Persuade from the heart

If writing to persuade people were all that easy, I would have millions of subscribers and way more clients. And I would write notes to remind my teens to clean up after themselves.

But persuasion takes time and motivation.

Like you, I need to build awareness and credibility and convince readers that I can solve their problem or fill another need or desire. I have to answer the readers’ question: what’s in it for me?

Personal benefits
With people reading my blog, the benefit means providing advice that will make their writing easier and more effective. With my teens, it usually involves money or favors.

Whether you’re selling a product, pestering teens or pursuing a more subtle goal like building respect for your expertise, you need to focus on benefits. That means whatever you’re writing, from post to presentation, has to be more about the reader or audience and less about you and your product, service or expertise.

You have to back up the benefits through emotions and logic. The balance will depend on the people you’re appealing to and the specifics of your objective.

For example, if you’re trying to sell safety devices to parents, you will stress emotion; if you want to impress geeks with your knowledge, you will emphasize logic. However, even if you are taking a mostly logical approach, you need to touch some of the emotions that propel everyone.

Today, I’m going to focus on emotional side of persuasion. I’ll follow up with the logical side next week.

Fear, frustration, pain
In order to understand what motivates people, you need to drill down to the emotions that drive them. Fear, frustration and pain are the big ones. The desire to escape the clutches of negative emotions like these is what compels people to think or act in a certain way. Maybe your readers are worried about losing their jobs, exasperated with an ill-informed call center rep or just want that damn headache to stop.

Unless you’re writing for a very targeted audience, you may need to tap into more than one emotion. So think carefully about your readers, then pick the most important ones. With business communication, the emotions may be more subtle, such as looking well-informed to their colleagues after reading your white paper.

To be credible, you need to demonstrate that you understand how your readers feel. So select feelings you share. Use an anecdote to explain. For example, a CEO can talk about learning the basics of customer service when he was a teenager working in fast food.

Anecdotes are one of the best ways to appeal to emotions. In addition to revealing feelings you share with others, you can tell true stories that reinforce your benefits. For example, you can talk about the customer who stopped biting her nails from stress because of how your software simplified her work. Or you can go on about the children you met who will eat because of their donation.

Unless you are a very gifted storyteller, you need to keep the anecdote short and to the point, including only enough physical detail to paint a picture and add credibility. No one likes people who tell stories that are too long, in conversation and especially in writing.

To keep it short, focus on the conflict and resolution parts of the story structure. Don’t spend any more time than is absolutely required to provide setting or develop character. You’re not writing the great American novel. Just a quick anecdote that supports your credibility or benefits.

If it’s a really good story, use it both in your opening and closing. In addition to doubling the emotional wallop, this technique can help link problem-solution-you in the reader’s mind.

As you revise, try to imagine you’re the reader. Does the anecdote move you? If not, rewrite until it does.

As you can see from this blog, I don’t believe in including graphics simply to make things prettier. But if you are writing for emotion, the right graphic works well.

A good example is the post from Darren Rowse that started with an anecdote about his youngest son learning to walk. This tied into his point about bloggers needing to start slowly. The photo of his two sons melted my heart.

One last piece of advice: Remember that a little emotion can go a long way. There’s a fine line between schlock and warm and fuzzy. Choose your stories and details carefully.

One last benefit: Keep coming back and tell your friends so I can afford to write notes promising to pay my teens for picking up. (I’d include a cute photo, but they’d be embarrassed.) Also, so writing can become easier and more effective for you.