“If we want to SUCCEED, we must INTRIGUE.” – Sam Horn
I had an opportunity today to share book writing, publishing and marketing tips with EO members on a podcast. When I asked participants for their goals, one entrepreneur said, “I just want to know how NOT to write a boring business book.”
Kudos. He’s right. The world doesn’t need another book or talk, it needs a quality book or talk with intriguing, inspiring, useful content people haven’t seen before.
Many business books and presentations are listicles. Do this. Do this. Do this. They lose us at hello.
I shared my 4 A Framework with EO’ers to show how we can replace INFObesity (boring information) with intriguing insights that capture and keep people’s attention.
Here’s that framework for NOW NOT TO BE BORING.
Hope it helps you craft compelling content that adds value from start to finish.
Sam Horn’s 4 A Framework for Intriguing Communications – on the Page and Stage
Want your book to be a page-turner? Want people to put down their digital device and give you their full attention?
Start each chapter or post with a story. Not just ANY story. A real-life anecdote with dialogue. If your anecdote doesn’t have dialogue, it comes across as apocryphal.
At some level, people are thinking, “This sounds made-up. And if you made this up, what else are you making up?”
If you want people to RELATE to your content, it’s got to be real-life. And the way to make content real-life is to W.W.W.A.V. E. your anecdotes (true examples) so people trust them.
When and Where did this happen? Start with “Just this morning on my way to the airport …” “It was 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and every conference attendee had a foot halfway out the ballroom.” “Last year at this time …” Put us IN THE SCENE so we have a sense of time and place. Time and place give your anecdotes “truthiness.”
Who is the lead character and what kind of mood are they in? Describe them so we can SEE them in our mind’s eye. If we can’t see them, we can’t relate to them. Don’t just say, “An employee told me ….” Is that employee a man or a woman? A boomer or a Milennial? What’s their mental state? “Say, “A long time employee stormed into my office with steam coming out of his ears and said, “I can’t work with Bob anymore. Either he goes or I go.”
See how, in a couple sentences, we’re not just reading words on paper, we’re in the room with you visualizing this as if it is happening right here, right now?
What Was Said? Omniscient narrative (a neck-up disembodied voice making sweeping generalizations) keeps readers distant and removed. Instead of saying someone was upset (yawn), re-create exactly what s/he said with commas and quotes.
Using people’s own words is what makes content original and organic instead of generic. Think about it. Why can we read novels for hours at a time and it’s not hard work? It’s because the author re-enacts the interaction so what’s being said comes alive. We feel we’re part of the conversation vs. feeling apart from it.
Adversity: Joseph Campbell was right. Every story needs conflict in order for us to care. If your content doesn’t have push-back, it comes across as Pollyanna. Where was the challenge, the dark night of the soul, what went wrong?” Anticipate why readers or listeners will disagree or resist – and build it into the anecdote so it is realistic instead of idealistic.
You could say, “You may be thinking this wouldn’t work in MY organization.” Or, your lead character’s boss may say, “I agree with you, but it’s not in our budget and there’s no way we can afford it.” When you address an objection, you neutralize it because readers are saying to themselves, “That’s exactly what I was thinking!” It’s a way to bond with people because you’re anticipating when, where and why they might opt out – and you’re getting there first.
Victory: What was the epiphany, the point of it all? Please note, it doesn’t have to be a “happy ending” with Ewoks dancing at the end of Star Wars, it does need some resolution or resolve so we “get the point.” Maybe the character vows, like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with The Wind, “Tomorrow is another day,” which sums up her lesson-learned and personal vow. Or you could put us in the scene of crossing the finish line of a marathon with a triumphant “I did it!” where all your months of training and perseverance paid off.
Emotional Context: This is where you – the author, speaker or storyteller – come in with YOUR perspective. It sums up the story and switches voice and point of view to how YOU FEEL about what happened. Here’s where you share why this matters and why you’re including it in your book or presentation. “In retrospect, I will always be grateful to that coach for beleiving in me and opening my eyes.” “That’s why I’m a man on a mission about preventing this from happening to anyone else.“ This is where the story “comes together.”
AHA: After you share your anecdote, distill your epiphany – your primary point – into a meme, sound-bite or rally cry that gets eyebrows up. It’s not enough to be true, it’s got to be new. Test your AHA by sharing it with people in advance. If they give a passive “Oh,” it’s back to the drawing board. It means the point is ho-hum and not intriguing enough.
You want your AHA to be so fresh, contrarian or surprising, it elicits a visceral reaction like “WOW! I never thought of it that way before.” Or, “WHOA. I’ve been doing it wrong all these years.” Or,” OMG, that’s interesting, tell me more.” Please note, if your AHA doesn’t get eyebrows up and isn’t repeatable – it won’t be retweetable. Learn how to do that here.
ASK: Next , ask three “You” questions so people are thiking how this applies to them. I’ll always remember an Olympic athlete who didn’t do this. He talked about qualifying for the Games, choking and not making it out of his heat. He was so disgusted, he quit the sport. Two years later, he couldn’t live with himself, went back into training, made the Games and ended up with a medal. End of story.
I looked around at our audience. They were giving him polite applause but I could tell what they were thinking. “Well, good for you. What’s that got to do with me?” He didn’t make HIS story OUR story. He didn’t “hook and hinge” his anecdote back to us by asking YOU questions like, “Have YOU ever worked hard for something that didn’t work out? Did YOU throw in the towel? Did YOU decide to give it another try? Or, is there something now that’s not going the way YOU want? Are YOU tempted to quit?”
When you hook and hinge your point back to your audience, it doesn’t matter WHO’S listening to, watching or reading your work – whether they’re a CEO or recent college grad. They will find it pertinent becuase they’re applying it to THEIR specific circumstances.
ACT: Finally, share numbered recommendations so people have tangible next steps. People may agree with what you said – but if they don’t know what to say or do – they won’t say or do anything. If you want your content to have enduring value, name and number your suggestions, “Here are 3 Steps to Incease Profitability,” “Here’s my 4 A framework for replacing INFObesity with INTRIGUE” “Here are 4 WORDS TO LOSE and WORDS TO USE” This is the secret sauce to making content proprietary and easy to follow.
Now, let’s put all this together.
A couple years ago I hosted a salon in Denver to watch the best TED talks. To honor their mission to spread “BIG IDEAS,” the TED organization rented theaters around the country so anyone could experience distilled excerpts from that year’s program for a $10 ticket.
Twenty of us watched the TED talks together and then met at Maggiano’s afterwards to debrief our reactions. As you can imagine, it was a fascinating, far-ranging discussion, yet two surprising trends stood out.
Everyone agreed the speakers were brilliant and they felt privileged to hear these visionary thought leaders share updates on their projects – whether it was AI, crypto or the hyperlink.
Yet when I asked people, “What do you remember?” very few could repeat anything they heard, word for word. Yikes. That meant those messages were already out of sight, out of mind.
Plus, people felt only two of the talks were actionable. The rest? There was nothing we could DO. Yes, it was “Gee whiz” stuff but there were no action steps to TAKE – no change to MAKE – which meant those talks went in one ear and out the other.
So, back to you.
What is a book or blog you’re writing? A TEDx talk or presentation you’re preparing?
You don’t want it to be out-of-sight, out-of-mind an hour after people hear it or read it. You want it to stay top-of-mind. If that’s your goal, use the 4 A framework to design and deliver a quality book or a truly engaging, relevant talk that delivers real-world results.
ANECDOTE: W.W.W.A.V.E. a real-life example so it comes alive in people’s mind.
AHA: Turn your main point into a repeatable-retweetable meme that takes your work viral.
ASK: Hook and hinge your message so people are relating your insight to their situation.
ACT: Provide numbered next steps so people can start, stop or do something differently.
Anyone – including you – can create intriguing written and spoken communications that add value for all involved if you use this 4 A Framework. Let me know how it works for you.
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Sam Horn, CEO of the Intrigue Agency and TEDx speaker, is on a mission to help people get their ideas out of their head and into the world. Her books – POP!, Tongue Fu! and Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? – have been featured in New York Times, on NPR and presented to Cisco, NASA, Capital One, Boeing, Intel, YPO and Nationwide. Sheri Salata (former Executive Producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show) calls Sam, “One of the brightest lights and most accessible wisdom-sharers in our culture today.”