Story-telling: a way to catch your reader's attention
Most sports managers are producing many documents during a
standard working day. Letters, memos, briefs, presentations, etc are
produced but somehow we all know it: many of these documents are not
really being read carefully - and some of them are probably not read at
all. So how can you ensure your documents are getting read?
It is of course a pity if people don't read what you produce. You spend
time on it and you only produce a document if you have something
important to tell and something you want to achieve. Business writing
always has a purpose and you want to ensure that this purpose is met. So
as you continue to produce these documents, how can you ensure that
your reader is paying attention?
The main problem of many written documents lies in the first 5-10 lines:
the introduction. Often we get the introduction wrong and immediately
lose the reader. We simply forget to tell or remind the reader about why
he/she should read the document. This happens before we even have a
chance to communicate the core message.
Let's first stress that an introduction is meant to remind - not to
inform - the reader about something. The key information will be
provided later in the document, but the introduction must simply remind
the reader of the purpose. People will seek answers, and therefore
continue to read the document when they;
are aware that there is an important question
- feel that we need to know the answer to this question
Therefore, to make the reader interested in reading the document, the
reader needs to know that the document will answer a question that
already exists in his/her mind and your introduction must therefore
remind the reader about this question. At the same time you must
convince the reader that your document will provide an answer to that
A good introduction to a document must therefore:
- establish for the reader the time/place of a situation =
explain what has occurred in the situation = "complication"
outline the question that the complication has caused =
remind the reader that the document will provide an answer to the
question = "answer"
The "situation" - "complication" - "question" - "answer" route is
actually the traditional pattern of story-telling so let's take a closer
look at how this can work when you are drafting an introduction to a
The flow of a good story whether it is in the form of a movie, a play, a
novel or a fairy tale can really catch our attention and it is often
composed as follows:
Situation: "Once upon a time there was a king…"
Complication: "Then something unexpected happened…"
Question: "What should he do about it..?"
- Answer: "This is what he did…" and the main part of the fairy tale
In a movie you are often first introduced to a scene where everything is
OK and stable (situation). Then something happens which complicates
that situation (complication) and you ask yourself how this can be
sorted out (question). The main part of the movie is then about how to
deal with the complication (answer).
Let's take a look at how the four steps within the pattern can work for
you when you produce a document:
Situation: First you establish the situation for the reader by reminding
him/her about a recognised situation, e.g.: "I write to you following
last week's meeting where it was decided to start our joint project". If
you need to remind the reader further you can add where the meeting
took place, more details about the topic, etc but keep it as short as
Complication: After having reminded the reader about the basic situation
you now state why you are actually writing, it should be because
something has happened or even better because something will happen -
related to the situation: something went wrong, something could change,
somebody now has another view, we now have three alternatives, etc.
Question: This complication will raise a question in the reader's mind:
what do we do, how should we react, who is right, which one should we
take, etc. Often you won't have to actually write the question because
you know that the reader implicitly will ask themselves this question
but if you have any doubts you clearly spell out the question: "Who is
right?" and it is very clear to the reader that your document is about
answering that question.
Answer: The main part of your document then becomes the answer and it is
an answer to a question based on a situation that you have reminded the
reader about and it is a question you have told the reader will be
answered in your document. That should make the reader more interested
in knowing the answer and thus read your document.
Did it work?
A first test of whether the story-telling principle can work to improve
an introduction has been passed if you are now reading these lines
because the introduction to this little article was based on the
"Sports managers write many documents = "Situation"
"However, many of these documents are not (carefully) read =
"What can we do about that = "Questions"
"Use story-telling principles and this is how it works = "Answer"
Well, you can probably do it better so go on and start to enhance your
introduction and make sure that your documents are read.