By Geoffrey Rowan
Unless you’re a bone fide literary giant, a Mark Twain-quality satirist, or the Albert Einstein of story-telling, the kindest thing you can do for your audience is get to the point. Provide your value, share your insight, give your wisdom in the first paragraph or even better, the first sentence. Don’t bury the lead under paragraphs of extraneous twaddle.
Follow that rule and, if you really have value to offer, people will appreciate you and they will come back to you. They will click on your links when you tweet them, and they will gladly recommend you to others because they know that the value you provide will reflect well on them.
Apply the same rule to your tweets and your Twitter followers will be equally grateful. That means if you’re linking to an article on the five reasons guacamole should be part of your health regime, don’t be coy with something like: “A big-pitted fruit of the persea Americana a day keeps the doctor away http://www.asdf.bit.ly.”
Instead, tell me what you’re going to tell me. “MDs say guacamole is full of good fats; and 4 other healthy reasons to eat the delicious green goop – http://www.asdf.bit.ly .” And then give me the information you have promised and not a 1,500-word essay on organic farming, the etymology of the word guacamole, or a report on the state of the health food movement.
Unfortunately, in a world stinking with un-edited bloggers, you’ve got to nose your way through a lot of dreary blather before you find out whether a headline delivers on its promise. Many mediocre writers believe they should give volumes of context to set up their point. They’ll review the evolution of social media and/or the history of the Internet before they can offer their brilliant insight into Kim Kardashian’s latest pronouncement. Maybe they think we’re going to hang in there through 900 words of painfully obvious background to get to the payoff. We won’t. Give us the payoff first.
In fairness, the wait-for-the-value model is not unique to blogging. It’s a defining feature of broadcast news shows. Every day I drive about 30 minutes to and from my office. Sometimes I listen to Toronto’s all-news radio station, 680News, even though this station comes up short just about every day. It comes up short because the producers could give me more value than they do if they just got to the point. But instead they have this crazy notion that they can tease me into listening longer.
“Which Toronto team won and which won lost? Find out in sports, coming up in five minutes.”
Why not report: “The Blue Jays won and the Leafs lost. All the details in five minutes.” I’ll have gotten the info I want, and if I’m still in the car I’ll listen to the sports report. I promise.
But if I get to my destination before the sports report comes on, I’m not going to sit in the car and wait for it. So I’ve had an interaction with 680News where it could have provided me value, but it chose not to. That’s irritating. It does that with every segment. That means that almost every day it teases me with a piece of information – business, weather, news — it could give me, but doesn’t.
So don’t be a tease. Approach writing the way that legend has it Michelangelo approached his sculpture of David. “All you do is start with a block of marble and chip away everything that doesn’t look like David.”
If you have something interesting, entertaining, important or insightful to say, remove all the extraneous material and you will be left with an artful depiction of your idea.