5 August 2010
Word count: 685
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Image by Yunet Holmes.
American Sign Language for ‘connect’.
We’ve recently been talking about how to persuade readers to act. We talked about using easy-to-read fonts and about using a story structure. And we talked about showing the benefits of doing something so that you can get past people’s natural reaction to say ‘No’ or to ask ‘Why’.
One of our readers commented on this issue:
This is a good topic. I had to edit somebody's email today to persuade a big boss to approve a project. But the writer had forgotten to include the expected $ returns on the project.
The email mainly focused on how they had researched the project and much work they had done to make the plan 'robust'. Sigh!
I guess many staff are too busy to think from the reader's point of view.
Connect with value
Thinking from your own viewpoint is very easy to do. We all want to show our bosses how much we’ve done – all the research, all the late hours we’ve worked, all the logic behind our proposals.
But in the business world, what matters most?
The best way to demonstrate your hard work and dedication is to show that you understand the concept of ‘return on investment’. Without knowing the real cost and payoff of something, a good businessperson will not act. And this applies to every kind of request – from asking for 30 minutes of someone’s time to proposing a multi-billion-dollar investment.
Connect with the reader
There’s no excuse for being ‘too busy’ to think about what motivates your reader to act.
If you don’t think about it, you’ll waste your own writing time, and you’ll certainly waste your reader’s time. Do that too often, and people will stop paying attention to you altogether.
The emotional roots of action
Why do we naturally say ‘no’ or ask ‘why’ to a request? Basically, it’s an emotional issue.
If we do something that results in a good return, we look good to others. That makes us feel good. And if we do something that results in a loss, we look bad to others, which makes us feel bad.
So to connect with your reader, you need to figure out the emotional trigger that will motivate them to act – the thing that will make them feel good because they know that the results will be good.
The ‘Why? Why? Why?’ method
Here’s a way to discover the emotional trigger that will encourage action from your reader.
Before you start to write, ask ‘why?’ at least three times. Here’s an example.
State your purpose for writing.
‘The purpose of this report is to request funding for a training project.’
‘Because we have a new system that our staff need to learn how to use – and training costs money.’
This is a very logical answer, but the reader will probably not be impressed. So ask ‘why’ again.
‘Because if our staff are proficient with this new system, we can increase efficiency by 40 percent.’
Much better! Anyone would be impressed with a 40 percent increase in efficiency. But let’s go one step further and ask the final ‘why’.
‘Because a 40 percent increase in efficiency will result in a cost savings of $1 million over the next quarter.’
Now that would really make your boss feel good!
Start with the benefit
Grab the reader’s attention and encourage them to keep reading by starting with the benefit you’ve found by asking why. (Remember what advertisers say about getting people to read the next sentence?)
Proficient use of our new system can increase efficiency by 40 percent and result in cost savings of $1 million over the next quarter.
To ensure that our staff become proficient with the new system and realize this level of savings, they will need training.
This purpose of this report is to request funding for this training.
The report will then need to include the relevant research, how ‘robust’ the project is and what the actual costs will be.
But connect with your reader’s emotion first to get their attention and encourage them to act.