‘From Tina Turner to Taylor Swift’

Feature structure brings 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.

‘From Tina Turner to Taylor Swift’

Add some sparkle to your story Concrete details make messages more colorful.

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 a recent Catch Your Readers Master Class , Ian had totally rewritten his piece, letting the concrete details rise to the top.

Get a refresher on the feature-style structure.

Here’s his before and after:

Headline

Ian’s first headline led with a bang:

From Tina Turner to Taylor Swift, Three Generations of CGV Employees attend 2015 Statewide I&D Kick Off

But at 17 words, it was trying to do too much.

His final headline is just one word shorter, but better tells the story:

From Tina Turner to Taylor Swift, Three Generations of CGV Employees attend 2015 Statewide I&D Kick Off

To make this top layer of display copy even clearer, I’d break that 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

I. Introduction

The introduction includes the lead, nut graph and background section.

A. Lead. 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. Here’s how that approach looks:

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.

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.

Here’s how Ian handled that in his rewrite:

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.

B. Nut graph. Inverted pyramids don’t have nut graphs, so neither did Ian’s original story.

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.

At 57 words, that’s still a little thick. What can you do in 25 words or less?

C. Background section. No background in the original story. But in the rewrite, 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.

II. Body

In his first version, Ian puts the emphasis on the event — what happened during the kickoff:

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.

In the second, he focuses on the impact: what the attendees learned that might be helpful to you, too:

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

Millennials

  • Respect flexible schedules. They like to get the job done but in a way that’s convenient for them. Consider flex hours and accommodating personal needs.
  • Give them space. They want direction but don’t want to be micromanaged. Keep an eye on things but give them space to be creative.

Gen X

  • Give them space. These employees tend to be more independent, so respect their personal space.
  • Clarify expectations. Generation X takes a more hands-off approach to managing. Ask to clarify expectations if you don’t have enough direction.

Baby Boomers

  • Use direct communication. Baby boomers prefer direct, face-to-face conversation instead of long emails.
  • Fully explain changes. Boomers are likely to resist change unless you fully explain the benefits of those changes.

Note also the crisp paragraphs in the final version compared to the 100-plus-word-long ones in the original.

III. Conclusion

The great thing about inverted pyramids is that you don’t have to craft a conclusion. When you’re finished, you just stop typing.

But the feature-style story structure demands an conclusion. It has two parts: the wrapup and the kicker.

A. Wrapup. In his revision, Ian summarizes the story in this penultimate paragraph, topped as it should be with a subhead to separate the body from the ending:

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.”

B. Kicker. 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.

Focus on the reader.

“Thinking about the reader from the start really changes everything — from story angle to story structure to sentence length,” Ian says. “Instead of approaching writing from the perspective of a writer, I now think about whether I’m writing a story I would want to read.’”

Now let’s see yours! Please post or link to your original inverted pyramid and revised feature in the comments section.

  • Go Beyond the Pyramid

    Master a story structure that’s been proven in the lab to reach more readers

    Writers say, “We use the inverted pyramid because readers stop reading after the first paragraph.” But in new research, readers say, “We stop reading after the first paragraph because you use the inverted pyramid.”

    Go Beyond the Pyramid in Dallas

    Indeed, our old friend the inverted pyramid hasn’t fared well in recent studies. Studies by the Poynter Institute, Reuters Institute and the American Society of News Editors show that the traditional news structure reduces readership, understanding, sharing, engagement and more.

    Grab readers’ attention, pull them through the piece and leave a lasting impression.

    The pyramid doesn’t work well, these researchers say, with a little subset of your audience we call “humans.”

    At Catch Your Readers — our two-day hands-on persuasive-writing master class on Oct. 2-3 in Dallas — you’ll master a structure that’s been proven in the lab to grab readers’ attention, pull them through the piece and leave a lasting impression. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

    • Grab reader attention with a lead that’s concrete, creative and provocative — and avoid making readers’ eyes glaze over by using one of the seven deadly leads.
    • Stop bewildering your readers by leaving out an essential paragraph. (Many communicators forget this entirely.)
    • Avoid the “muddle in the middle” by choosing one of five structural techniques from a rubric created by the founder of TED Talks.
    • Draw to a satisfying conclusion in the penultimate paragraph.
    • End with a bang, not a whimper by using our three-step test.

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