The Seductive Writing Tips That Leave Readers Begging for More
This article first appeared on my regular column at Forbes.com.
I have a confession to make.
I had never heard of Henneke Duistermaat before her article 18 Seductive Writing Tips That’ll Leave Your Readers Begging For More, but I was begging for more at “hello”.
Why did Duistermaat’s writing seduce me? Today I share some of her most alluring tips.
Duistermaat wrote her post as a guest submission for Jon Morrow, an online writing hero I’ll be interviewing further within the next several weeks. In the meantime, I learned Henneke’s book Blog to Win Business – How to Enchant Readers and Woo Customers has just become available on Amazon. Says Morrow, “It will make you smile, kick your a**, and massively improve your blog.” He was right. And I came to discover she’s in the midst of launching an online coaching program as well.
So here’s the “more”: I tracked Duistermaat down in her U.K. location to find out what inspires her to write with such passion and, of course, to persuade her to spill her biggest secrets for writing content that is too great to ignore.
Henneke Duistermaat indulges her passion for telling a compelling story through blogs. Here are my favorite of Henneke’s tips:
- Be a great conversationalist. Have you noticed the way you speak when you’re talking to a friend? You don’t speak “at” them, but you speak “with” them, in an informal tone of voice, and you engage them in a two-way conversation with you. You ask questions (like I just did). You address them as “you”. When you write with a conversational tone of voice, your blog will spur remarks and engagement. Conversely, have you noticed how many would-be writers go the opposite way and adopt a “bookish” tone of voice when they write? They believe the formal voice makes them “smart”. But in actuality, it pushes their readers away.
- Let your readers fill in the gaps for themselves. This is a fundamental principle of public relations as well. Instead of pronouncing “I’m a rebel” or “every new product you buy should be ‘blue’,” give your readers the information that would point their heads in the right direction and allow them to draw the impression you’re guiding them toward for themselves. For example, instead of “I’m a rebel” you might point to the supporting facts such as My high-school teachers told me to study physics in college, but at 17 I left home to study Chinese.Or: Rather than choose a safe color like blue for my website, I went for orange and purple, to be different and stand out. Or: Boing, boing. Henneke arrived at the cocktail party in wooden shoes. See what I mean? Now the impression you draw is more vivid. As a reader, you probably now agree that Henneke’s a little rebellious — more so than if I’d just said so myself.
- Appeal to the senses. Sensory words leave vivid impressions. The more fully you can appeal to all of the senses in your writing, the more memorable and deeply felt the reader’s experience will be. A pungent scent. A silky touch. A tingling flavor. For example, when you visit your favorite restaurant, does the menu offer you a turkey burger? Probably not. You are likely entreated by descriptions of the smoky aroma of applewood bacon, bathed in smooth guacamole and dancing underneath a rainbow of spices, while curling up next to a warm bed of country-style fries. (Yes, this example was over the top.) However, overly sensory text can be bombastic, like a sensory rollercoaster. Readers may struggle to process too many impressions at once. Consider using sensory words to stress only your main points. Says Henneke: Would you rather eat a cheese sandwich or Roquefort on a slice of granary bread with crisp rocket leaves and crunchy walnuts? Great bloggers learn to use the right level of sensory impression to stoke their readers’ desires.
- Be greedy with descriptors. Where possible, it is more powerful to use just oneadjective before a noun. So rather than write about a dull, drab, and bad sales presentation, choose the one adjective you like best: a drab sales presentation. (Drab is a sensory word that is much stronger than “bad”.) As to adverbs, Henneke suggest using them only in rare occasions to stress important points, and choose only emotional or sensory words. For example, in “A Very Good Headline” the adverb “very” adds nothing at all. But “A Lip-Smackingly Good Headline” is effective. The adverb “lip-smackingly” attracts attention and gives you a sensory clue for just how tasty this headline choice really is.
- Be a little unpredictable. Writing should never appear formulaic. This is a mistake that even skilled writers make. If every article you produce plods along to the same familiar format and melody, your readers will quickly grow tired of the tune. Why not throw them a curve ball now and then? Think about being bold enough to write the things everybody was thinking but nobody was bold enough to actually say. “A little recklessness is sexy,” Henneke says. Nobody wants to sound like a textbook. Why not break a few rules? Write a one-word sentence. Bam! Or an incomplete sentence. Don’t worry too much about your high-school teacher. Learn to be a rebel.
- Tell good stories. What do you enjoy most about your favorite friends and colleagues? Most likely, they have interesting stories to tell. If you drone on about your topic of expertise, and nothing else, you become boring. Spice up your writing with genuine stories about you and about others. Think about using a story as a metaphor for the point you are trying to sell. How is starting a company like a steep uphill bike climb? Or a marathon race? What could learning to prepare sushi teach you about making a great team presentation? And remember that the best stories can often be the experiences that went awry in a humorous way.
And a couple of additional thoughts:
Does a passionate headline with a little (ahem) exaggeration conflict with the sentiment that we should vehemently abhor PR spin? In my opinion, it is not a conflict at all. Yes, you can go too far. Claiming you have cured cancer, destroyed diabetes or that your newfound supplement caused Dr. Oz to lose 35 pounds this week is a lie, and these are tactics that amount to the worst kinds of spin.
However, a little theatrics in a headline that is meant to titillate the audience is a different thing, I believe. Fairly everyone knows that PR and journalism types can be a wee bit excitable (ya think?) and most readers are willing or even eager to read headlines that allow for a bit of hyperbole room. Headlines are a genre, and even a bit of an art form, I believe. They are meant to arouse your curiosity, to entertain you, or to knock you flat on your can. In this respect, a knock-your-socks-off headline is exactly what it’s claiming to be, and it’s hard to be more authentic than that.
Henneke’s caution: “The problem with ‘PR spin’ is that words like revolutionary, state-of-the-art, market leading, and cutting-edge are overused; and often there’s no proof in an article about what’s so special. What a company thinks is revolutionary isn’t necessary revolutionary in the eyes of consumers or journalists.”
Words like “market-leading” have lost their meaning, Henneke notes, as everyone leads their own niche. Headlines should never overpromise. An article should always deliver on the promise, or ideally exceed expectations. Bloggers (and PR writers) will quickly lose their audience if their headlines over-hype. The secret of a great post is the ability to pose a question, present a possibility, or open readers’ minds to a new idea that makes you go “hmmm”. In this context, a good blog headline 1) attracts attention – usually by using numbers or power words in the headline; and 2) arouses curiosity – by promising a benefit of reading a blog article. And, of course, to be fully authentic, the article needs to sufficiently answer the value proposition an enticing headline presents.
The brutal truth about what it really takes to leave your readers enchanted: A great deal of work. Lest you harbor any ill-conceived notions that writing is a glamorous and romantic profession, in actuality, it is work, work, and more work. “You need to learn who your readers are,” Henneke says. “Understand their struggles. Know their frustrations. Treat your readers even better than your friends. Help them overcome their doubts and their fears.”
Remember that when you hit the “publish” button it’s not a one-way entry to adulation and fame, no matter how well you may write. Your blog is the start of a conversation with your readers. And just as in a live conversation, you will often need to listen more than you talk. As a blogger, you can learn a great deal by reading comments with care. Comments can tell you when your explanation hasn’t been clear enough. They can also explain what your readers are struggling with and dreaming about. Henneke notes that many of her best posts have started with ideas that emerged in the comment section. Many of mine do as well.
Isn’t it interesting to observe the so-called writing “greats” who publish a wonderful post and then fail to acknowledge or respond to their readers’ remarks? Now who’s great? (There are exceptions. When Yahoo News reposted my article with Russ Warner Who Wastes The Most Time At Work, the comments instantly mounted into the thousands. In a case like this, you have my permission to Just. Walk. Away.) But as I advise emerging writers, “Don’t miss the easy points.” Everyone feels better when their contribution is regarded, and even negative or angry readers may dial the flames back substantially when they recognize you were willing to respond with respect and to allow them the chance to be heard.
One of the basic misunderstandings many business bloggers have is that they should just share advice to build their authority, says Henneke. But you don’t become an authority by just sharing your ideas and providing step-by-step guides. You have to inspire your audience and take away their objections. With enough of the right work, you will succeed in captivating your audience with each of your posts. You will open doors for your message and your business in ways you can only begin to imagine right now. As Henneke says, “Seduce your audience. Enchant them. Sweep them off their feet.”
By her own admission, Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent marketer on a mission to make boring business blogs shine. I am loving this. To read more of her materials visit www.EnchantingMarketing.com. Early bird registration to her coaching program is available here.