How “get to the point” jibes with “tell a good story”

Diagram: Pyramid Principle via slidegenius

Storytelling is all the rage in business. Meanwhile, I’m telling you to front-load your writing — to explain just what you’re about to say in the title and first few sentences. If you take my advice, won’t that ruin your story?

Not quite. In fact, following my advice is the only way you’ll get to tell your story.

Business stories resonate

People relate to stories. At the Content Marketing Conference, I watched Kathy Klotz-Guest tell a workshop full of people how to tell stories about their business — referencing the Joseph Campbell’s classic “Hero’s Journey.”

I agree that if you want people to remember what you say, you must structure it as a story. When I wrote reports, I structured them as stories — simple enough stories that a 3-year old could relate.

If you’re telling a  story in video, you can start at the beginning. But you don’t get to do that in text — not when, according to Chartbeat, people spend no more than 36 seconds on the average news story (and your marketing story is not as interesting as the news story).

If you start at the beginning — with “let me set the stage for you” or “let me begin to explain why I think we have a problem” — you’re going to lose people.

Reveal the key elements at the top of what you write

As I’ll emphasize in my speech today, you must concentrate on making your titles, subject lines, and opening sentences as evocative as possible. That means getting straight to the point of your piece. Don’t bury the lede, highlight it. That’s a key element of Barbara Minto’s Pyramid Principle, an open secret among powerful business thinkers.

Doesn’t starting that way destroy the drama?

Not nearly. It wins you the right to keep going — because your reader will want to know how you back up your conclusions. You can’t possibly give everything away in three sentences (because if you could, you should only write three sentences and be done with it). So, whether you’re writing an email, a report, or a blog post, hook us with your most interesting conclusions.

I do this in my posts. Judge for yourself: do you still want to read, or have I destroyed the mystery?

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This feels unnatural unless you’re a journalist

Journalists write this way all the time. The lede tells you what the story is about. And it is a story — which you then write, immediately following the lead, starting at the beginning.

Now you should write your emails, reports, and blog posts the same way, for the same reason — to keep people reading.

Starting with the conclusion, rather than at the beginning, is a habit worth developing. In the read-on-screen world we all live in now, it’s the only thing that will keep your reader’s attention focused on the story that follows.

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  1. “I publish a blog post this interesting every single weekday. Sign up. It’s worth it, really.”

    Seriously though, you absolutely should. It really is.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom Josh (for free, nogals.) It is inspiring, informative, and helping me become a better content creator.