when you can. At the very least, explain to them why you made the changes. Offer encouragement.

These seven edits will make your copy clear and readable for any audience.

What’s in it for me?

fraction of selection model schramm

I read the latest newsletter from Ann Wylie this morning. (If you aren’t familiar with her, you need to be – check out her site.)  In our daily life, messages and information bombard us constantly. As communicators, our goal is to get our message heard, and remembered. Ann shared Wilbur Schramm’s Fraction of Selection model.

He says readers make the choice on diving into our information by asking themselves: “What will I get out of this?” and “What do I have to put into it?”

According to Ann, this means the harder it is for someone to understand your writing, the less likely they are going to spend time reading it. You’ve also got to give them a reward for investing their time with you.

What’s a reward for reading? It’s you, delivering information to makes the reader’s life better or it’s entertaining to them.  It’s even better if you can do both at the same time. I’ve been trying personally to be more intentional with this in my own writing. It really makes you think about the concepts and ideas you are putting on the page. Will someone benefit from the idea? Will it help them achieve a goal? Will it make things easier? If I can’t say yes to those questions when I write, it’s time to delete and try again.

Professionally, I’ve been incorporating more video into our communications. I think this medium allows us as communicators to hit that target easier. People are relying on their phones and tablets more and more to get and retrieve information. Using video allows us to tell stories not only with our words, but with visual images that capture the attention as well.

Being strategic with our storytelling is vital. According to Hubspot  information paired with a relevant image is retained longer by the viewer than those reading the information without one. Hubspot also noted in 2017,  74% of all internet traffic consists of video content. Just using the word video in your email marketing increases the chance someone will open the message.

Schramm’s communication model is even more effective in today’s digital world. As we compete against more and more messages, it’s up to us to create content that provides our followers, readers, and viewers with something real and relevant. Using video is a great way to get noticed. The “what’s in it for me” messaging is key to getting heard and remembered. By pairing the right visual, with information showing real benefit, we’re increasing our chance of successfully delivering a message creates action.