Concrete details bring tedious topics to life
When Ian Jones needed to craft a — yawn! — diversity story for employees at Columbia Gas of Virginia, his first instinct was to go with a fact pack.
You can see Ian’s natural creativity peeking through with the concrete details in the headline and — buried deep but still breathing — in the lead.
But by the end of my Catch Your Readers Master Class in October, in Washington, D.C., Ian had totally rewritten his piece, letting the concrete details rise to the top. Here’s his before and after:
Ian’s first headline led with a bang. But at 17 words, it was trying to do too much. His final headline is just one word shorter, but better tells the story. I’d break his final headline into a head and deck:
From Tina Turner to Taylor Swift
Employees learn to see generational differences as an asset at Inclusion & Diversity kickoff
From Tina Turner to Taylor Swift, Three Generations of CGV Employees attend 2015 Statewide I&D Kick Off
From Tina Turner to Taylor Swift — Seeing generational differences as an asset instead of a barrier
Like (too) many of us, Ian was taught to cram all of the facts into the lead, so readers would get the key details before they stop reading after the first paragraph.
You can see the problem with that: a lead that is so thick that most readers will stop reading before the first paragraph. Plus, Ian’s delightful concrete details get smothered in all of the not-so-interesting facts.
Instead of a fact pack, write a lead that draws readers in with a concrete detail or three. Don’t tell the whole story in the lead — that’s what the whole story is for — but write a lead paragraph that entices people to read the second paragraph.
|Employees of Columbia Gas of Virginia’s (CGVs) regional Inclusion and Diversity councils met on January 28 in Chester for the 2015 Statewide I&D Kick Off. While the meeting didn’t quite look like Woodstock, a Billy Idol concert, or Bonnaroo, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials all came together for a day of learning and planning for the coming year. The day’s activities focused on working with Employees Resource Groups (ERGs) and bridging generational differences in the workplace. Deloras Jones, Manager of Inclusion & Diversity, and Jeffrey Hammonds, Senior I&D Consultant, facilitated the discussions.||While it didn’t quite look like Woodstock, A Billy Idol concert, or Bonnaroo — likeminded Baby boomers, Gen Xers, and Millenials came together to discuss … their differences.|
When you don’t feel compelled to put all of the W’s in the lead, they need someplace to go. Ian moves them into the nut paragraph.
|Members of Columbia Gas of Virginia’s (CGV) Inclusion & Diversity councils along with Employee Resource Group leaders joined one another to learn how to overcome generational differences in the workplace and to turn those differences into valuable assets. Key takeaways from the meeting will help shape upcoming events and professional development opportunities over the course of 2015.|
Here, Ian provides context for the story — the reason the diversity initiative is so important.
|Over the past 5 years CGV has seen an unprecedented influx of new young employees creating a wide generational gap within the organization.|
In his first version, Ian puts the emphasis on the event — what happened during the kickoff. In the second, he focuses on the impact: what the attendees learned that might be helpful to you, too.
|Mike Huwar, VP and general manager and Carl Levander, President, opened the session with a review of 2014 accomplishments and the business case for I&D. Jeffrey facilitated a panel discussion, “Get to Know Your ERGs,” with ERG representatives. The discussion gave attendees a chance to understand ERG objectives and ways I&D councils can support them.|
“ERGs are an excellent way for employees to get involved in shaping the success of our company as well as their own personal success within NiSource,” explained Sasha Furdak-Roy, Business Planning and Strategy Manager and Virginia liaison for GOLD. “I would challenge any employee to read the missions of GOLD, DAWN, LEAD, and NiVETS and say that nothing resonates with them. All ERGs offer professional and personal development opportunities for every employee along with focused events geared towards recruiting and retaining diverse talent at NiSource. That’s why I’m a member of all four ERGs.” Other representatives participating in the panel discussion included Andrew Watson with LEAD, Gina Slaunwhite with DAWN, and Joe Mays with NiVETS.
The day continued with a training session delivered by Deloras called “Mixing It Up: The Changing Landscape Across Generations.” Deloras shared NGD employee demographics which reflect a workforce comprised of four generations. The multi-generational workforce presents both advantages and challenges, Deloras pointed out. NiSource has a talented pool of employees with varying perspectives and skill sets but there is also the possibility of misunderstanding between the generations. The training session highlighted differences between generations and gave attendees an understanding of how to turn these differences into strengths instead of perceiving them as barriers.
“Employees who have been here for a while have a lot of valuable knowledge and experience while younger employees are able to offer a new and fresh perspective. We all have something different to contribute” added Kristine Johnson, Lead Regulatory Analyst and new member of the Surf-n-Turf regional I&D council.
By the session’s end, CGV regional I&D councils and ERG representatives gained a better understanding of how they can work together to achieve their objectives in 2015. Employees interested in joining an ERG can visit the MySource Inclusion & Diversity page for more information.
|Deloras Jones, Manager of I&D, led the keynote presentation “Mixing It Up: The Changing Landscape Across Generations.” She shared key tips for interacting with coworkers belonging to different generations.|
Tips for working with other generations
Ian summarizes the story in this penultimate paragraph.
|I&D Teams and ERGs are your tools for growth|
You can expect to see more tips on how to best interact with your fellow coworkers throughout the year. Sasha Furdak-Roy, Virginia liaison for GOLD, says “working with ERGs and your I&D Councils helps shape the success of our company and your own success within it.”
Ian ends with bang and circles back to the top with a concrete details kicker that leaves a lasting impression.
|While we may never agree on which is better — Taylor Swift’s “Love Song” or Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” — we can all see the value in recognizing and understanding those different perspectives.|
How can you use the feature-style story structure
and concrete details to bring your tedious topic to life?
Master the Art of the Storyteller
Fun facts and juicy details might seem like the Cheez Doodles and Cronuts of communication: tempting, for sure, but a little childish and not particularly good for you.
Concrete details are more like salad dressing and aioli — the secret sauces it takes to get the nutritious stuff down. People are more likely to:
- Understand messages laced with vivid images
- Remember important concepts when they’re preceded by colorful details
- Believe arguments that are illustrated with vivid examples
Bottom line: It’s the communicator’s job to “make the important interesting,” in the words of James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic. That’s not an easy job.
At Master the Art of the Storyteller — a two-day creative writing Master Class on Feb. 23-24 in Phoenix — you’ll learn to engage readers with fun facts, juicy details and other concrete elements. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:
- Show and tell: Help readers understand your big ideas by way of your specific details
- Play it SAFE: Six ways to add color to your message
- Write like a rollercoaster: Are you losing them in the middle? Test your message so you can spot and fix the boring parts
- Write to be read: Where to sprinkle “gold coins” throughout your message to keep readers engaged
- Go from blah to brilliant in 15 minutes or less: Quick ways to add concrete detail to tedious topics
If you’d like to flex your creative muscles … if you’d like to learn to sell creative elements to reviewers and approvers … if you’d like to rivet your readers with concrete details, this Master Class is for you.
Please join us to learn why Brent Buchanan, managing partner at Cygnal, writes of this Master Class: “You transformed my writing in a mere 12 hours.”
Save $100 until Jan. 23 only:
Our early bird deadline expires at 5 p.m.