To draw readers in, tell them a story
Here’s how Korbel Champagne Cellars topped a PRSA Silver Anvil Award-winning pitch:
Have you heard about the guy who mowed “Will You Marry Me?” into his lawn? How about the practical joker who “accidentally” dropped a fake diamond ring overboard, only to watch his girlfriend jump off their sailboat to retrieve it?
Storytelling is the most powerful form of human communication, according to Peg C. Neuhauser, author of Corporate Legends and Lore. No wonder anecdotal leads are so effective. If you need to win the hearts and minds of your audience members, tell them a story.
Here are four ways to find stories for your leads:
1. Look for moments of truth.
Find the Aha! moment — aka the moment of truth or desk-pounding moment. Here’s how Eastman Chemical Company launched an annual report feature:
Alone in his laboratory on a snowy evening the week before Christmas, Dr. John Monnier observed unexpected peaks on the readout of his gas chromatograph.
“I thought the equipment was broken,” he recalls.
Instead, the Illinois farm boy was seeing evidence of the discovery of a lifetime. He had found a low-cost route to epoxybutene, a building block for scores of industrial, specialty, and fine chemicals.
2. Grab a story from the headlines …
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.”
3. … Or from the history books.
One place to find existing stories is in the history of your topic. Specifically, look for the moment of discovery, or the “aha!” moment.
Richard Preston told this historical anecdote for Demon in the Freezer, his exhaustive book on the topic:
In the late seventeen-hundreds, the English country doctor Edward Jenner noticed that dairymaids who had contracted cowpox from cows seemed to be protected from catching smallpox, and he thought he would do an experiment.
Cowpox (it probably lives in rodents, and only occasionally infects cows) produced a mild disease.
On May 14, 1796, Jenner scratched the arm of a boy named James Phipps, introducing into the boy’s arm a droplet of cowpox pus that he’d taken from a blister on the hand of a dairy worker named Sarah Nelmes.
A few months later, he scratched the boy’s arm with deadly pus he had taken from a smallpox patient, and the boy didn’t come down with smallpox. The boy had become immune.
Jenner had discovered what he called vaccination, after the Latin word for cow.
4. Try a scenario.
Fred Shlapak needed to explain Motorola’s plans for embedded electronic systems to an audience of non-techies. So the senior vice president of Motorola SPS created a scenario to show his products in action:
You might start your day by waking to a digital clock that is powered by a Motorola microcontroller.
From there, you would grab your electric shaver — another device driven by DigitalDNA.
Next, you make your way to the kitchen, where Motorola embedded systems control your microwave, coffee maker, refrigerator and dishwasher.
On your way out the door, you grab your cell phone and check your email on a DigitalDNA-powered network.
Embedded systems surround you, and you haven’t even made it to your car.
Win hearts and minds through storytelling.
Want to grab attention and move people to act? Steal a tip from Pulitzer Prize-winning feature articles and tell readers a story.