Writing tips: Don’t bury the lead

In journalism, they have a phrase I like: “Don’t bury the lead”. It’s a lot like the phrase “get to the point” in speaking, with some important distinctions:

1.  In speaking, if you delay getting to your point, the audience may lose interest, and you may have to work harder to get them re-engaged. In writing, if you lose their interest, they may look away, and then you have no way to draw them back in.

For instance, have you ever heard a stand-up comic deliver 7 bad jokes to start off a set? No? You know why? After just a couple of bombs at the start, the audience moves through the same emotional phases as someone who has had the love of their life cheat on them: denial, bargaining, and loud booing.

2. Even if you don’t lose their interest, you might cause them to lose their focus on your real point, and instead have them walk away with the wrong message.

I was once trying to convince my boss to let me have time off to attend a free tech-seminar, and I mentioned to her that I wouldn’t need any gas reimbursement, since I would be collecting a bunch of free pens. I also mentioned the free educational sessions on job-related topics. What did she hear? “Rob wants the day off to go get some free pens.” What was her answer? “No.”

3. Finally, the worst case. They will totally get your point …and then… they’ll remember how annoying it was listening/reading the drivel first, that they won’t want to patronize your business again (i.e. no clapping).

I’ve never made that mistake, so no examples…hmmm…fine…I just don’t want to re-live that one, okay?

Whether you’re writing or speaking, more often than not getting to the point early in your efforts will keep your audience interested and focused on your message. Bury that lead at your own risk, and chances are your audience won’t be your audience anymore.

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