Saturday, February 01, 2014

A 3-Step Formula for Captivating Your Audience With a Few Opening Lines.

A 3-Step Formula for Captivating Your Audience With a Few Opening Lines

Peacock seduction
You’ve worked so hard.
You’ve written an incredibly helpful post.
You know your audience will be delighted, as your tips are easy to implement and you’ve proven they work.
You’ve tweaked and polished until you found the perfect headline. It grabs attention. It arouses curiosity. It’s powerful. You’re happy.
But then a nagging doubt creeps in …
What if your opening is so boring that nobody reads on? What if your opening sucks and everyone clicks away?
The thought can paralyze even the most experienced bloggers.

You can do it

As writers, you and I are battling for attention in a distracted world.
We need to work damn hard to captivate and then keep our readers’ attention. We need to mesmerize them so they ignore the emails popping up. We need to hypnotize them so they don’t hear their phones ringing.
Sometimes it may feel like an impossible task. How can we pull readers into our blog posts so they keep reading?
Well, it might be easier than you think.
In the past two years I’ve studied hundreds of blog post openings and I’ve found a simple 3-step formula that almost guarantees your opening paragraph will be hypnotic.
Sound good?

Lesson from a master seductionist

Let’s look at a quick example first.
It’s from a post by Jon Morrow:
Ever feel like all of the “good” topics in your niche have already been worn out by more popular blogs?
A post about getting more blog traffic or living more frugally may be interesting the first time you read about it. Maybe it’ll even catch your attention the fifth or tenth time you see it.
But what about the 50th time? Or the 100th? Doesn’t it get a little … tired?
Sure, you can go to the content crossroads for new angles and spins, and it works … for a while. If your niche is super crowded, eventually it feels like even the devil couldn’t find you a new angle. And you start to wonder: how are you supposed to stand out, writing about the same old stuff?
You’d think it would be impossible, but it’s not. You just have to be a little sneaky …
Can’t resist the urge to read the remainder of Jon’s post? Just click here. But please do come back to learn how to write an opening paragraph that’s as seductive as Jon’s.
Ready?

Step 1: Empathize with your reader’s struggle

Jon starts with a killer question that addresses you, the reader, directly: Don’t you feel like all the good topics have been taken?
He pulls you into his post because he seems to know exactly what you’re struggling with. And he empathizes with your feelings.
As a reader you find yourself nodding your head in agreement with Jon’s points. Yes, I do feel the good topics have been worn out. And yes, I do get a little tired reading so many posts about the same stuff. And yes, of course, I do wonder how I can stand out in a crowded niche.
When readers start nodding yes, they get into an almost hypnotic state. They can’t help themselves — they have to continue reading, because they feel the post is written especially for them, to solve their problems.
Have you noticed how often Jon uses the words you and your? This is how he makes you feel he’s speaking to you directly.
This type of blog post opening only works if you know exactly what your reader is struggling with. You need to understand the problems he’s facing and you need to offer specific help to solve them. Your opening paragraph will immediately fall flat when a reader thinks I don’t have this problem; this is not for me.
When you start writing your opening paragraph, picture yourself writing to one person only: an imaginary friend, your younger self, or your favorite reader. When you act as a personal coach for one reader, you find it much easier to picture and describe the scene in which your reader is struggling.
You also avoid using a condescending tone, because you’re talking to a friend, a real person. Your writing immediately becomes more conversational, more empathetic, and more seductive. Your writing draws your readers into your post because they feel you understand them and you’re going to help them.

Step 2: Promise your reader a benefit

Why would readers make an effort to read your blog post and follow your advice? Why would they care?
The answer to these big why questions is what Chip and Dan Heath call a destination postcard. A postcard shows your reader where he’s headed: a wonderful holiday with white beaches, sunny weather, and delicious cocktails; or a life where your reader is not struggling anymore with problems like living frugally, finding a good blog topic, or writing an opening paragraph.
In the example above, Jon hints at your destination: you can stand out even if you write about the same old stuff. Jon promises you that he’ll help you. You just need to read his post.
Your opening paragraph opens up a gap between where your reader is now (how to write about the same old stuff) and where he’d like to be (you can stand out even if you write about the same old stuff).
As a blogger, you address your reader’s struggles, empathize with him, and then promise him you’ll help.
Your reader doesn’t want to waste his time reading your post because so much other content is waiting to be read or watched. Your reader wants to be sure that he’ll get something out of your post.
So, you have to tell him his destination: either his problem will go away, or he’ll become smarter or happier once he’s read your post.

Step 3: Provide reassurance

You’ve now learned the two most important steps of writing an opening paragraph.
You know how to empathize with your reader and you know how to promise something good. Now, there’s one more potential issue you need to address.
Quite often as a blogger you touch on issues that seem far too big to solve in just one 1,500-word blog post. Can you really learn how to stand out when writing about the same boring old stuff by reading Jon’s post? Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?
This doubt may put readers off. But Jon takes it away. He reassures you that it’s not impossible, you just have to be a little sneaky …
We’re all a little lazy. We love solutions that are simple, straightforward, and seemingly effortless. So when your reader starts thinking this sounds too difficult or too much work, you have to reassure him that you’ll offer a simple trick, a secret tip, or an easy formula.
Of course, you can’t just promise it in the opening … you need to deliver it with the rest of your blog post.
Now, let’s have a look at how to apply this formula to your writing.

The 3-step formula in action (plus a bonus tip)

When you next write an opening paragraph, think about your ideal reader. Picture him struggling with the problem you’ll address in your blog post.
Your ideal reader should be so real that you can see him huffing and puffing, and pulling silly faces because he doesn’t know how to solve a problem.
Last year I wrote a guest post about email marketing -— it was the most shared Copyblogger post in 2013. To write the opening paragraph for this post, I imagined one Copyblogger reader sitting behind her desk getting frustrated with email stats:
  1. I empathize with her frustration
  2. I promise her a destination where she’d be happy with her email stats
  3. I reassure her that writing engaging emails doesn’t need to be too hard
I applied the 3-step formula as follows:
We’ve all been there …
You’ve carefully crafted an email. You’ve polished each sentence. You’ve racked your brain for the very best subject line.
You hit publish with a sigh of relief. That’s done.
But when you look at your email stats, you notice that the opens aren’t as good as you’d hoped, and the click-throughs are disappointing. It’s depressing.
Does it feel like a big challenge to get people to open and read your emails? And then to go on to click through?
It doesn’t really need to be so hard. You’re about to learn the most important advice I’ve found for writing emails that get opened, read, and clicked.
This opening paragraph uses one extra trick: it starts with a super-short sentence.
Short sentences are easy to gobble up in one bite. They don’t require any effort from your readers. They only require a glance, then your reader can move on to the next sentence.
By making it so easy to read the first sentence, your opening becomes more seductive. Readers effortlessly glide to your second sentence and then on to the next sentence.
That’s how you seduce readers to keep reading. That’s how you get them to yearn for the tips and tricks you’re promising them.

The art of seducing your readers

You might think you’re a blogger.
You might see yourself as a writer.
But to pull your readers into your posts, you need to become a psychologist.
You need to sneak into the minds of your readers so you know exactly what they’re struggling with. You need to understand their feelings of frustration, worry, and despair.
Writing a good blog post means simply persuading a reader that this post is for him, that you’ll share your best advice to help him, guide him, and comfort him.
And once you’ve given him your best advice, you only need to kick his butt to get him to implement your tips.
So, come on. You can do it. Go write a seductive opening for your next post! :-)

Editor’s Note:

This blog post is based on a chapter of Henneke’s upcoming book Blog to Win Business. Sign up to her list so you don’t miss the book launch.
Flickr Creative Commons Image by doug88888
About the Author: Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent marketer and copywriter on a mission to weed out boring business blogs. Join her free Enchanting Marketing newsletter to learn how to write fascinating blog posts.