Do you want to capture the hearts and minds of your readers?
When you plan a piece, you often have concerns such as:
- Am I providing enough useful content to readers?
- Do I have the facts and data to back up my argument?
- Does my writing make sense and flow logically?
While these are important questions, one vital ingredient is missing.
Your readers want to know that you’re in the trenches with them, that you understand what they’re going through.
The simplest way forge a connection with your readers is to write a piece that stirs their emotions.
Facts are read and forgotten, but emotions stay with us.
As Maya Angelou said:
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Here is the 3-step process to harnessing the power of emotions so you can capture the hearts and minds of your readers.
Step 1: Eavesdrop
You can listen anywhere—in the mall, while hanging out with friends and family, or as you browse the internet.
When someone tells you their problems or their aspirations or their deepest fears, be a listening ear. Notice the words they use, and their tone of voice.
It’s surprising how alike people are. We tend to speak and act in similar ways, even though we like to believe we’re unique. So if one person tells you something, there’s a good chance that a number of people feel the same way.
Sometimes, though, you need to look beneath the surface.
For example, I overheard an interesting conversation the other day. One girl said to the other, “Ugh, my thighs look so fat in these shorts.”
I’ll tell you how the rest of the conversation went, but first, take a moment to think what she might have been trying to say.
Why did she say that? What did it mean?
Did she need to go shopping for a new pair of shorts? Get liposuction?
Listening isn’t just about hearing something and taking it at face value. Our words hide many emotions and thoughts.
Her friend replied, “Yeah, they do look fat.”
If you think that was an unusual (and horrible) response, here’s what the first girl had to say. “What?! You’re not supposed to say that. You’re supposed to say, ‘No, your thighs look fine.’”
What a great response! Besides setting things straight with her terrible friend, she acknowledged her hidden emotions. She didn’t really mean she was fat. What she wanted was reassurance that she wasn’t fat.
So pay attention to what people say.
But also try to understand what they mean.
Step 2: Expose your readers’ deepest, darkest secrets
Empathy takes listening one step further.
It requires putting yourself in another person’s situation and imagining you were them.
Let’s say you’re writing about how to use social media to promote your business.
Picture yourself as Jane, a small business owner. What would Jane think about using social media?
If I were her, these thoughts would go through my head:
- Would using social media take up all my time?
- Everything seems so overwhelming and complicated. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…setting up a profile, connecting with other people…AAAHH!
- By how much would social media help my business grow?
By entering Jane’s head, I better understand her thought process, and what holds her back from trying something new.
This makes it much easier for me to address these concerns when I interact with people like her.
Another way to empathize is to talk to people one-on-one. Encourage them to tell you what they’re thinking.
Initially, people might cover up what they feel. But if you push gently to go beneath the surface, they do open up to you.
People often say, “I just need to figure out what to do with my life.”
This deceptively simple phrase makes many of us uncomfortable, because nearly all of us face this issue at some point in our lives. As a result, we shift the conversation to something else.
I suggest the opposite. Don’t flinch from the topic.
Instead, dig. Dig till you get to the bottom of the matter.
Be curious. Ask open questions such as “What have you tried doing? Why hasn’t it worked so far?”
At first, the person might mumble a vague response.
Eventually, the person will reveal what’s on their mind if you keep asking interested, non-threatening questions.
Step 3: Connect
By now, you should have a good sense of what your readers think and feel. If you’ve been following steps 1 and 2, people will have already told you!
Now it’s time to write something that makes people think you’re speaking directly to them.
Which you are, in a sense.
There are two ways to relate to readers: focus on emotions, and keep your writing simple.
1. Focus on emotions, not facts
If you want to connect with your readers, appeal to their emotions. Research shows that we use emotions to remember important information.
For example, if your tongue gets scorched eating hot soup, you will remember to skim a small portion of soup the next time. You remember the pain you experienced!
Emotions are also at the core of persuasion. We rely primarily on emotions rather than logic to make decisions.
For example, in the 2000 Presidential campaign, in a debate against Governor Bush on healthcare costs, Vice President Al Gore said:
“Under the Governor’s plan, if you kept the same fee for service that you have now under Medicare, your premiums would go up by between 18% and 47%, and that is the study of the Congressional plan that he’s modeled his proposal on by the Medicare Actuaries.”
He went on to explain how the policy would affect the average person.
In response, Bush said:
“Under my plan the man gets immediate help with prescription drugs. It’s called Immediate Helping Hand. Instead of squabbling and finger-pointing, he gets immediate help.”
Instead of communicating his concern for seniors and rising healthcare costs, Gore relied on facts to make the audience think about the implications of an alternative plan.
On the other hand, Bush tapped into the public’s emotions, showing he could relate to the average voter’s everyday struggles.
The most potent way to capture the hearts and minds of your readers is to make them feel.
Gregory Henderson does just that in his post How to Consciously Create the Life of Your Dreams:
Do you ever feel dissatisfied with how your life turned out?
You know there has to be more to life, but you know that what you’re living now just isn’t it. This is not the life you’ve always dreamed of.
You had so many dreams when you were younger, but they just haven’t come to fruition.
Later, he discusses how to address this issue.
But first, notice how Gregory begins by crafting a feeling of dissatisfaction within the reader before offering practical help. It’s the build-up of emotions in the introduction that creates a sense of relief when he finally offers a solution.
Facts don’t move people. This doesn’t mean facts are pointless. Rather, facts should be used within the context of a gripping, emotionally driven story.
2. Keep your writing simple
An important part of telling a memorable, captivating story is being able to break things down.
Read this description:
A quainter corner than the corner where the Doctor lived, was not to be found in London. There was no way through it, and the front windows of the Doctor’s lodgings commanded a pleasant little vista of street that had a congenial air of retirement on it.
As great as Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is, writing like this doesn’t work well on a blog.
It may be tempting to use extravagant phrases to sound eloquent, but this backfires on the internet. Readers will get confused and give up reading if you overcomplicate your writing.
See how Derek Halpern talks about his upbringing in 2015: Be The Exception.
When I was a kid, my mom was on welfare. And my dad was in jail. And I was surrounded by other drug addicts in my family who would steal money from my mom.
Derek paints a grim picture of his upbringing, evoking sympathy and concern from readers. Notice how he states his situation in short, blunt sentences, as if understating his circumstances.
The way he delivers his story makes it easy to understand, and easy to empathize with him.
Use simple, everyday language.
Because ultimately, you want your readers to know that you understand them better than anyone else does.
Being a good writer means coming up with great ideas for your readers.
But that’s only one part of the equation. The other part of good writing is getting others to listen to your ideas.
By using the 3-step process to harness the power of emotions, you can write about issues that are deeply relevant to your readers in a way that moves them powerfully.
What do you do to capture the minds and hearts of your readers? Share in the comments below.
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