Persuasive Writing 101: Get More Audience With Less Effort
What is persuasive writing?
Simple. Persuasive writing gets the reader to do what you want them to do. Often, the end goal is to get them to, you know, read your stuff at all.
See, for the most part, aspiring writers go unnoticed. For every successful blogger, author, novelist, etc, there are thousands of failures, abandoned blogs, and writing careers that never get off the ground.
I can guess how you probably feel. The words don’t come out on the page the way you thought of them in your head. Getting any sort of traction seems like an uphill slog.
You’re worried about wasting your time, effort, and even money when it seems like no one will ever read your s***. Your deepest fear? That you’re going to stay in the aspiring phase forever.
That you’ll be in the middle and late stages of your life talking about that book you were going to write, but never did. In the back of your mind, you feel like you’ll die without your words really being noticed.
That would be a shame. Fortunately, I’m here to save you.
So how do you become a writer people do notice?
You must master the art of moving people with words.
How do you do that? Let me explain.
Why the Quality of Your Writing Isn’t Important At All
Persuasive writing has much less to do with using fancy words than it does with connecting to emotions.
This is why poorly written books can fly off the shelves, e.g., 50 Shades of Grey and flawlessly written prose can turn into a total dud.
Before we get into any of the writing techniques themselves, you must understand the most important aspect of writing. The reader.
I hammer this point home in almost every blog post I write because it’s the most glaring problem I see in almost every aspiring writer. Regardless of what point of view you’re writing from, your writing isn’t about you. Ever.
It’s about the reader. Always. And the most important thing to understand about your reader is this — they’re a human being.
Human beings can be persuaded because, for the most part, we don’t use logic to make decisions. All great writers know that connecting with readers involves tapping into their emotions, tickling their lizard brains, and connecting with the more primal self than the logical one.
What do I mean? I’ll share some specific techniques later, but here are some themes.
Persuasive Writing Foundation – Fears, Dreams, Hopes, and Aspirations
Imagine you’re living in a nomadic tribe.
You hear a rustling in the bushes. It could be the wind. Or, it could be a lion that wants to eat you. Do you take any chances? No. You run like hell.
When you make it back to your settlement you think everything has gone well, only to find you’ve offtended the alpha leader of the tribe and will be abandoned. This form of social rejection is life or death. Literally.
Zoom back to present times now. Let’s take a look at a little catchy headline trick I like to use, “Are you making one of these 3 devastating career mistakes?”
When someone reads that headline, they don’t just logically think “career mistakes,” they emotionally feel abandonment from the tribe and death.
This is why tapping into fear works quite well. Especially fear that involves social rejection. If you know what you’re reader is afraid of, you know how to persuade them.
On the flip side, for the same deep-seated caveman reasons, we want more status. Better status means a better mate means better offspring means better passing on of genes. You could take that same headline earlier and do something like “7 Simple and Effective Ways to Become a Star at Work.”
You want to know both what keeps your readers up at night and what they want to cross off their bucket list. If you know both, you can use persuasive writing to get them to join your tribe.
I added the caveman anecdotes because I want you to understand how deep these emotions run. Some copywriters make millions of dollars per year because they understand the true power of understanding human nature and evolutionary psychology.
The WIIFM Principle
Are you reading this blog post because you love me?
I mean, I am pretty damn lovable, but you’re not here because you want to help me grow my writing coach business.
You’re here because you want to learn persuasive writing. You want to learn persuasive writing because you want more people to read your work.
You want more people to read your work so you can achieve your writing dreams, gain status, boost your self-esteem, get validation, and ultimately please…you.
Until you fully understand human self-interest, you won’t become a successful writer. Ironically, like I said earlier, most writers are too self-interested and don’t deliver anything to readers. They’re selfish.
You must always answer this question with your writing:
“What’s in it for me?”
It doesn’t matter which type of writing you use either. For how to blogging content, you’re providing the reader a solution to their problems or a path to something they aspire to.
Novels provide entertainment, an escape from the banality of life, and a lens with which the reader can see themselves and identify with. Often, the hero. We love superhero movies because we don’t feel heroic in our own lives. Are you starting to get the ethos of this all?
If you’re not providing useful entertainment, education, inspiration, or compelling story, your writing will fall flat. Yet people do this all the time.
They’ll write a picturesque description of their travels around the world, but all those pretty words mean nothing.
Contrast that with a memoir of essentially the same content, but talks about the emotions, experiences, and scenarios in a way that creates a bond with the reader, e.g., Wild by Charyl Strayed
The difference is subtle and huge at the same time.
My Personal Bag of Tricks
When it comes to persuasive writing tricks, there are more than enough to last you a lifetime.
Fortunately, you only need a few.
Remember the principle of simplicity. Getting really good at a handful of techniques is better than being bad or mediocre at a bunch.
This is how you get exponential growth without having to work hard. I know some writers who work way harder than me and bang their head against the wall trying to be perfect.
My style is simple. I like it and so do my readers. That’s all I need.
Quit overcomplicating this.
That message applies to so many aspects of not only the writing itself but writing careers in general.
Writers are neurotic and overthinking creatures.
In reality, though, you don’t have to do anything fancy to get readers to like you. Just master the fundamentals.
Here are some of my favorite tips, tricks, and formulas for writing better content.
The P.A.S. Formula
Remember when I talked about tapping into readers fears or hopes at the beginning of this post?
Well, if you don’t learn how to do this, here’s what will happen.
Nobody will read your work. This will frustrate you. Not only won’t you get any better, but you’ll bang your head against the wall because you are practicing, yet you’re not bearing any fruit from that practice.
You’ll observe other writers who don’t seem to be much more talented than you, but they’ll lap you in terms of audience. While they rise, you won’t just stay stagnant, you’ll fall.
You’ll fall because with each failed post you write, your motivation will decrease. It will decrease to the point where you lose all motivation and quit writing forever. Your dreams will die with you.
How do you avoid this fate? By using the P.A.S. formula as I just did.
P.A.S stands for problem, agitation, solution. The process is simple:
- Problem – State the problem the reader is having
- Agitate – “Twist the knife.” Make them feel even worse by projecting out the consequences of not resolving their problem.
- Solution – Allude to a solution and then provide it later on
Copywriters use the P.A.S. formula in sales letters quite often. I like to use it to open my blog posts because, rightly or wrongly, fear is a great trigger. Now, I use that fear to jolt the reader awake and give them the solution, not to punish them.
Use this power for good. The P.A.S. formula is similar to the next trick — one that will have your readers thinking deeply.
Copywriters often use future pacing to persuade readers to take action on a product that serves to give the reader a better future. It’s similar to P.A.S., but I like to use positive imagery of the future to keep the reader’s attention.
You’ve seen this on a sales letter or video from a marketer on Youtube, “Imagine yourself six months from now. Your business is running on auto-pilot. Sales are coming in automatically as you sip Pina Coladas on the beach […]”
Laugh all you want at those type of ads, but people wouldn’t run them if they didn’t work.
See, humans spend most of their time either agonizing over the past or wishing for a better future. If your writing can project a better future, you give the reader what they want most.
People don’t want to buy products, read blog posts, or become your customer. They want a transformation. They want that product or piece of content to help them become a better version of themselves.
- People don’t buy “weight loss products,” they buy bodies that look good naked, energy to play with their kids, and longer life.
- People don’t buy luxury cars, watches, and clothes, they buy status, admiration, and yes even envy of their peers.
- Readers don’t read “how-to” content. They search for solutions to their problems to become better.
If you write non-fiction “how-to” content, are trying to sell a product, or want to persuade people with writing in general, think about what the reader wants to happen in the future and allude to it.
Use words and phrases like “Imagine,” “What would your life look like in [time period] if you [followed through with action provided by content/used product]?” “Picture yourself…”
Even though non-fiction is my gig, think of great novels. They have you wondering what’s next by putting the protagonist in a pinch, writing about what motivates them, and foreshadowing potential scenes.
Move your reader into the next phase with your writing.
Speaking of move…
You want people to read your writing all the way through.
To do this, you should make each sentence easily connect to the next one.
You want the reader to be surprised when they’re done with your post, sales letter, even book. Like “damn, I’m done?”
Your writing should move them from the top of the page to the bottom. Lines should connect like a knit sweater.
Some ways to achieve this are:
- Omit needless words/sentences – Every word should earn its way onto the page.
- Contractions – “You’ll” instead of “You will” “We’re” instead of “We are.”
- Confidence – Remove phrases like “I believe” and “I think that.” They know you think/believe what you’re writing about because you wrote it.
- Transition phrases – “Because” “therefore” “as a result of”
- Active Voice – Instead of “The post was edited by John,” use “John edited the post.”
The Writing Technique that Increased the Popularity of My Writing 10X
You definitely want to know which technique caused such a dramatic shift, right?
It would be weird for you to stop reading after that specific phrase.
Intriguing subheads compel the reader to continue.
I owe all credit for this technique to this blog post.
Some highlights are:
- Give the reader a clue to what’s next, but don’t give it away
- Tap into fears/aspirations
- Don’t just write the literal definition of the content below, e.g., “Use Powerful Subheadings”
Bonus: An additional trick I learned from Benjamin Hardy — a top writer on Medium. Add quotes underneath each subheading. This works especially well on personal development posts.
Why does this work? Because of a persuasion technique called “mere association.” Attaching yourself to credible people makes you seem more credible by default.
The Word Every Reader Wants to Hear
You want to become a more persuasive writer because you want a bigger audience.
You’re worried about having no fans because you’ll lose motivation if you don’t build an audience fast enough.
Almost all aspiring writers use the word “I” too much and it shows how self-absorbed they are.
You have to cure your addiction to yourself when it comes to your writing. People don’t want to read your thoughts, stories, and advice, per se. They only do so in so much as it helps or entertains them.
This is why using the word you is so effective. When you use it, the reader doesn’t have to guess if you’re trying to relate your content to them.
The 3-Nod Technique
I often like to open blog posts with three questions that’ll make the reader mentally, or even sometimes literally, not their head yes.
- Do you want more fans for your writing?
- Do you wish the words came to you more easily?
- Are you worried that you’ll burn out and quit before you build a big audience?
Each time you get the reader to nod “yes” in their head…they are investing into you and committing to you a little bit with each “nod.”
This is why salespeople will ask you questions about your preferences and tastes, get you to answer yes, and then offer a product that meets those preferences:
- Do you like to travel?
- Do you love a good deal?
- If you could travel around the world without breaking the bank, would you do it?
“Well let me tell you about our frequent travel membership […]”
Get it? Good.
This is How You Want Your Reader to Feel
Whenever you can, you want to make your reader feel like you’re reading their mind.
If you can figure out not only what they want, but what they’re objections and resistance to your content are beforehand, you can connect with them by addressing it before they do.
This often involves saying something like “I bet you’re probably thinking…” and inserting either an objection, fear, or aspiration after.
By this point, you’re probably thinking all of these tips sound good, but when it comes to pulling them off, you still feel overwhelmed.
That’s okay. I learned all of these tips one by one and integrated them over time. This post is meant to be something you can come back to time in time again.
You might be thinking, “this is easy for you to say!” But if you look at some of my old writing, as I show examples of in this post, you’ll realize how much I used to suck and how much better I got.
You can get better, too.
But you have to do this.
Why You Feel Creatively Blocked (and How to Cure it)
You need to get out of your own way.
This isn’t just true for writing, but for success in life period.
You want it to be hard, so badly. Deep down, you want the process to be difficult to give yourself an out.
Writing isn’t hard.
It’s time-consuming. That’s all.
Consume the time. Like I did. It should be fun!
You say you want to be a writer so bad.
Then, write, dude.