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Crossman’s Crash Course in Writing for Audience Engagement

Writing well involves many fluid skill sets and distilling them all down into a concrete process risks eliminating the creative magic that can make a story really cook. And although I respect the rules of the writing road, I also love the excitement of steering onto an unmarked trail and letting my imagination take the wheel. Even when I’m writing for business.

Previous blog posts have examined some of the structural and style considerations involved in writing and today I’m starting another blog series, this one focusing on audience engagement.

I think of an engaged reader as one who simply keeps on reading — not because they have to but because they can’t help themselves. An engaged reader doesn’t stop to think how nice the writing is – they’re connecting directly with the material itself and floating along on the river of understanding the writer has created for them. In corporate communications – or indeed in any field – that engagement is the key to ensuring our readers understand an issue, support an opinion or program, or take a desired action.

Here are my top five suggestions for writing to engage an audience:

  1. Tell people why your program or initiative is important. Never assume people will “get it” just because it makes sense to you. They need – and deserve – some solid information around why it’s being introduced, why it will be helpful, why they should support it and/or why other programs or initiatives are being phased out.
  2. Show your audience you understand their pain. Referencing problems and other issues that interfere with job satisfaction, for example, develops rapport with your audience. It is a form of respect.
  3. Add an emotional component. Being human implies an emotional existence and a light reference to feelings acknowledges that we aren’t just machines lined up waiting for quitting time. It doesn’t have to be excessive to be effective  – for example, I used the word “excitement” in the first paragraph of this post as part of an analogy about creativity to encourage interest and create depth.
  4. Reference experiences your audience will embrace. A group of of heli-skiers might understand the 9-to-5 world, for example, but they’re probably going to be far more motivated by references to stretching the envelope of human existence. So it is with an employee or stakeholder group: references to flex time or improvements to the company fitness centre might resonate more than fresh powder.
  5. Use language that incorporates different motivational precepts. Bring words that will help your audience see, hear and feel what you’re talking about and show them you understand their need to deepen their business relationships, achieve their goals and control their environment. Where appropriate, show them how things will be exactly the same, and how they will be different, from what they’re used to. Help them understand the global vision at the heart of what you’re describing, as well as the minute details that will make it work.

Future posts will look at each of these issues in more detail. In the meantime, I would love to hear from you about how you maximize reader engagement!


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