“Facts tell, stories sell.”
Start intranet articles with storytelling
When Karen Hand saw the “Dilbert” cartoon that pictured employees hanging from the walls by Velcro, she laughed. Then she thought: “Hmmm … wonder if that would work?”
Hand and the rest of the Facilities team have tried just about everything else to find space for the growing number of associates at Sprint Spectrum. We’ve soared from 50 to 1,500 associates in a year, and we’re likely to exceed 4,000 by year-end.
“Head count is a moving target,” says Hand, manager of Facilities and Administration. “We want everyone in the company to have a comfortable, efficient place to work. But some days it feels like we’re just packing and stacking.” …
Do you need to win the hearts and minds of your audience members? Tell them a story.
Storytelling is the most powerful form of human communication, according to Peg C. Neuhauser, author of Corporate Legends and Lore. No wonder it makes a great lead.
Steal inspiration for your anecdotal lead from these three other intranet pieces:
In medias res
Start your anecdotal lead “in the midst of things,” as in this piece about Sprint’s 911 service:
A woman in Denver whose house is ablaze frantically dials 911 to get help. But she doesn’t have time to give her name and address before running for safety.
Her local phone company, which provides 911 service, doesn’t have the correct location information. Emergency equipment goes to the wrong address.
By the time firefighters arrive at the right place, the woman’s house has burned down. …
Set the scene.
I love the “his hands were steady” line in this piece about the first call on a new Sprint platform.
His hands were steady as he dialed [CEO] Bill Esrey’s Sprint PCS number at 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 15. Douglas Hartung, director of site application planning in the Broadband Local Network group, was making the first residential Sprint ION call.
Field technicians had completed the complex installation process and were standing by with a group of representatives from the Sprint ION Installation and Repair Deployment group. As Hartung held the receiver to his ear, the others — eyes wide and eyebrows raised — waiting to see if it worked.
With Esrey’s first hello, they got their answer.
“Sprint ION is real. It works. It’s clear,” says Bob Welborn, director of the Sprint ION I&R Deployment group. “It was a monumental event, and we started cheering loudly in the background.” …
Start with the desk-pounding moment.
When was the moment in the story when someone pounded on a desk, and said, “We’ve got to fix this!”? That moment is the opening of your story.
Here’s how it works, in a piece about building a new telecom hub.
The product couldn’t be built in the timeframe required.
That’s what Cisco Systems told the team developing the residential integrated service hub (RISH) that would bring Sprint ION into the home.
“When CISCO bowed out last fall, we vowed to find another path that would keep the hub on track for its scheduled introduction with Phase 3 this fall,” says Bob Wiese, principal network design engineer who led the eight-member RISH project team.
“We knew all eyes were on us. All Sprint ION residential services will come through this hub. It’s truly the doorway into the home.” …
How can you use the most powerful form of human communication to draw readers into your next piece?
Master the Art of the Storyteller
Want to put the most powerful form of human communication to work in your very next piece?
- Get it off your desk: Invite Ann’s team to handle a special writing or editing project.
- Polish staff skills: Bring Ann to your organization for a Art of the Storyteller workshop.
- Boost your own abilities: Work with Ann to Master the Art of the Storyteller in one-on-one writing coaching sessions. Or find out about Ann’s next Master the Art of the Storyteller teleseminar.
- Learn more: Read Ann’s learning tools on storytelling, metaphor and human interest. And get free writing tips every month when you subscribe to our e-zine.
- Join the club: Find dozens of tipsheets on storytelling at RevUpReadership.com.
“It is very difficult to make people out of words.”
Larry Leonard, Oregon writer, quoted by Jack Hart in A Writer’s Coach
Squeeze a big life into a small space
How do you pack a large life into a tight space?
Try a “pocket profile.” That’s the technique Anjelica Huston used to describe her great-great-great grandfather in her new memoir, A Story Lately Told:
“… a prospector, John Gore, who started up several newspapers from Kansas to New York. A cowboy, a settler, a saloon owner, a judge, a professional gambler, and a confirmed alcoholic, he once won the town of Nevada in a poker game.”
Note that writing short doesn’t mean compressing all the life out of a person. The best line of that bio, obviously, is “he once won the town of Nevada in a poker game.”
The Poynter Institute’s Roy Peter Clark calls this approach “narrative shorthand.” He praises Rosalind Bentley’s use of narrative shorthand in her piece about America’s poet laureate Natasha Trethewey for the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
“The shorthand of Natasha’s life reads like words plucked from a free verse poem: Native Mississippian. Black mother. White father. Poet father. Poet daughter. Atlanta and DeKalb public school student. “A” student. UGA head cheerleader. Trauma survivor. Big sister. Decatur resident. Meticulous housekeeper. Proud wife. Exacting professor. Historical poet. Nobody’s pushover.”
Love the structure of that piece: noun, period; noun, period.
Forbes packs big stories into little packages in these pocket profiles of billionaire beverage-meisters. Here’s a sample:
“Sidney Frank, 85, Grey Goose. Net worth: $1.6 billion.
“Connecticut farmer’s boy grew up poor, milking cows and churning butter. Enrolled at Brown University; couldn’t afford tuition, dropped out after one year. Married Skippy Rosenstiel, heiress to Schenley Distillers fortune. Started Sidney Frank Importing in 1972. Lost money first six years, sold beachfront property on Antigua for $500,000 to meet payroll. Tapped into first fortune by importing Jägermeister liquor from Germany and marketing it with scantily clad Jägerettes pitching to college kids. Created ultrapremium vodka Grey Goose at age 77; sold to Bacardi in April for $2 billion. Now focusing on wine, tequila.”
Note the structure here: After introducing the subject in the first sentence, the author begins each of the subsequent sentences with a verb.
Elizabeth Gilbert also developed a compelling structure for her pocket profile of Sir Joseph Banks, a real person who appears in her latest novel, The Signature of All Things:
“That daunting figure, who had once been the handsomest man in Europe, who had been the darling of kings, who had circled the globe, who had slept with heathen queens on open beaches, who had introduced thousands of new botanical species to England, and who had sent young Henry out into the world to become Henry Whittaker — that very man was dead.”
How can you tell a big life in a little space? Try a pocket profile.
January writing contest
Ready to give it a go? Send your pocket profile of a real person — could be yourself — to me by Jan. 30. If yours is the best, I’ll send you my favorite tight-writing-themed gift. (Plus: You’ll earn bonus points for developing a compelling structure.)
“Words that roll off the tongue stay in the brain.”
Sam Horn, author, POP! Stand Out In Any Crowd
Readers create new portmanteaus
Portmanteaus — think Travelocity — combine two or more words into one new word.
For our December writing contest, readers submitted these portmanteaus:
Capitalistas A disease of misplaced importance. Ex: The Engineer will run the Project, and the Accountant will send Invoices at the end of each Quarter.
— Sally Jacques, editor, Presentations and Proposals, Standard Bank
Mummehide The disappearance of Texas high school students because of a monstrosity of items (mums, ribbons, lights, stuffed animals, etc.) affixed to their bodies for Homecoming. Ex: She was so mummehide under the weight and expanse of that sandwich-board mum that I didn’t recognize her.
— Anita Allen, Technology Communications, Sabre
Phonurious Rage shown when you take away someone’s smartphone. Ex: When we took away her iPhone, she was phonurious.
— Anita Allen, Technology Communications, Sabre
Saltommas The sprinkling of commas through copy like the sprinkling of salt on popcorn; when overdone the result is a stuck tongue. Ex: After writing a motivational email to her team, she saltomma’ed it in an attempt to break up her thoughts, creating a stuttered miscommunication.
— Sally Jacques, editor, Presentations and Proposals, Standard Bank
Spouch When your spouse takes something that you made or saved for yourself. Ex: I have to buy lunch today because mine was spouched.
— Anita Allen, Technology Communications, Sabre
Terrorista I can’t take credit for this one, but my former co-worker and good friend coined the phrase to describe coffee baristas who ruin your daily caffeine run by either snobbishly mocking your coffee choice or by assaulting you with too much chipper small talk too early in the morning. Ex: That Starbucks terrorista was a doozy. Not only did make fun of me for ordering a pumpkin spice latte while wearing yoga pants, she prattled on about how much she loves fall the whole time she was making my drink.
— Hillary Dobbs, senior copywriter, Publications, Black Hills Corporation
And the winner is …
Hangry. Hungry to the point of anger. Ex: When I was pregnant, I got hangry when my husband didn’t get home for dinner on time.
— Ashley Festa, owner, Ashley Festa Writing
I’ve never been pregnant, Ashley, but I’m hangry almost all of the time.
Congratulations, Ashley, for the fun new word. Watch your mailbox for a nifty little word-related gift from me. And thanks to everyone who played.
Want to try coining your own words? Check out this nifty portmanteau generator.
Play with your words
Want to master the art of making your copy more creative and engaging through wordplay?
- Get it off your desk: Invite Ann’s team to write creative copy for your organization.
- Polish staff skills: Bring Ann to your organization for a Make Your Copy More Creative workshop.
- Boost your own abilities: Work with Ann to polish your creative writing skills with one-on-one writing coaching. And find out about Ann’s next creative writing webinar.
- Join the club: Get the whole story in the latest issue of Rev Up Readership. And find dozens of tipsheets on playing with your words at RevUpReadership.com.
- Learn more: Get free writing tips every month when you subscribe to our e-zine.
“Every good title is a short story.”
Russell Banks, American writer of fiction and poetry
Catchy headlines No. 1 reason people read stories
While presenting a headline-writing workshop at Farm Credit Bank recently, I was charmed by one participant’s rewrite.
The story was about the fact that, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, banks feel more comfortable giving 15-year mortgages rather than the traditional 30. The original headline certainly captured the story:
Drives Shorter Loan Terms
But Kristin Mattox, FCB marketing director, rewrote the headline and deck to catch attention and make readers want more:
15 is the new 30
Market risk drives shorter loan terms
Catchy headlines draw readers.
And that’s important. Because a catchy headline is the No. 1 reason Americans choose to read a story in full, whether in print or online (54%), according to a recent Harris poll.
Brainstorm catchy headlines.
To write a catchy feature headline, do your homework.
Before Upworthy, a newish site that shares “things that matter,” posted this headline …
“What Are Selena Gomez And Justin Bieber
Doing In The House Of Representatives?”
… the team brainstormed 25 alternative titles, including:
Would The Founding Fathers
Be Proud Of The Fact
That Our Political System
Has Come To This?
What Do Geraldo Rivera, Selena Gomez,
Jeremy Lin, And Sonia Sotomayor
Have In Common?
Why Isn’t Justin Bieber
Proud To Be American?
One simple way to come up with better headlines is to come up with more headlines. Get tips for better brainstorming meetings.
Build better headlines.
That’s one reason the writers at Wylie Communications develop several headlines before sending copy to our writing clients. The last ones we come up with are usually the best.
For instance, here’s a twist-of-phrase headline Dawn Grubb wrote for a piece about Saint Luke’s Hospital’s Auxiliary:
Our dedicated volunteers raise funds to help
Saint Luke’s thrive and care for area patients
How can you write catchy headlines that sell your stories to your readers?
Lift Your Ideas Off the Screen or Page
Sixty percent of your audience members aren’t reading your copy, according to estimates by professors at the University of Missouri. So how can you craft communications that reach nonreaders?
In this program, you’ll learn how to use your display copy — headlines, decks and subheads, for instance — to pull readers into your copy, make your piece more inviting and even communicate to flippers and skimmers.
Specifically, you’ll learn how to:
- Reach “readers” who spend only three minutes — or even just 30 seconds — with your piece
- Reach audience members with the piece of display copy that 95 percent of people read — but that many communicators drop
- Run a simple test on your copy to ensure that you lift your ideas off the page for flippers and skimmers
- Make your copy 47 percent more usable by adding a few simple elements
- Use a dollar bill to make your copy more reader friendly
- Increase reading for skimmers and those whose attention is beginning to wane
“Ann helped us elevate the professionalism and quality of our communications; now our investors find them both relevant and appealing.”
Roberta J. Laughlin, vice president, Mutual Funds Marketing, Northern Trust
Get expert advice with Ann’s consulting services
Do you need to create a communication vehicle that brings in new clients? Communicates corporate messages? Helps your organization achieve its goals and objectives?
Help your organization achieve its business goals.
Want to enjoy raises, bonuses, promotions and job offers? There’s no better way to boost your career than aligning communication vehicles to the organization’s business strategy.
We’re helping Direct Energy communicators revamp their employee magazine to help the company achieve its bottom-line objectives. We gave FedEx a blueprint for transforming its management magazine into a strategic tool for the organization’s success.
Bring us in to help you align your communications to your organization’s goals.
Revamp your releases.
Too many communicators still write press releases the way Ivy Lee did when he invented the release 106 years ago. Apply current best practices to your releases with our in-depth news release review, NOT Your Father’s News Release webinar and before-and-after examples of your releases.
Too busy for that? We’ll write your releases for you.
Stop reinventing the wheel.
Get fill-in-the-blanks templates for your Web pages, articles, releases and other pieces.
We’ve given PetSmart Charities, General Dynamics C4 Systems, Tellabs and Direct Energy formulas, checklists and templates to make their communications more effective and less time-consuming. Let us do the same for you.
Get an extra pair of hands — or four.
Need a virtual staff to write and edit your communications?
Saint Luke’s, Northern Trust, State Street/Kansas City and Sprint Corp. have all turned to Wylie Communications for help. Let us pick up the slack in your department, too.
Revitalize a flagship piece.
We revamped Saint Luke’s Health into a more effective, attractive, popular magazine — for the same budget as its less-appealing predecessor. We’d love to help you reboot an old favorite, as well.
Outmaneuver the competition.
We benchmarked a Motorola company’s news releases against those of its competitors, then delivered guidelines to help the company set the standards for media relations writing in the industry. Let us help make your communications best-of-class, too.
Why Wylie Communications?
Turn to Ann’s team when you want to:
- Develop world-class communications. When Ann Wylie served as editor of Hallmark Cards’ employee magazine, CROWN, the publication was named the best of its kind in the world by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the best of its kind in the nation by Women In Communications.
- Win awards for your efforts. In all, Ann’s communications have earned more than 60 awards, including two IABC Gold Quills. Ann also frequently serves as a judge for the Gold Quill awards, as well as PRSA’s Silver Anvils. Bring her insights to bear on your potential award winners.
- Get expert advice. No wonder IABC called on Ann to write the book on publication planning. The resulting manual, Planning Powerful Publications, has been called “the bible” of corporate publications.
- Put yourself in good company. Dozens of organizations — from Accenture to State Street/Kansas City — have already improved their communications with our consulting services. Wylie Communications can help you, too, improve your social media vehicles, publications or websites.
Are you ready to take the next step toward building better communications? Contact Ann. We’ll help you breathe new life into your communications.
“Outstanding. Chockfull of helpful tips. Best workshop ever.”
Susan Duchak, senior manager, Allstate Insurance Company
Polish your skills at one of these events
Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations.
But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:
- Anchorage on Aug. 6: Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for PRSA Alaska
- Atlanta on Feb. 26: Catch Your Readers, a full-day workshop for PRSA
- Lincoln, Neb on Apr. 17: Catch Your Readers, a full-day workshop for IABC Lincoln
- Salt Lake City on May 15: Think Like a Reader, a 90-minute preconference session, and Cut Through the Clutter, a 90-minute keynote, for the Salt Lake City PRSA chapter’s Spring Conference.
- Tacoma on Aug. 20: Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for PRSA Puget Sound
- Your own home or office on Jan. 30: Write for Readability, a one-hour webinar for PRSA
- Your own home or office on Apr. 15: Write for Social Media, a one-hour webinar for PRSA
- Your own home or office on June 3: Content Marketing Writing, a one-hour webinar for PRSA
Would you like to attend? Please contact meeting planners directly for details.
Can’t make these events? If you’d like to bring me in for a workshop at your organization, contact me.
Cut your training costs when you piggyback your program
Save money when you piggyback your workshop by scheduling it when I’m already “in the neighborhood.” Book your program the day before or after another organization’s and split my airfare and ground transportation with the other group.
Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:
- Anchorage: Aug. 6
- Atlanta: Feb. 26
- Honolulu: Feb. 18
- Lincoln, Neb.: April 17
- Los Angeles: Jan. 23
- Salt Lake City: May 15
- Tacoma: Aug. 20
Save even more: Ask about my communication-association discounts and second-day fee reductions.
Contact me to discuss piggybacking.
The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:
- Transforming employee communications into power tools for achieving the company’s bottom-line business goals with Direct Energy’s employee magazine leaders
- Conducting a news release review and training for Taubman
- Presenting writing workshops for Allstate, Exelon and PRSA
- Presenting webinars for the Public Relations Society of America
Find out when I’m coming to your neighborhood, learn when you can sign up for one of my programs and otherwise keep up with my calendar.
Keep in touch via:
- ComPRehension, PRSA’s blog of public relations strategies and tactics
- Wylie Communications feed, click RSS
- Wylie’s Writing Tips