Life is hectic, especially if you’re running a company. I know how busy I can get, even though I try hard to spend time every day meditating or gardening.
I assume my clients are just as busy.
In June, I gave you tips for how to tell a great story. One of those tips talked about following an act structure, just like in plays. While I’m still convinced that’s a great technique, I also know it takes time, both for the writer and for the reader.
In this post, I want to talk about telling a story as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The quickest way, of course, is by using Twitter, where you can’t help but be brief since you only have 140 characters. But not all your clients are going to be on Twitter, and it’s easy for Twitter feeds to get cluttered, and worse, your tweet gets pushed down the queue as the people you follow post their tweets above you.
So when Twitter isn’t an option, your blog is.
When you’re trying to write your quick story, consult a newspaper (yes, they’re still around!) for inspiration. Newspaper journalists, particularly those who cover politics, crime and education, are trained to write the shortest stories possible with the most information possible.
If you’ve ever taken a journalism class, you know that the technique reporters use is called “the inverted pyramid.” They start off with a paragraph (or lede) that pretty much tells the reader everything he or she needs to know up front, then gives more detail later.
When you’re writing a lead, it’s best to include the five W’s and the one H:
For example, you run a non-profit organization that raises money for Lupus research. You just had your big annual fundraiser, and raised 1 million dollars, your biggest haul to date. While you may be tempted to start your story describing the decorations, the food and all the amazing items up for silent auction (you know, setting the scene), that’s called burying the lede. Try something like this instead:
“Fighting for a Lupus Cure raised a record $1 million for patients at Quincy Medical Center last night during its annual gala at the Regent Biltmore in Boston. The largest donation, of $250,000, came from longtime FFALC supporters and Cambridge residents Neil and Priscilla Foffington-Smythe.”
This covers the basics, and even the busiest reader will stay with you long enough to absorb that. Once you get past the lede, you could quote the president of the association saying how thrilled they are, go into who else attended, and gush over the music and food. It’s not that the band sounding great isn’t important, it’s that the most important thing is how much money you raised, who you raised it for, and who the biggest contributors (you want to keep them happy) were.
Now, a note about placement: In newspapers, the biggest story usually appears above the fold. By this, I mean that story is the first thing you see when the paper, which is usually folded in half, appears on the newsstand. The same principle should apply on your website. Make sure your biggest story appears right under your banner, and that the whole lede can be read without needing to scroll down the page. Again, you are targeting your busiest readers. They simply don’t have time to scroll!
I know that learning to write like this can take some time. But going back to Twitter, that is a great way to practice. The less characters you have, the more efficient you have to be (but please try to avoid text-speak!). Also, reading a newspaper or two (in print or online) can help you hone your skills.
Happy writing! I’m off to my garden.
Photo by ToniVC's via Flickr