Hands up if your work requires persuading people to do something? Mine does! But getting our reader to agree to our request becomes deceptively tricky when experts track 205 billion emails sent and received worldwide daily. (That same report predicts 246 billion emails by 2019.) This blog series offers you tips on persuasive writing to ensure your reader(s) feel captivated (and motivated) enough to agree to any request.
Spell Out Your Bottom Line
Within your intro paragraph, lay out exactly what you want your audience to do. Perhaps you want management to agree to a four-day workweek or a flex-time schedule. You might work in academia and want your director to approve nighttime and daytime offerings so more instructors can work during regular work hours. Whatever your ask of your reader, state your idea clearly (and succinctly) within your launch paragraph and explain:
- What you want your reader to do
- Why you want them to do it
- Why they should agree to this request now. (This last part creates a subtle, but vital, sense of urgency to the message. E.G. To avoid a potential huge loss of profits this fall, we must move on this venture now before our competitors do.)
Please note: I’ve learned this suggested structure from Dr. Heidi Schultz at Kenan-Flagler Business School where I teach business communication. I’ve also added my own tried and tested techniques I’ve applied as a reporter, series editor, and publicist.
State the Ask Within the Launch (and Subject Line) Too
If part of your bottom line becomes asking the reader to discuss the idea(s) and/or a deadline for the request, state that ask within the launch paragraph, too. We know that over 33% of email users determine which email to open based on subject line alone, so why not include the ask there as well?
I noticed how important a clear ask (and deadline for a response) becomes when series editor for an ongoing Guardian Labs Studio series. When we first sought approval from talent to feature, confused publicists wrote back unsure of what we wanted them to do. It was only when I tweaked the pitch to spell out: I want your approval to include you in a branded series and need you to agree (in writing) by X date, I gained the response I needed.
Provide Detailed Benefits and Reasons
Now you’ve clearly outlined what you want your reader to do, flesh out what’s in it for them within the body of the message. Dr. Schultz recommends a list of benefits, for instance, reasons, explanations, specific examples showing, not telling, the reader what’s in it for them. For instance, if you’re trying to persuade your dean to explore day-time vs. night-time only class times, you might point out benefits such as:
- A growing appetite in the US for flex-time schedules means more employers might/will endorse MBA employees taking time during work hours for their class
- A greater ease for the university to find instructors — more seek day vs. night work
- Stronger ability to tap more into overseas markets and deployed military
In my efforts to gain approval from talent to write on, I’ve outlined benefits including:
- Gaining grand exposure to robust readers globally when consumer news media may not have noticed their work
- Becoming part of an attractive series with other acclaimed individuals
- Having the opportunity to review/fact check the content before we publish (because it’s branded vs. consumer news)
Within your body, you really want to preempt any questions the audience might have, too. For this branded content series, I knew the reader/publicist would want to know specifics including need for an in-person interview, or not, access to photography etc. For optimum persuasion, spell all these elements out.
Persuade Using Emotional Appeal
When we decide on anything big — purchasing property, applying to graduate school, or relocating for a new job, we decide using both logic and emotions, too. Remember this idea as you persuade; without some emotional appeal, you’ll likely not get the results you want. Consider these approaches:
- Appeal to the reader’s hope (for publicity, more exposure, greater profits)
- Appeal to pride (offering greater success, more accolades, happier employees)
- Appeal to fear. This step might mean humanizing the problem you hope to solve through storytelling. For instance, to persuade your leaders for more flexible schedules, you might illustrate a heart-felt moment where the rigid 9-5 schedule became possible–someone became hurt, or you nearly missed something vital that risked the quality (and reputation) of your work.
When using emotional appeal, I suggest:
- Remaining open and honest
- Avoiding formal and cool sounding language.
- Speaking from the heart. Some of the best examples I’ve seen from executives remain simple comments like: Frankly, I’m worried about my team—if we don’t provide shorter shifts and extended vacation soon, I see mass burnout, or, worse, retaining very few. (In this example, the writer candidly appeals to the reader’s fear of loss profits and hope for maintaining business.)
Persuade Using Logic Too
Using logic becomes easier and multiple options exist including:
- Data — find the numbers and studies to substantiate your claim for the need for whatever you seek. When coaching clients to ask for a more flex-time schedule, employee engagement data from the most recent Gallup poll becomes powerful. The study finds only 32% of Americans feel engaged at work and the numbers haven’t budged in years. Powerful stuff. Share it.
- Authority – quotes from reliable experts or laypeople caught up within the trends you’re fighting for (or against) create more credibility as your pitch. You can also substantiate your own expertise in persuasive writing, too. If you’ve a great track record of achieving better work-life balance for clients—and improving morale in the process, tell your reader this info as you fight for a new team at work. If you’ve a 20-year history writing on a topic, share that vital info with the editor/publisher you hope to work with.
- Proximity—when pitching ideas to news/business editors, often stating that I’m there to report on the news (vs. someone else doing the reporting remote) becomes a compelling reason for the editor to say ‘yes.’
Have fun persuading using solid strategy, analysis, and carefully chosen words!