Lawyers (compliance, anti-trust, commercial litigation, personal injury) and marketing professionals joined me at a recent MBL workshop on writing . They engaged in writing exercises. And reviewed the copy of professional services firms. They created their own writing checklist – how to plan, write and review. Persuasive writing convinces the reader of a particular point. And prompts the reader to take some action. A key challenge was how to convey complexity in a compelling manner. This post acts as a reminder and additional learning resource for the delegates. Why 22? That was the number of top tips identified by the delegates. And it is suggested that a fact is 22 times more memorable when it is wrapped in a story (attributed to Jerome Bruner and Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University). 22 tips on being a persuasive writer in professional services.
Always use the active tense . The active voice has a direct, clear tone. It encourages the reader to focus on the subject of your sentence.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
We looked at several AI writing tools. Some help with grammar and style. Some produce a first draft. Some provide a fast edit. Or help explore angles and experiment with different styles. Or deploy metaphors. But there were concerns about accuracy, originality, authenticity, style, intellectual property and being up-to-date. Time saved can be used to improve quality and increase persuasiveness.
You need to cut through the noise. Grab attention of the readers. Make your content stand out. Captivating titles, surprise statements, questions and stories are key.
Empathy ensures we write for the audience rather than ourselves. Write what they want to read. Some firms use personas to bring their target audience alive. Avoid “talking down” to the reader. Consider the audience an “ignorant genius”. Shift from a “push” (what I want to say) to a “pull” (what they want to read) approach. Grab readers’ attention with a catchy title and an inviting first paragraph. An introduction to emotional intelligence (EQ) and empathy (Video) (kimtasso.com). How to create buyer personas that clarify your target market | SurveyMonkey
Often we write about technical and complex topics. We can learn from the approach used by TED lectures. Presentation skills – TED Talks Chris Anderson book review (kimtasso.com). Other methods include EIL5 (Explain It Like a 5 year old or Feynman technique).
The Four Cs of copywriting are: clear, credible, concise and compelling.
Many of us write for people from different countries. We must adapt for cultural differences which may impact the tone and formality. How can I improve my cross cultural communication (kimtasso.com)
Humans are curious. Write to create a curiosity gap (the space between the information we know and what we don’t know). An example might be: “Five things every Finance Director asks” or “What every General Counsel considers when choosing a law firm”. If an article piques curiosity, people are to read and engage. There are many ways to raise curiosity: ask a question, offer a clear benefit or use an intriguing title. What is curiosity and why is it important in business relationships? (Video) (kimtasso.com)
Your words do not appear in a vacuum. The design (fonts, colours, images etc) has an impact. We saw the F-shape pattern of how people scan screens. Your design should work with how people read and perceive. White space around your words matters. Let them breathe. Avoid appearing too busy. Convey clarity with the design. We talked about how the medium and the message (or the content and channel) must work together.
Aristotle advised combining logic, emotion and credibility: Influence and persuasion skills with Aristotle and Knights and Dinosaurs (kimtasso.com). Research shows that even B2B buyers are influenced by emotional connection.
Marketing frameworks help us plan our writing. A series of articles or posts might be arranged around content pillars in a content management plan. We considered old favourites such as DRIP (Differentiate, Remind, Inform, Persuade) and AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action). As well as those designed for the digital age such as RACE (Reach, Act, Convert, Engage).
Message and metaphor
To persuade, we need a clear message. Some people refer to a value proposition – what are you offering? Delegates liked the idea of focusing on no more than three key points: Power of three – Writing and presentation basics (Video) (kimtasso.com). A metaphor increases interest and links what the reader knows to a new topic.
If all sentences have the same number of words, it’s dull and flat. Vary the pace. Have some sentences that are really long. And others short.
Psychology of persuasion
There’s lots of material on the psychology of persuasion. You can leverage cognitive biases (Changing behaviour in the workplace to boost productivity – psychology (kimtasso.com). And deploy Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion (Influence – Cialdini’s six principles of the psychology of persuasion (kimtasso.com)). And you can stress the benefits by answering questions such as “So what?” and “What’s in it for me?”
Why are you writing? You need a clear purpose. There are many potential reasons: raise profile, encourage engagement, inform clients, position as an expert and prompt action. A call to action (CTA) might be: connect, visit web site, share contact details, download information, attend an event. We can measure actions and so assess the effectiveness of our writing.
Search Engine Optimisation
Writing for digital channels involves SEO to drive traffic to your web site. Research the relevant key words. Establish separate landing pages. Whilst the SEO algorithms change constantly, write for humans and answer a question. SEO update for professional services (October 2020) (kimtasso.com)
Show don’t tell
Telling isn’t selling. Don’t tell your readers how good you are – show them. Reading facts and figures can be dull. And is rarely remembered. Show them by creating mental images. Show them with evidence. Show them by evoking emotions. Show them with stories.
Stories are engaging. And memorable. Stories were the original form of communication – before writing existed. Many professional services firms use client case studies. If the reader sees themselves in the story, there is a self-referencing effect. Video – The art of storytelling – Kim Tasso explains and demonstrates
We looked at a variety of different structures for our writing: Chronological, sequential, comparative, causal, categorical and evaluative. And the journalist’s pyramid structure. Delegate suggestions included:
- Point, evidence, explanation, link
- Background, legal, analysis, conclusions
- IRAC – Issue, Rule, Application, Conclude
Titles, headings and subheadings
Titles fulfil two roles. The first is to attract attention. The second is to enable the reader to scan easily to get the gist of the contents. And to decide to read in detail. Or to locate the material of most interest. Persuasive writing – titles and tweets (kimtasso.com)
Tone, mood and voice
Tone is the way you say something. What you feel about the subject. What the reader feels because of this tone is known as the mood. Convey tone through word choice, the level of formality, phrasing and the structure of sentences. Your writing voice reflects your unique personality and tone is the attitude with which you write it. Some firms adopt a formal and professional tone. Others are more informal. Your writing must reflect your brand’s voice. Usually, firms provide guidelines, agreed vocabulary or rules to which you must adhere. This ensures consistency. Others rely on respected style guides such as The Economist Style Guide: 12th Edition: Amazon.co.uk: The Economist, Wroe, Ann: 9781781258316: Books. Consider how to blend your firm’s brand personality with our own voice.
Writing is a collection of words. There are words to avoid. They are generic, overly-used, dull, negative or jargon. There are words to choose. Those that engage the senses and evoke emotions. Inclusive words prevent bias and appeal broadly. There are tools to help us write in Plain English. Increase readability by using short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
I also provide writing courses for PM Forum and inhouse – both for fee-earners and marketing and business development professionals.
Selected delegate poll results
What is your (business) writing experience (1=Low, 10=High)?
Which topic is of most interest to you?
- 0% What is great writing?
- 83% Persuasive writing
- 0% Communications strategy
- 0% Writing for traditional marketing/client communications
- 17% Writing for digital media
- 0% Editing
- 0% Writing tools (such as AI)
How good is your knowledge of grammar and English?
- 0% Excellent
- 50% Very good
- 17% Average
- 17% Poor
- 0 % Very poor
What is your writing process?
- 0% Just start writing
- 20% Take a brief
- 80% List of bullet points to cover
- 0% Jot notes over a day or two
- 0% Mind map the ideas
- 0% Produce a storyboard
- 0% Prepare an abstract/pitch
- 0% Interview
How much time do you allow for editing?
- 0% 0 – 25%
- 80% 26-50%
- 0% 51%-75%
- 20% 76+%
How persuasive is your writing?
- 0% Not at all persuasive
- 60% Sometimes persuasive
- 40% Quite persuasive
- 0% Really persuasive – I have stats to support that
Which do you feel is most persuasive?
- 0% Cognitive biases/decision-making theory
- 60% Rational or logical argument
- 0% Emotions
- 20% Writing/speaking like a human
- 20% The benefits (what’s in it for me?)
- 0% Words and language
- 0% Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
To what extent will you use storytelling in the future?
- 40% I’d like to but don’t think I will be able
- 0% Our material isn’t suitable for stories
- 20% Client confidentiality will be an issue
- 40% I plan to develop more stories in the future
- 0% We use storytelling a lot
How useful do you think personas would be?
- 0% We rely on them already
- 20% Really useful
- 80% Possibly useful for some writing
- 0% We write for too many different types of people
- 0% Unlikely to be useful to us
There are written guidelines for how to write about my firm
- 40% Yes – and they are used
- 0% Yes – but they are not used
- 60% No
- 0% I will be developing some now
To what extent do you use media relations?
- 17% It’s a key part of our strategy
- 17% A lot
- 67% About average
- 0% Not very much
- 0% Rarely
Which of the following traditional channels/media do you use?
- 0% Print/display advertisements
- 0% Brochures/leaflets
- 0% Hardcopy newsletters
- 33% Presentations
- 0% Reports
- 33% Pitches
- 33% Other
Which is the main digital channel/medium you use?
- 60% Web site
- 0% Online advertising
- 20% E-newsletters/alerts
- 0% Blogs
- 20% Social media
- 0% Emails
Related posts on writing
Persuasive writing – titles and tweets (kimtasso.com) November 2017
selling legal services with storytelling (kimtasso.com) September 2017