I was flipping through the business section of a national newspaper the other day when a headline stopped me in my tracks. It read: “Frying Big Fish” — not exactly a typical business story headline. It sure grabbed my attention! Even though I have little interest in fishing, I had to read it. I had to find out what frying big fish had to do with business. And that is the power of a good headline. It “hooks” you. It makes you want to read on; to find out more. Would you be tempted to read articles with either of following headlines? (I found them in a Business Insider article about great headlines.)
“Never Shake a Baby — Even on an iPhone”
“Strip Mall Gets Saved — by Churches.”
And these are only two examples of the kind of punchy, eye-catching headlines people in the media constantly strive to write in the hope of gaining readers.
However, in business writing, you may not want to be as gimmicky as some headline writers are, when trying to hook your audience. (For example: “New Lease on Life of Christ,” for an article about the restoration of a stained glass window.) But you can take a leaf out of the headline writer’s book. A playful headline is one way to capture your audience’s imagination.
Particularly, with emails, a strong subject line (i.e., “hook”) will ensure your message doesn’t sink like a stone into the depths of your recipient’s inbox. Rather than title your email, “Good Communication Helps Careers,” for example, you want to be more emphatic and say something like, “Careers Can Be Made or Broken on Communications.” As you can see, the first title is passive; the second is active and dramatic. The second is more likely to make your recipient want to read your message.
But you can’t just rely on a good hook. The quality of your follow up must live up to that great hook as well. It has to resonate with your audience, or you will have failed in your effort to communicate effectively.
So how do you ensure that your follow up lives up to that great hook? Here’s how. Think of the structure of a typical business communication as a pyramid; the strong hook is at the top; and every lower level of the pyramid supports it. Going from top to bottom of the pyramid would work like this:
1. Good hook (at the top)
2. Good ideas that connect directly to the hook (underneath)
3. Good ideas supported by quality research that substantiate the hook (one level below)
4. Good understanding of the intended audience, ensuring that the (well-researched) ideas that connect to the hook are ideas that will interest this particular audience (at the bottom)
Of course, as with any communication, making that human connection almost always works best. And that’s what your strong hook is really all about. It may be the humor of your words, or the wit, or the drama that makes it work. Whatever elements go into your good hook, know that it is the spark needed to grab your audience’s attention.
For more ideas about how to forge a strong connection with your audience, have a look at these previous Language Lab blog posts:
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can learn to grab your audience’s attention.