March 25, 2017

The “human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.”
— Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business

Take me away

‘Transporting’ stories change readers’ minds

Have you ever been lost in a story?

Take me away

Transport me When they get lost in a transporting story, readers are more likely to sync their attitudes with the story’s content. Image by Kevin Dooley

Have you ever looked up and found that hours, not minutes, have passed since you turned on your Kindle and that you are in fact in your own bedroom and not at the palace, about to be crowned queen?

Have you ever rewritten the end of a story in your mind, so that, say, Nick and Daisy get together at the end of The Great Gatsby?

Have you ever thought to yourself, “C’mon, Khaleesi, let’s saddle up those dragons and go show the Baratheons how a real royal rules Westeros” — even though you know that dragons don’t exist, and neither, for that matter, do Westeros, the Baratheons or Khaleesi?

Researchers call that being “transported” through story. And when you transport readers through stories, you can help them see the world differently.

You can even make them change their minds.

Transporting stories are more credible.

Or so say researchers Melanie C. Green and Timothy C. Brock, two members of the Department of Psychology at Ohio State University. They posit that:

  • The attitudes we form through direct experience are more powerful than those we form through intellectual enterprise (Fazio & Zanna, 1981).
  • Stories give us the feeling of real experience without the suspicions that overtly promotional messages raise.
  • The more a story transports us, the more likely we are to be persuaded by it — even if the story doesn’t explicitly state a position. (And when you’re absorbed in the story, you don’t want to stop and analyze the positions it takes.)

In fact, one study showed that transported readers were more likely to buy even ridiculous claims — “mental illness is contagious,” for instance — when they absorbed them through story (Gerrig and Prentice, 1991).

‘Murder at the mall’

To study their hypothesis, Green and Brock asked study participants to read “Murder at the Mall,” the true story of a little girl, Katie, who goes to the mall with her college-age sibling. While at the mall, Katie is brutally stabbed to death by a psychiatric patient.

The story, the researchers say, “is moving and shocking.”

Transportation test. First, Green and Brock determined how much the story transported readers via a true-or-false checklist that included statements like:

  • While I was reading the narrative, I could easily picture the events in it taking place.
  • I could picture myself in the scene of the events described in the narrative.
  • I found myself thinking of ways the narrative could have turned out differently.

Attitude test. Then the researchers asked participants to share their attitudes about violence and mental illness with questions like this:

  • “Someone is getting stabbed to death somewhere in the USA …” Responses ranged from every 10 minutes to every month.
  • “The likelihood of a stabbing death at an Ohio mall is …” Responses ranged from once every 50 years to once every week.
  • True or false: “Psychiatric patients who have passes to leave their institution should be supervised.”

Transporting stories are more credible.

Green and Brock learned some interesting things from the study: Women, for instance, are more likely to be transported by stories than men. And people are just as likely to adapt their positions to the story whether they believe it’s fact or fiction.

But the real bottom line is this: The more the story transported readers, the more likely they were to sync their attitudes with the story.

Are you trying to move your readers with facts and figures? Why not transport them — through story — instead?

___

Sources: Melanie C. Green and Timothy C. Brock, “The Role of Transportation in the Persuasiveness of Public Narratives” (PDF), Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, No. 79, 2000; pp. 701- 21

Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Random House Publishing Group, 2007

Make Your Copy More Creative

Would you like to learn to Master the Art of the Storyteller? Grab attention with the feature-style story structure? Take your message from “meh” to masterpiece?

If so, please join me at Master the Art of the Storyteller, a two-day creative writing master class on July 29-30 in San Francisco. There, you’ll learn how to bring your messages to life with storytelling, wordplay and metaphor. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

  • Grab Attention With Feature Stories: Craft creative leads and kickers
  • Make Your Copy More Colorful: Engage readers with fun facts, juicy details
  • Play With Your Words: Spice up your headlines, leads and sound bites with wordplay
  • Master the Art of the Storyteller: Tap ‘the most powerful form of human communication’
  • Add Meaning With Metaphor: Clarify complex concepts with analogy
  • Edit, write, repeat: Bring your laptop and a story to work on, write and rewrite, get and give feedback, and leave with a totally rewritten piece

Register for Master the Art of Storytelling Workshop in San Francisco.

Learn more about the Master Class.

Browse all 2015 Master Classes.

Would you like to hold an in-house Master the Art of the Storyteller workshop? Contact Ann directly.

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“Super valuable. Ann helped reignite excitement in infusing creativity into my work. I can’t wait to try it.”
— Jennel McDonald, senior communications specialist, ICF International

Get a writing workout with Wylie

Take your story from ‘meh’ to masterpiece in this two-day creative-writing Master Class

In the crunch of writing headlines and meeting deadlines, it sometimes seems as if there’s not enough time to pause and reflect on how you’re doing.

But at Master the Art of the Storyteller — a two-day creative-writing Master Class on July 29-30 in San Francisco — you’ll get a chance to write, edit and rewrite; get and give feedback; and leave with a totally rewritten piece. In the process, you’ll:

  • Master the techniques you learn in the workshop by applying them immediately
  • Gain valuable insights on your work from your peers and me
  • Learn to analyze and improve others’ writing — the best skill you can develop for improving your own work

Deadline extended! And if you act by June 29, you can save up to $300 on registration.

Get a writing workout with Wylie

Ready for a recharge? Learn to write creative messages that paint pictures in your readers’ minds so they understand your points faster, enjoy them more and remember them longer.

Fill your toolbox with tricks.

In two days, you’ll have time to cram your writer’s tool bag with tricks — hard-to-find but easy-to-implement techniques that will help you:

  • Grab Attention With Feature Stories: Craft creative leads and kickers
  • Make Your Copy More Colorful: Engage readers with fun facts, juicy details
  • Play With Your Words: Spice up your headlines, leads and sound bites with wordplay
  • Master the Art of the Storyteller: Tap ‘the most powerful form of human communication’
  • Add Meaning With Metaphor: Clarify complex concepts with analogies
  • Take Your Story From ‘Meh’ to Masterpiece: Bring your laptop and a story to work on, and leave with a totally rewritten piece.

If you’re a good writer, this Master Class will equip you with a bigger, better bag of writing tricks. If you’re struggling, the program can give you the tools you need to get up to speed almost immediately.

Wherever you are in your writing journey, in this workshop, you will:

  • Learn the latest, proven-in-the-lab approaches for getting readers to pay attention to your message, understand it, remember it and act on it.
  • Find out how to ditch outdated writing practices that actually annoy, rather than attract, readers.
  • Get the information you need to have a successful conversation with management about what works in writing and why.
  • Leave with fresh techniques based on relevant research that you can use to reach and sway your audiences.

Learn more.

Register for Storytelling workshop in San Francisco.

Meet me in San Francisco.

Look! There’s the apartment on San Francisco’s Montgomery Street where Alan Ginsberg wrote “Howl.” Here’s the site of the old Black Cat Bar that John Steinbeck frequented. And that spot right there — in the middle of the Bay — that’s the one Maya Angelou wrote about in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

You might think of San Francisco as home to tech gadgets and gear. But it’s always been a city of letters, as well.

Here, writers ranging from Alice Walker to Amy Tan and from Jane Smiley to Charles Schulz have plied their pens. You’ll find literary festivals, maps, museums, walking tours — and our summer writing workshop — in San Francisco.

Tales of the City

Tales Of the City Come for our Catch Your Reader writing workshop; stay for a weekend in San Francisco. Photo by David Ohmer

Why not make a long weekend of it?

I, for one, will be winding down from the workshop by scouring the shelves at City Lights Bookstore, picking out the perfect pearls in Chinatown, barking back at the sea lions on Pier 39, sighing over the bucatini at SPQR and taking in the Turner Show at the de Young Museum.

Maybe we’ll run into each other!

Learn more.

Register for Storytelling workshop in San Francisco.

Save up to $300 when you register by June 29.

I have no doubt that this Master Class will be the best money you invest on your professional development this year.

Plus, now you can save up to $100 with early bird registration if you sign up by June 29. And if you’re one of the first 20 people to register, you’ll get a free, three-month subscription to Rev Up Readership.

Save even more and earn more bonuses when you bring a friend, refer a friend or belong to RevUpReadership.com or PRSA.

Interested? Contact me directly, learn more or register now.

You’ll find out why Blythe Campbell, director, Communications & Marketing, NANA Development Corp., said of Ann’s Master Class: “Makes me want to go back and revise everything I’ve done in the past three years.”

I look forward to seeing you there!

Best,

Ann

P.S. Remember, the early bird discount ends June 29. If you’d like to get the best possible price on this workshop, register now.

Learn more.

Register for Storytelling workshop in San Francisco.


Browse all 2015 Master Classes.

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“Your reader is a narcissistic 2-year-old saying, ‘Me, me, me. What’s in it for me?’”
— Anonymous

Avoid Institutional Narcissism

You’re so vain, you probably think this piece is about you

Richard Roll, an economics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, studies narcissism in CEOs. Turns out the more narcissistic executives are, the more likely they are to overrate their skills and make bad business moves.

In one 2010 study, Roll used a simple technique that’s been validated by psychologists to gauge executive narcissism: He counted the number of “I’s” they used in their communications.

The first-person pronoun — “the vertical pronoun,” as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jacqui Banaszynski calls it — is bad enough. Its cousin, the first-person-plural “we,” is a symptom of another disorder: Institutional Narcissism, or organization-focused, not reader-focused, writing.

Are you suffering from Institutional Narcissism? Here are three techniques for diagnosing — and curing — your copy:

1. Run the we-you test.

Use Microsoft Word’s “find” function to search for instances of organizational references versus reader references. Aim for a ratio of at least two reader references to one organizational reference.

Here are the results I got on one of my clients’ proposals:

We-you ratio
Our company name7Client company name4
“Our”39“Your”0
“We”43“You”2

It’s a good thing we had a chance to edit the proposal before it went out: Institutional Narcissism can be fatal to business development.

2. See what you say.

Another way to visualize Institutional Narcissism is to create a tag cloud for your copy. Use TagCrowd.com to display the words you use most often in the largest type, those you use less often in smaller type.

You’re looking for your customer, the word “you” and benefits-oriented verbs to show up in large type. Your own company and product names should be smaller.

3. Put the reader first.

Did these diagnostics reveal a bad case of Institutional Narcissism? One way to cure the disease is to lead with the reader, not with your company.

No:

“TrainingNet.com offers a new productivity workshop.”

Yes:

“You’ll get all your work done in half the time, be the office hero and go home early, thanks to TrainingNet.com’s new productivity workshop.”

Can’t use “you”? Use a placeholder instead. Start your headline, lead, paragraph or sentence with your target reader: “Asthma sufferers,” say, or “PR professionals.”

Take the cure

Institutional Narcissism is contagious, so be careful out there. Don’t let it spread. The minute you’ve diagnosed the patient, apply the remedy: Rewrite your copy to focus on the reader, not the organization.

Think Like a Reader

Move readers to act

The secret to reaching readers is to position your messages in your audience’s best interests. (Most communicators position their messages in their organization’s best interests.)

At Catch Your Readers — a two-day Master Class on Oct. 27-28 in Washington, D.C. — you’ll learn a four-step process for making your message more relevant, valuable and rewarding to your audience. Specifically, you’ll learn:

  • The formula: people use to determine which messages to pay attention to
  • Two rewards you can use to boost audience interest in your message
  • The No. 1 question to answer on your reader’s behalf
  • A two-minute perspective shift that focuses your message on the value to the audience
  • A three-letter word to use to make your message more relevant to your audience

Register for Washington D.C. Writing Workshop - Catch Your Readers

Learn more about the Master Class.

Browse all 2015 Master Classes.

Would you like to hold an in-house Catch Your Readers workshop? Contact Ann directly.

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“Blog like you are the best trade magazine in your industry.”
— Kipp Bodnar, inbound marketing manager, Hubspot

Hit list

Lists top the list of blog posts that get shared

If David Letterman taught us one thing during his tenure as host of Late Night, it’s that people love lists.

Hit list

Readers insist on lists. Write your content in this format, and watch your social media shares go up. Image by Ana C.

It’s no wonder, then, that when Fractl and Buzzstream recently analyzed more than 200,000 articles from June to November 2014, lists topped the list of top 5 types of blog posts that get shared:

  1. Lists. Break your story into bullets, add an intro and conclusion, and you’re good to go. Counting down from 10 to 1, optional. See David Letterman’s Top 10 Late Night Moments.
  2. “Why?” posts. Answer this essential reader question, and readers will spread the word. Check out The Next Web’s Why millennials don’t want you to talk like them.
  3. Videos. Some of us are readers; others are watchers. Capture your nonreaders with videos. But don’t leave out readers: Take a tip from TED Talks, such as Shawn Achor’s The happy secret to better work, and provide a transcript, too.
  4. How-to articles. Give your readers news they can use to live their lives better, and watch your post travel the world. See 7 tips for tipsheets.
  5. “What?” posts. Also known as “explainers,” these posts aim to educate readers about your topic. (That’s educate; not bore, blather on and discombobulate.) See “How to Eat Healthy Meals at Restaurants” from The Upshot, the king of explainers.

Are you still pitching your products and writing posts about “us and our stuff”? Maybe it’s time to produce the types of content that readers will actually read and share.

Next steps: Get Clicked, Read, Shared and Liked

Want to get the word out with social media?

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“Here’s a life tool: Always apologize in the active voice.”
— Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar, The Poynter Institute, in Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer

Activate the passive voice online

Write subject-verb-object

People understand the active voice more easily than the passive voice.

According to Jan H. Spyridakis, author of “Guidelines for Authoring Comprehensible Web Pages,” people:

  • Remember active sentences verbatim better than passive ones. (Blount and Johnson, 1971)
  • Read active sentences faster than passive ones. That may be because active sentences are usually shorter than passive ones. (Bostian 1983)
  • Preferred the active voice and found it more familiar than the passive voice. (Bostian 1983)
  • Found active copy easier to read than passive copy. (Kintsch 1993)

So write about people doing things (“Homeowners must make mortgage payments …”) instead of things being done unto (“Mortgage payments must be made …”)

___

Source: Jan H. Spyridakis, “Guidelines for Authoring Comprehensible Web Pages and Evaluating Their Success” (PDF), Technical Communication, August 2000

Next steps: Cut Through the Clutter

Want to make every piece you write easier to read and understand?

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“The whole presentation was full of amazingly useful ideas for writers of any level.”
— Mary Platt, director of Communications and Media Relations, Chapman University

Ann’s touring schedule

Polish your skills at one of these events

Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations.

Ann's touring schedule image

Come along for the ride Catch Ann at one of her upcoming workshops.

But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:

  • San Francisco on June 15: Lift Your Ideas Off the Screen or Page, a one-hour breakout session at the IABC 2015 World Conference
  • San Francisco on July 29 and 30: Master the Art of Storytelling, a two-day Master Class. Learn to engage readers with metaphor, wordplay, storytelling and more. Bring your laptop, and leave with a totally rewritten story
  • Tacoma on Aug. 19: Create Content Marketing Pieces That Almost Write Themselves, a half-day workshop for PRSA Puget Sound
  • Washington, D.C. on Oct. 27 and 28: Catch Your Readers, a two-day Master Class

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.

Want to polish your skills? Keep up with Ann’s latest two-day Master Classes.

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Where in the world is Ann?

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:

  • Ann Arbor, Michigan: Sep. 29
  • Austin, Texas: July 9
  • Baltimore: June 25
  • Falls Church, Virginia: Dec. 2
  • Houston: Sep. 2
  • New York: June 8-12 & Sep. 24
  • Oakland, California: Aug. 3
  • Portland, Oregon: June 30
  • Raleigh, North Carolina: Oct. 6-7 & Nov. 3-4
  • Richland, Washington: July 23-24
  • San Francisco: June 15 & July 29-30
  • Seattle, Washington: Aug. 18
  • Tacoma, Washington: Aug. 19
  • Washington, D.C.: Oct. 27-28

Save even more: Ask about my communication-association discounts and second-day fee reductions.

Contact me to discuss piggybacking.

Want to polish your skills? Bring me in for a workshop at your organization.

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What are we up to?

The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:

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Keep up with my calendar

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.

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Let’s connect

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… with two of your colleagues by directing them to our current issue. Better yet, invite them to subscribe to Wylie’s Writing Tips. They’ll thank you — and so will I!

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For more info …

… about my seminars, publication consulting or writing and editing services, please contact me or visit my website.

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