A dating disaster I recently endured has no place in an article explaining how to win business awards, I admit it, but my date was guilty of the one social error found in almost all mediocre business award submissions. So, if you want to engage, captivate and persuade a judging panel (instead of sending them into a deep sleep), here's what not to do.
As my date approached, I recognised her instantly from her social media pics. She was every bit as smiley as her photos portrayed. Recognising me from a distance, she waved, mouthed "hi" and hurried closer, acutely aware of her poor time-keeping.
What happened next was as bizarre as it was creepy. Catching her breath, she announced, "Hey CK, I'm Corrine: 29, two sisters, Aquarius, love Netflix, hate fish. I'm usually brunette, but currently redhead!"
'Um, sorry, what?', I thought.
Let's take a moment to drink-in Corrine's opening greeting, shall we? Well, I say 'greeting', it was more a list of ingredients - 'ingreetients', if you will.
"... I'm Corrine: 29, two sisters, Aquarius, love Netflix, hate fish. Usually brunette, currently redhead!"
I was now catching my breath.
In fairness to Corrine, odd as her opening gambit was, it was rooted in a worryingly common human trait: the tendency to give facts rather than share stories. Honestly, if you only remember one sentence from this article, make it this one: 'hardbacks, not hard facts' . That's it. Nothing else. Just that.
'Hardbacks, not hard facts' are four little words I scribbled on my palm fifteen-years ago when I first started interviewing celebrities for radio and entertainment magazines. I was in my mid-20s and wanted my interviews to be different, to be brilliant, but mostly, I wanted them to be memorable. Instinctively, I knew that delving into my interviewees personal stories wold enable this. Why? For the answer, let's turn to a more educated scholar than me: Paul J. Zak Ph.D.
".. as social creatures, stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual to another. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts."
Beautifully put, sir.
Okay, so my natural leaning towards storytelling helped me secure exclusive interviews with the biggest names in entertainment many years ago, but what does that have to do with the next business awards you enter? Everything.
See below for a WhatsApp message from one of my favourite clients. She sent it to me last week. Bless her, she's happy for me to share it with you.
Confession time: this was the first time a client had hired me to write their award entries - their three award entries, to be precise. But, despite my non-existent track record writing business award entires, I was quietly optimistic. My optimism was well-placed, because of the three entries I carefully crafted, all of them were shortlisted - seeing my client nominated across all three categories we submitted into. And to my delight, they danced home with one handsome award. Not bad ROI, right? So, which writing technique did I use to help my client enjoy such a bounty of recognition? I used 3 actually, but if I were you, I'd just use the first one, because as far as I'm concerned, it's the most exquisite writing technique on earth.
WRITING TECHNIQUE #1: Be a shameless tease (use the 'Open Loop')
There is no writing technique I advocate more than the 'Open Loop'; it is singularly the most underused, over-performing copywriting technique on earth. In our how to fascinate people with your writing in two seconds article, we described the technique as '... a tantalising piece of information that demands a resolution, but critically, the resolution is delayed, thus sustaining the reader's interest.'
Once you know what you're looking for, you'll spot Open Loops everywhere: in films, on TV, in novels, podcasts, newspapers, radio, everywhere. In a world of dwindling attention spans, they're strong currency.
Let me show you the opening sentences of the submission that won my client their shiny award. NOTE: my client - the talented and friendly Best Solicitors - are happy for you to see this.
Here's the actual opening I wrote for their Private Client Team of the Year entry:
‘Kim’, a Macmillan nurse, had her doubts. Solicitors aren’t known for pet care, but her patient’s distress was escalating, so she tentatively made the phone call.
“Hello, Best Solicitors, how can I help?” answered our receptionist.
Kim disclosed her patient’s plight.
Read the opening sentence again, but this time, pay close attention to the opening 7 words:
‘Kim’, a Macmillan nurse, had her doubts.
What an unexpected (but agonisingly tantalising) way to open a sentence; I mean, who the hell is Kim and what is she doubtful about? Well, that's the point of an Open Loop. Remember, an Open Loop is '... a tantalising piece of information that demands a resolution, but critically, the resolution is delayed, thus sustaining the viewer or reader's interest.'
To help you better understand why I took this approach, let's defer back to the brilliant Paul J. Zak Ph.D. According to him, "... there are two key aspects to an effective story. First, it must capture and hold our attention. Second, [it should] transport us into the character's world."
I'll let you decide if my opening sentences accomplishes either of those objectives.
WRITING TECHNIQUE #2: Make your words an 'experience'
Now, let's dissect the second paragraph of the award submission:
“Hello, Best Solicitors, how can I help?” answered our receptionist.
Dialogue is another horribly underused writing technique. Its power lies in the subtle way it pulls readers deeper into your story. How? Well, put it this way... why explain what happened when you can reenact what happened? Every true crime documentary ever made understands this. Similarly, in almost all cases, effective writing isn't about describing things, instead, it's about aiding the reader's experience of things. A professional writer knows exactly how to paint vivid pictures in the mind of his/her reader. As Brian Clark once said, when it comes to effective communication, ".. visual words work better than words lacking in imagery."
For example, which of these two words stirs a more detailed image in your head?
WORD 1: Man
WORD 2: Postman
So, back to paragraph two of the award submission, tell me... what does the Best Solicitors receptionist look like in your head. Young or old? Tall or short? Smiling or neutral? Man or woman?
All three submissions I wrote for my client had a light sprinkling of dialogue throughout; usually reenacting actual conversation between teammates.
BONUS INSIGHT: Not only will dialogue make your writing easier to experience, but jeez... it will also make your writing less tedious. Dialogue gives your writing life and texture Telling the judging panel that this happened, then that happened, then this happened is effective, but only as a sedative.
WRITING TECHNIQUE #3: Play with words
In the winning award entry, there were two sentences I wrote that made me cringe. In fact, I deleted them and reinstated them five times before showing them to my client. You see, despite my recent article highlighting the power of rhymes, I couldn't decide if my two sentences were an excessive and somewhat corny use of rhymes. The sentence related to Alison & Emma - our two award winners. Here's the sentence, which references their tendency to roll-up their sleeves and help clear the homes of their recently deceased clients (at the expense of the firm).
'... sofas, beds, tables and chairs... our two girls navigate the tallest stairs. Hoovering, sweeping, washing and more... to them, client care is never a chore!'
Oh dear. Truthfully, I still wince a little.
In the end, however, I surrendered to the childlike poetry because... well... if it's good enough for McDonald's, it's good enough for my big-hearted clients.
Finally, here's why these tips might not help you:
You can hire the most accomplished writer in the world, but if your business isn't making a positive impact on communities, your investment will be futile. I had the luxury of being hired by one of the most approachable, helpful and socially-conscious solicitors firm in Yorkshire. Their slogan says it all: 'Putting you first, always'. They're the true heroes of this blog - hence their awards success. My job was the easy bit - I just had to spend a day with the firm; gathering their most uplifting memories, heart-warming tales and inspiring anecdotes, then distil them into 3 irresistible hardbacks (not hard facts).
FUN FACT: After 5 weeks of dating. Corrine and I broke-up. The endless facts grew tiresome. In her own words, "CK, I just wanna watch a film without you listing every fu***** thing the screenwriter is doing!"
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