I used to get worked up over meeting someone for the first time. That old axiom that you only get one chance to make a first impression was tucked into the corners of my mind and controlled my actions in mishievous ways: fumbled words, cracking voice and awkward mannerisms.
I still get nervous about introductions, but I’ve learned to control it mostly by thinking ahead about what I will say, paying more attention to the other person and relying on social skills and experience I’ve accumulated over the years.
Professional communicators would do well to adopt the same strategy when it comes to writing headlines, teasers and leads for our work. Think ahead about what we want to say, pay attention to our audience and rely on our skills and experience.
If we did, we wouldn’t produce drivel like this subhead from a recent press release annoucing the merger of two global consulting firms:
Combined Company Positioned for Sustainable Growth and Profitability with a Broader Portfolio and Wider Geographic Footprint
This jargon-laden statement could have been written about any merger anywhere in the world. It says nothing. It’s lazy. It’s unimaginative. It leaves a poor first impression. My guess is that few people wanted to read further, fearing they might stumble over a stray mission statement or vision.
Contrast that subhead with this teaser for an intranet story written by one of my colleagues. The story, frankly, was a fairly routine account of an annual awards dinner, but check out how the writer draws readers into it (I replaced some names for the sake of propriety):
SVP Jane Smith’s closing remarks: “Just over a year ago, I was outside the XYZ Companies, looking in. Let me tell you what I saw…”
I can imagine employees reading this teaser and thinking, “Tell us! Tell us what you saw, Jane Smith! We want to know how we look to the outside world.” It’s a short, fairly simple subhead, but it gets the job done. The writer picked out just the right thing to say (a senior vice president delivered some unique insight about the company), put herself in the audience’s place (what would compel them to read the piece?) and relied on her skills and experience to write a compelling 25-word introduction.
You have limited opportunities to make good first impressions on your audiences. Don’t blow your chance.