You know how sometimes you start reading an article, but you quickly find yourself skimming the rest? Or you start reading and stop at the second sentence? Or you read the whole thing and end up feeling empty and betrayed, like something was missing?
Today we'll learn how to avoid doing that to our readers by becoming more ENGAGING writers (and bloggers). It's not enough to just write something and share it like mad. You need to make it intrinsically engaging, so your readers won't just skim and walk away, but get hooked and read more and more of your writing. I've been getting some great feedback on my own writing, so I've decided it's time for a crash course.
Ready? Let's engage them out of their pants, rebels!
Step 1: It's all about "you".
Your reader should be at the center of your attention. It's why I never understood journalism. I mean, it's great to be able to report events and hook readers with facts and story, but I've always missed the human element and the connection that could have been.
When I write, I focus on YOU. Nobody and nothing else exists because you're the one who is going to read and share this. This article is ultimately for you, not some imaginary person or a crowd of faceless people. Another way to write is to address many people at once, but I prefer the intimacy and connection that occurs when I write to one person.
Try it. Writing to one person is fun! Of course, it's not the only way to go, but it's highly engaging and enjoyable for readers. Or so I've been told, a lot.
Step 2: Don't forget yourself.
Focusing on your reader is great, but if you ONLY do that, there will always be something missing from your writing. Have you ever gotten an email from a company or a small startup, and someone was addressing you by name and being funny and great, and you wanted to know WHO that person was, but there was no way for you to find out?
This happens to me all the time. When someone is talking to me, I want to know who that person is, not what the company sells. It's the same with bloggers. You don't follow someone's blog for their expertise, but for their personality. Moreover, you follow them for the connection that you feel every time you read their writing.
That's all a reader really wants - to know the author better. (Cecil Dawkins)
Admit it. You're delighted every time you learn something new about your favorite blogger. When you read a book, it's the personal stories that hook you. Allison Fallon calls this "transcendence" - the ability to reach out to someone else while also being able to hold onto yourself. Liz Gilbert, Brene Brown, and Jeff Goins have this gift.
It's a tough balance to keep - between your self and your audience, but it's a balance worth attaining (and maintaining) because it benefits both sides.
Step 3: Make it a conversation.
People keep telling me I have this "conversational" style of writing. Well, sure I do! That's because when I write, I imagine I am talking to a friend. So imagine you're doing the same. What questions would you ask them? What objections would they raise? At which point in the conversation would you be likely to lose them?
Just write as if you're speaking to someone you like and respect. Don't worry about fancy words or making your justifications "perfect". Just be human and pretend you're talking to another human, which by the way, you are doing. This is what engaging writing really is. Coincidentally, this is something one of THE original creative rebels Seth Godin talks about in this piece - The simple way to get better at business writing.
P.S. Imagine you're talking to your best friend. That'll make for great writing!
Step 4: Don't sound like a robot.
Sounding like a robot can manifest in many ways:
- You're writing in a dry, nonhuman, detached way
- You only give information, but reveal no emotion
- You keep saying the same thing over and over
- Over-automating your social media...
I recently published an article about authenticity in an age of automation, which got a lot of attention. Automation may be necessary in business and I've certainly automated some things, but that doesn't mean you should sound like you are automated, too.
Imagine I'm following you on twitter and you tweet the same tweet daily. That tweet is the same sentence, written in the same way, and nothing ever changes. I'm sorry, but this is repulsive to me. You could at least shake things up once a week!
After all, you're not a business, you're a human being.
Step 5: Throw in a story.
A lot of bloggers start their articles off with a story. I LOVE doing that myself, except I usually jam-pack my articles with so much actionable information, it feels like a story would make the article endless. So this is perfect for shorter thought pieces.
A great example of this is Ash from The Middle Finger Project. She always laces her articles with stories and anecdotes because: a) they hook the reader (we want to know what happens) and b) they make the writer sound human and funny.
Where there is story, human connection forms and builds. (tweet this)
Cave women used to tell stories to their tribes in the stone ages while the men were away, hunting. Which is why I have always found pieces written by women more engaging. Don't get me wrong, there are superb male writers out there, but it always sounds more natural coming from a woman. Then again, great writing is like any other craft - it's 1% talent and 99% perspiration. So put in the hours and put in the sweat.
Step 6: Engage during and after.
What does the reader do AFTER finishing your article? Will they be able to APPLY what you taught them? Make sure you include as many actionable elements at strategic places in your article. (After you've made a point, at the end of the article, etc.)
Here are some great examples of actionable elements:
- calls to action
I tell my clients that everything has a purpose - every blog they write, every page they put on their site, every chapter they include in their book - which helps them think about the desired outcome. What do you want your readers to do after finishing your blog post? Where do you want them to go after reading your about page? And so on.
Just think about your purpose first and reverse-engineer your posts from there. My goal for this article is to help you write more engagingly. Which is why I have included plenty of examples, exercises, and questions. I could even include an assignment at the end. Anything that helps your reader APPLY what they've learned helps.
Examples of actionable content can be found on Erika's and Mariah's blogs. And btw, you don't have to be an infopreneur to pull this off. Just make sure your particular kind of value fits with your personality and vision for your blog/business.
Step 7: More quality, less quantity.
Are you saying something new with your post or are you recycling your old thoughts or someone else's? The more often you publish, the bigger the risk of repeating yourself too much becomes, which can become overbearing.
Think about it from my point of view. I come to your site, read a couple of articles, and soon I am following you, hungry for new content, but you talk about the same things! To make it worse, the only way I can find content on your site is to use search because you publish 10 short pieces every week, and none of it can really help me.
So I leave, never to return. It's a bit gluttonous and eager. It makes me think you care more about reach and traffic than you care about me, your reader.
P.S. Please include an archive of your blog posts on your site. It helps a lot!
Step 8: Make it shareable!
Writing that draws emotion out of people is most likely to be shared.
It's why controversial thought pieces get shared so much. Things that make you hopeful or angry get shared more than just info pieces like this one. Most of my articles, however, have some sort of hopefulness and fight about them because that's how I feel about life and that's how I want you to feel about it also.
Don't just regurgitate information, charge it with emotion. (tweet this)
Not just the emotion makes something easy or hard to share, but also the platform and the tools you use to share it. For example, some publishing platforms make certain content spread like wildfire, like Medium. As for tools, I often include tweetable quotes or images together with clicktotweet, so that sharing would be easy. I also recommend the SumoMe free package because it has a ton of tools that will grow your blog/business.
Step 9: Stay current.
No man is an island. Nothing exists in isolation.
Your job is to notice trends and ideas and recycle them through your own prism. If you're on social media, especially twitter, and you follow what people in your industry talk about, you must know the overarching themes of your generation.
For example, these last few weeks everybody's talking about self-care, "essentialism", and rest because the busyness topic was recently exhausted. If I decided I wanted to talk about these things as well, now would be a good time to voice my opinion.
Notice those overarching themes and use them! Take a popular subject put your original spin on it! That's what creative rebels do. Like Jen Carrington when she wrote about building a successful business without relying on traffic and Erin Flynn when she told the story of losing herself when she was too focused on creating for her audience.
You become a thought leader not by talking about what everybody else talks about, but by adding your original spin to it. (tweet this)
I know you're busy, so here are the steps in one place:
- Put your reader at the center of your attention, and your article.
- Don't forget yourself - include personal stories and anecdotes.
- Write as if you're talking to a very good friend of yours.
- Avoid sounding repetitive and void of humanity.
- Start your article with a story, to hook the reader right away.
- Figure out the purpose of your article and next steps.
- Always put the quality of posts before the quantity.
- Make sure your piece is easy to share (choose the right platform and tools).
- Know what people talk about and add your original spin to it.
First, put check marks next to the steps you already do. Then work on the steps that didn't get a check mark. (Let me know how you did in the comments!)
Always a pleasure to connect with a fellow creative rebel! You. Are. Priceless.