persuasive writing tips

Last week I was joined in London by accountants, tax advisers, surveyors, lawyers and business development folk for the first public workshop on persuasive writing for business development. 

Writing topics of interest

At the outset, I asked the delegates to share their areas of interest or concern and their main questions. The themes that emerged were:

Writing process – Several asked about different writing processes. We considered structuring with key points and mind maps, simply writing or dictating and more creative processes. The process we use for our own material can be quite different for when we are writing using other peoples’ material – a frequent challenge for marketing and BD folk.

Brochures – I was surprised to be asked about brochures as in these digital times they are uncommon. We talked about what these documents are trying to achieve (convey the values of the business, showcase the experts, differentiate, present credibility, vanity) and how these documents might be used (reception, events and cross-selling to existing clients). Video alternatives are increasing in popularity – but you still need a well-crafted script and story.

Digital differences – Naturally, the variety of platforms and formats in the digital space present both challenges and opportunities for writers. We spent some time looking at curating, content mapping and content management approaches to ensure that core material could be repurposed and presented appropriately whether in technical journals, internal newsletters, media releases, web sites, blogs and social media.

The delegates’ persuasive writing rule book

It’s always interesting to hear what others think are the most important rules for “what’s right to write?” so here is the writing rule book that the delegates compiled during the morning session:

  1. Have a purpose (aims) for writing
  2. Include the (three) key points at the outset
  3. Focus on the needs of the audience (and adapt the tone)
  4. Have a structure
  5. Ensure the material flows
  6. Use good grammar
  7. Be concise and clear
  8. Include key words for search engine optimisation
  9. Avoid jargon
  10. Use language to evoke emotion
  11. Focus on the benefits
  12. Include a call to action (CTA)

Main persuasive writing takeaways

At the end of the session, the delegates indicated the topics that had had the greatest impact:

Focus on the audience – There is a tendency for experts to write what they want to say in their own technical language. However, we must focus on the audience (we discussed the use of personas here) and adapt what and how we write to meet their needs from their perspective. This is particularly difficult in digital media where a variety of readers might be reached – but we looked at how to write for niches, provide abstracts and alternatives, the use of on-line communities and curation here.

Take care with the first paragraph – Having considered the use of the journalists’ inverted pyramid, we agreed that the first paragraph was important to engage the reader and provide the whole story and signpost the content. The first paragraph needs a compelling reason for the reader to continue reading.

Sell with benefits – While the professions are often writing about technical and regulatory issues and aim to raise awareness of potential problems, it is important that we sell with benefits (the value of key features to the reader) and create a compelling vision of a desired future state.

Concentrate on three key messages – It is tempting to cover a lot of material in our writing. This is particularly the case in pitch documents where we may want to provide the client with as much information as possible. But we need to do the work and know what key messages we want the reader to take away and how we want them to feel after reading. We also spent time thinking about key messages for brands, practice groups and individual experts. The power of three model was used.

Add personality – During our work on brands – distilling the essence of a differentiating brand personality – we tackled how we can convey the personality of individual authors. Starting with three key messages we compiled lists of words that a personality would use as well as list of words that a personality wouldn’t use.

Incubate – I mentioned above that we spent time considering the pros and cons of different writing and editing processes. And we agreed that it was good practice to put aside a draft for some time (preferably overnight) so that we could incubate further ideas. When we re-read material after a period of incubation it is often easier to replace a work to give something more strength or to alter the order to create a better flow

Be concise – Our attention spans are getting shorter. We are all too busy trying to read too much material. Therefore we must make sure that our writing is scannable and that it is short.

Details of future sessions of this MBL course in Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham—How-to-Enhance-Your-Business-Development-Opportunities/8073/

Related blogs on persuasive writing include: