Three great leads to engage your readers

Your lead needs to grab people by the collar or get them asking questions, said Ann Wylie at a recent workshop sponsored by PRSA Puget Sound.

There are three good types of leads, according to Wylie:

  • Concrete: Engage one of the five senses or offer a startling statistic.
  • Creative: Use words that involve suspense or conflict. Talk about something weird, unusual or surprising. Or be descriptive, paint a picture with your words.
  • Provocative: Give concrete information that will provoke your readers to ask the question.

Some leads to try: human interest, wordplay, prescription, metaphor, anecdote, juicy details or startling statistics.

Some leads to avoid: abstraction, background, throw-away, question that’s broad or abstract, quotation, pack of facts or announcement. Those tend to be boring. They may be appropriate elsewhere in your story, but not in the first sentence.

Ben the Bear: Ann Wylie and online storytelling


PETA photo

“The bear, known only as Attraction #2, lived in a cage the size of a child’s room.”

That is one possible lead for a story about Ben the Bear, said Ann Wylie. She was speaking at a PRSA Puget Sound workshop on writing for the web called “Get Clicked, Read, Shared and Liked.”

Wylie described Ben’s story in a classic story template.

  • Introduction: Make the lead concrete, creative or provocative. What is a  critical moment or interesting fact that will draw people into the story and encourage them to keep reading?
  • Problem: Describe Ben’s dismal life in a North Carolina roadside zoo. Paint a picture for readers.
  • Solution: Talk about how your actions (by your company, nonprofit organization, agency program or other) improved the situation. In Ben’s case, PETA and other organization filed a cruelty-to-animals lawsuit that eventually got Ben out of the zoo, and FedEx transported him to his new home. Don’t use too much detail to describe your actions. Other people don’t care about those details. They want to know what happened to the story’s hero or protagonist.
  • Result: Ben now lives in a bear sanctuary, where he has green grass and his own pool. Happily ever after.

Stories are a powerful way to communicate online. Stories that involve human (or animal) interest and personal stories are more likely to be read.

To find stories, look for where your company, agency or program touches your customers. What have you done that is “aw”-inspiring?

Storytelling is half research and half structure. You need both for good stories.

Watch for more from Ann Wylie and her co-instructor Shel Holtz in future posts.

My latest video: connecting people to CarbonWA

Here is my latest video, which I produced for the activist group Carbon Washington. CarbonWA is gathering signatures for an initiative. They would like the state to have a revenue-neutral carbon tax. The video is a key part of their crowdfunding campaign.

CarbonWA’s goals for the video included:

  • Connect people to the organization and its people: positive, energetic
  • Get them excited about what CarbonWA is doing: concrete, cutting edge policy
  • Have them feel optimistic about climate change
  • Encourage them to donate money and time to the cause

I hope you watch the video and visit their website to see what this young, enthusiastic group is doing. CarbonWA was started by the “stand-up economist” Yoram Bauman and others who were excited about the positive impacts of British Columbia’s revenue-neutral carbon tax.

A music video about dog poop?

I enjoyed presenting about storytelling at the 2014 ECO Net Summit. In the next few posts I’ll share insights from some of my co-presenters.

If you haven’t seen the “Dog Doogity” music video about dog poop, it’s worth your time to check it out. It’s really fun, and it’s out of the typical box for government materials. Alicia Lawver from the Puget Sound Partnership reported that the video has had great results in getting the attention of a younger audience.

Can you use music to educate a young, hip crowd about protecting water quality? This video is a resounding “yes.”

Palliative care video wins Videographer Award

The video on palliative care that I produced for UW Medicine has won a second national award: a Videographer Award of Distinction. Last week I found out that it won a Clarion Award from the Association for Women in Communications.

“Palliative care: helping patients improve quality of life” tells two stories. Sallie and Jamie got married at the hospital, a month before Jamie died. Stacie is living with an artificial heart while she awaits a transplant. Two physicians describe how palliative care helps Jamie, Stacie and other critically ill patients write their own futures.

The recognition is exciting because digital video is what I most want to do. It connects my long-lasting interests in photography, writing and storytelling. I developed a passion for digital video while earning my Master of Communication in Digital Media from the University of Washington (now part of the Communication Leadership program). I produced the video as an independent study. [Read more…]

Palliative care video wins Clarion Award

The video I produced for UW Medicine about palliative care has won a national Clarion Award from the Association for Women in Communications.

“Palliative care: helping patients improve quality of life” tells two stories: a terminally ill patient who got married at UW Medical Center (told by his widow) and a patient living with an artificial heart while she awaits a transplant. Two physicians describe UW Medicine’s approach to palliative care. Palliative care helps patients with serious illnesses and their families choose medical care that respects their needs, reduces pain and improves quality of life.

I produced the video as an independent study while I was enrolled in the University of Washington’s Master of Communication in Digital Media program, now part of the Communication Leadership program. Thank you to Alex Stonehill at UW and Elizabeth Hunter at UW Medicine.

To make information stick, make it credible.

A deer is 300 times more likely to kill you than a shark.

A deer is 300 times more likely to kill you than a shark.

Why does some information stick and other information is quickly forgotten? One reason is that sticky information has more credibility.

In Made to Stick, the Heath brothers offer some ideas to make your information more credible.

1. Make your facts human-scale. Can you connect your facts to a local landmark (such as how much trash does it take to fill up your local stadium?) or the distance between, say, Seattle and Tacoma or New York and Los Angeles? Can you choose unexpected, colorful details that people can easily relate to? The Heath brothers cite an effective message. [Read more…]

New Ciscoe pruning videos; help City Fruit win $50,000!

Check out two new pruning videos I produced with zany Ciscoe Morris, Seattle gardening guru, for City Fruit.

In “This Branch Must Go!” Ciscoe teaches Kristen Ramer Liang how to prune a fruit tree and how to keep her tree from looking like Medusa.

In “Loppers vs. Saws” Ciscoe and Kristen talk about pruning tools. Gear loppers are the greatest pruning tool I’ve seen in years.

The videos helped City Fruit to be chosen as a finalist of the “Communities with Drive” contest, sponsored by Zipcar, Inc. and Ford Motor Company. Communities with Drive acknowledges and rewards organizations that have a profound impact on their communities. [Read more…]

Santa Claus in an airline safety video?

Delta's holiday safety video

Can you think of anything more boring than an airline safety announcement? When the flight attendant or video starts telling me how to fasten my seat belt, I quickly glance at nearby exits and then return to perusing the SkyMall catalog for cool things I don’t need.

The last time I took a long flight was shortly before Christmas. The Delta Airlines safety video included elves, Santa Claus and a sweet little old lady bearing gifts. I can’t say I watched the whole thing, but I didn’t tune it out.

The video received more than 335,000 views on YouTube. These viewers were not a captive audience on an airplane. They were watching because the video was surprising. [Read more…]

Keep it simple–but not stupid

Trinity College library with bust

Whether it’s promoting a book or an idea, get to the essence of the message.
(Trinity College library, Annette Frahm photo)

In my first professional job, I worked for an academic book publisher, Westview Press. My role was book promotion, trying to persuade libraries and professors to buy our books.

Each time we published an important or high-profile book, we created a full-page flyer to go into our marketing mailings. We would decide the key selling points and most compelling content of the book and tell people about them in several paragraphs.

When the book went into our catalog, we had to cut the messages down to two or three paragraphs. We needed to tell people the essential points in half the space. When the book went into the backlist, the amount of space was cut by half again. And it was cut one more time when it went into the back-back-list.

Each time, we had to decide the essence of the message. What did we really need to communicate about this book? What was less important and could be cut? [Read more…]