Here are the five mistakes:
- Vague objective
- Waffle and wind
- Poor structure
- Formal language
- Passivitis (over-use of the passive voice)
As this article is Season 1, Episode 1, we’re just dealing with the first mistake here — otherwise it would be an extremely long article and you probably wouldn’t read it! Coming soon to a screen near you, Episodes 2 to 5 will handle the other four mistakes.
MISTAKE NUMERO UNO: Vague Objective
Have you ever read an article or blog that meandered from subject to subject, that didn’t seem to know where it was going? Chances are, the author didn’t either.
This is often because the author didn’t take the time to plan, and part of planning is nailing your objective or purpose. This is your magnetic north, the Pole Star of your writing.
If writers do consider their objective, it’s often in terms of what they want to say to the reader, ie their main message. They’re focusing on the communication transmission. The best writers turn that on its head and focus instead on the reception, ie how they want the reader’s behaviour to change as a result of receiving the words. It’s a subtle shift, but it’ll cause a sea-change in your writing.
How to nail your objective
I recommend using an acronym, F.F.A. — Facts. Feelings. Action. In other words, what you want your reader to know, feel and do. I’m going to address the triad in the order of Facts, Action, Feelings.
Facts: what do you want the reader to know?
This will vary enormously, depending on what you’re writing and for whom.
If you’re writing a pitch for instance, there will be many things you want the client to know, e.g. your understanding of their needs; your proposed solution, approach, team and price; the great benefits they’ll get when they appoint you; your track record with similar organisations or contracts.
The challenge with facts is knowing your reader well enough to judge which ones they need and which ones they don’t. In other words, pitching (excuse the pun) at the right level of information and detail. Too little detail and they’ll feel frustrated; too much and they’ll be overwhelmed or bored.
Action: what do you want the reader to do?
The list is endless. You might want them to respond to your blog or client alert, approve your award submission, give you a pay rise (chance would be a fine thing!), sign off your budget application, register for your training course, send you the document you need. The single action you need from the reader is usually obvious.
Feelings: what do you want the reader to feel?
Where persuasive writing gets interesting — and challenging — is in the emotions department.
Many people think that emotion has no place in business. But we neglect it at our peril.
Think about a recent or live document and list all the emotions you might want your reader to feel when they’re reading or have read your document. Here’s my list, in no particular order:
- Anger, outrage
- Self-value, self-esteem
In the professional services environment you work in, I would suggest that the vital emotions are confidence/trust, excitement/enthusiasm, fear and greed.
A client is unlikely to heed your legal advice if they don’t trust you or have confidence in your ability.
If your document is dull, your persuasion is unlikely to work. We don’t bore people into submission, but we can excite them to action. Hint: they will find benefits to them and/or their business pulsatingly exciting.
What might your reader be scared of or anxious about? If falling foul of a new directive could land them in prison, I think you’ll get their attention.
What do they want more of, are greedy for? Not just money. Maybe they want more time, information, control, power, influence, opportunity, a better image or a sounder reputation.
So, what’s the role of feeling and emotion in persuasion? It’s all thanks to this guy…
… the grandfather of rhetoric, a pupil of Plato and tutor to Alexander the Great. None other than Aristotle.
Aristotle identified the three elements of persuasion that are as relevant to us in the 21st century as they were in the fourth century BC:
Ethos: the character, reputation or credibility of the ‘persuader’, i.e. you, the writer.
Logos: ancient Greek for ‘word’, this is about appealing to the reader’s sense of logic and reason.
Pathos: ancient Greek for passion or emotion. Aristotle believed this was the king of the three.
The reason why Feelings in F.F.A. are so important is this: logic makes people think, but emotion makes them act.
If you’d like to go to the heart of the matter and download three chapters of my book, rhetorica® — a toolkit of 21 everyday writing techniques, here’s the link: Download rhetorica® Chapters
Scott Keyser runs Write for Results, a communications and business development consultancy. Write for Results works with professionals who perform technically complex work (eg lawyers, accountants, engineers), but who sometimes struggle to communicate the value of that work to their market in an engaging way. Scott and his team simply show them how to make their comms — including their bids, tenders, pitches and proposals — clear, concise and compelling.
To book a slot to speak to Scott about your or your team’s writing, click here: http://bit.ly/2f5o6di