The cursor blinked at me.
Blink. Blink. Blink.
White page staring back.
Blank. Blank. Blank.
How could I do it one more time? How could I write a compelling story about a subject matter so dry it made my lips crack.
Has this been you, Dear Fellow Communications Professional?
Have you stared at the computer screen devoid of any idea of how to make a client message about the latest product, program or merger anything but a standard who-what-when-where-how and maybe-why press release?
In the 25 or so years that I’ve been writing PR copy and articles for trade publications, I’ve learned a secret.
It’s one I’ve shared as an instructor in writing classes and workshops. Now, I’ll share it with you.
The key to a compelling story: write a killer lead
To write a killer lead means means the four W’s and an H will probably not be there. Not in the lead.
Take a sip of your coffee. It’s gonna be OK.
A killer lead is not about shoveling out information as much as it is about conveying a mood, setting a scene, making the reader feel as if they’re right there with you.
A prime example of this, my friends, is in the lead you just read in this very blog.
Go ahead. Scroll back up. Read it again. I’ll wait.
Did you see what I did there?
- I brought you into my world, my experience. Were you or were you not sitting at the desk with me as the evil computer screen taunted me?
- I elicited an emotion. I felt frustration, and I bet you did, too. Eliciting an emotion from your reader not only creates empathy, but it also makes your story memorable. Put some emotion in there, and not only will they read your story, but they’ll care about it, too.
- I added a color and one of the five senses. I gave you color in the white screen. I gave you physical sensation in the cracked lips. If your reader sees your story in his mind’s eye, or feels it in her body, you’ve got ’em, no matter what the story is about.
To prove my point, here are a few examples of leads from articles I’ve written on less than sexy subjects.
From an article about GPS tracking systems
It’s the middle of the night and the cellphone on your bedside table lights up like a Christmas tree.
The GPS system you’ve recently installed to track your fleet of trucks has just sent you a text message: One of your service vehicles is moving out of the company yard, and it’s 3 a.m.
You hop out of bed, log onto your computer and confirm that, yup, you have a truck on the move.
You call the police and give them turn-by-turn directions to locate your vehicle. The boys in blue pull the truck over at a busy intersection and apprehend the thief.
You’ve just recovered a heavy duty Ford pickup truck, trailer, and $ 30,000 worth of landscape equipment. And it all happened because your GPS system knows you don’t cut grass in the dark.
From an article on a charitable organization that helps heal wounded warriors through golf
Aaron Boyle lines up on the first tee of the American Lake Veterans Golf Course, just south of Tacoma, Washington.
As he takes position to begin his golf round, his father, Ed, balances a ball on top of a tee. Boyle swings and the ball arches into the air, lands in the middle of the fairway. On any other golf course, this simple act would be inconsequential. Boyle lost an arm and a leg while serving in the U.S. Military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now, a specially designed golf cart allows him to balance his body upright, grip it and rip it. It’s all at once heartbreaking yet incredibly inspiring to watch. It’s a miracle. One of many miracles performed here daily at this place where wounded warriors come to play golf, and through the game, to be healed, to be with others who’ve been there and understand, to be made whole again.
From an article about using salt instead of chemicals as a weed killer
It’s a warm spring day in Central Florida. A group of young men suited up for football practice are sprawled out on the bright green turf of the football field. But they’re not resting after their workout. They’re picking something up off the turf and putting it in their mouths.
What is it?
It’s the rock salt the maintenance crew has spread onto the field to kill weeds, and the kids are eating it.
The killer lead
Now, be honest, didn’t you want to read the rest of those stories?
Weren’t you just the least bit curious to see:
- How the issues were resolved?
- How you could donate to the wounded warrior cause?
- Whether the kids would die from salt poisoning?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, I sit here triumphant because the killer lead works. It is possible to make an ordinary subject intriguing —and isn’t that the point of writing, to intrigue the reader enough to pull him through the story, paragraph by paragraph?
What do you think—can you write a killer lead?
Can you set a scene, make me feel an emotion, draw me a picture with color, or make me feel your story using one or more of the five senses?
Of course, not every piece needs all of these techniques nor lends itself to this kind of writing. Stock reports and merger information ought to be straightforward.
Should you have the opportunity to get a little creative, I encourage you to do so. Flex those writing muscles, which may be a little cramped from disuse.
Your heart and soul—your readership and your clients—will thank you.
Stacie Zinn Roberts is the author of the new book, “How to Live Your Passion & Fulfill Your Dreams.” A version of this article first appeared on Spin Sucks.
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