Anaik Alcasas: Eavesdropping to “wow” your reader

Anaik Alcasas
Anaik Alcasas

I met Anaik Alcasas through The Marketing Seminar, Seth Godin’s new vehicle for spreading his insights and provoking new ones. She describes her business as providing “brand strategies for remarkables.” Follow her juicy #100booksinayear journey on Instagram @anaik_ed.

Eavesdropping to “wow” your reader

by Anaik Alcasas

How in the world can this writer be connecting directly with me—my pain points, core desires, need for affirmation and inspiration, insight and encouragement?

These are the kinds of things you would have heard four years ago if you were eavesdropping on my inner dialogue in the bookshop down the road.

Three years of in-depth research later, using a unique color-coding approach, have revealed several recurring themes in the most engaging motivational and prescriptive non-fiction. In brief, the most engaging writers seem to connect consistently with their readers—or so the research has shown—by touching on elements of audacity, credibility, storification, vulnerability, affirmation, illumination, generosity and inclusion, among others.

So let’s take that step by step, testing this theory, eavesdropping on the inner dialogue of your reader—that reader you’re writing for and to. We’ll italicize these thoughts, to remind us that this is potentially the inner dialogue of that reader:

Audacity

If you’re saying what everyone else is saying, just with a few minor adjustments, I’m not interested. Challenging the status quo? Tell me more. Disrupting some big traditional gatekeepers with your proposition? Tell me more. Challenging the oppressive troll under the bridge (whatever that may be) who scares people away from crossing over into more freedom, more opportunity, more fruitfulness, more solutions, more vital growth, greater resources to make a positive dent in the universe? Yep, talk to me.

While you’re articulating your audacious proposition, don’t forget to articulate the opposition (my pain points) and the promised transformation (why I should keep reading). And feel free to cycle through those things all throughout our time together – proposition, opposition, promised transformation.

Credibility

You’re not just stringing together nice-sounding words that you think will “sell” people (we’ve all tasted the cream-puff positive-psychology bull-o). Your credibility involves having done the hard yards for yourself, demonstrating you’ve put in the years, garnered real-world experience, done the reading and the research. Show me your roots and show me your foundation.

Oh, and while you’re at it, make sure you answer my unspoken questions “Why you? Why this? Why now?”

Storification

I’m wired to read stories, so package your knowledge and wisdom into stories, anecdotes, metaphors and analogies. This is the great antidote to cut-and-dry advice. If I wanted the preachments I’d go talk to my outlaws or that know-it-all neighbour—you know the one—always ready to dole out insular “advice” with an overtone of judgmentalism and a side of “you should.”

Storify your wisdom and I’ll lap it up and ask for more.

Vulnerability

If you haven’t fallen far and hard, suffered loss, run head first into severe obstacles that banged you up–if you’re too perfect and you’re hiding the real parts of your journey in the hopes I’ll trust your “perfect” image more than the next guy who’s sharing about his stomach-lurching lows and dizzying highs, think again.

I, your reader, am a deeply flawed human being with a business that might fall into dire straits without some actionable solutions, and I need to know that your teaching works for deeply flawed human beings and flailing businesses.

Affirmation

My favorite word after my personal name is “you” (copywriters know this), so what’s the “you-quotient” of what you’re trying to teach me?

I know, I know, it’s hard work to distill your training, wisdom, knowledge, and solutions into insanely useful content. But I don’t really care about what you’re saying unless you can bring it back to me through your affirmations and applications. Bring it back to those pain points you already identified. Empathize with my reader’s doubt and answer it directly, point by point.

Illumination

You’ve presented your data, stories, case studies, examples, and affirmed to me that these are written for me, right now, and can move me forward into the promised transformation I long for.

Keep on going! Your illumination provides context so you’re not just giving me a data dump, but you’re stringing it all together, giving it relevance and meaning for those pain points we talked about, and helping me to get excited.

These are the “aha moments” in your content, the tweetables. If you’d said them before the credibility and storification and all the rest, they would have merely been pontifications–unproven claims. But I’m totally on your side now, and I’m nodding along. Illuminate away.

Generosity

If I’ve read this far, it means I’ve already found a sense of tribe, a sense of belonging, within your content. You’ve already joined the ranks of one of my virtual mentors. Guess what’ll tip it into the realm of lifelong loyalty, something that really wows me, something that makes me get even more engaged and possibly make the deeper changes necessary for genuine progress? Your generosity elements – the checklists, summaries, recaps, bonus downloadables, and insider goodies designed just for those who are most on board … your ideal target audience.

Inclusion

You won me over, I voluntarily enrolled, I made the significant time investment to read your book, or watch your free webinar, or work through your ten-day-email tips course. Are you content with a one-sided conversation or do you want to move this into the realm of two-sided? If so, invite me to join your tribe, to sign up for more generous tips and insights, invite me to join a Facebook group, or to email you with questions.

Inclusion can be done many ways, but this is one of the most significant opportunities, one of the biggest differentiating factors between books and content BIE and AIE (before internet era and after the start of the Internet Era).

***

What would any of us do if we could—just for one day—read the minds of our ideal target readers? Certainly, we might change the depth with which we attempt to engage, personalize, and empathize with them.

The theory is that, what the most engaging writers have done intuitively—thanks to long-time leadership experience and high emotional-IQ (EQ)—we can learn to do intentionally, by paying attention to and “hearing” those readers we most want to serve with our writing.

So now it’s your turn to let us eavesdrop … which one of those nine elements describes your inner thought processes when you pick up a nonfiction book? And which one would you most like to nail in your next piece of writing?


Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join Elaine for her popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change.

The organizational values statement: What and why

I’ve always thanked my lucky stars that I never had to write a client’s organizational values statement. The secular Ten Commandments of the working world—a list of things that the organization purports to believe—these things always start out with the best intentions. But in the end people always load them down with mushy language. They end up as lofty, aspirational descriptions of “who we should be” than as actual descriptions of “who we are.”

Also, usually they’re way too long to remember. When an employee tries to choose between two courses of action, wading through nine pillars or ten cornerstones or whatever gimmick the company dreams up takes too much time.

Contrast this with Google’s famously terse, hipster-chic values statement:

“Don’t be evil.”

Sadly, this concise masterpiece has now been supplanted by a more traditional code, nearly 900 words long. It morphs “Don’t be evil” into the much more specific:

“Employees of Alphabet [Google’s new holding company] and its subsidiaries and controlled affiliates should do the right thing—follow the law, act honorably, and treat each other with respect.”

You can always tell when a piece of writing has passed through a lawyer’s computer; everything gets spelled out in triplicate. That said, I applaud the change of focus from what employees shouldn’t do to what they should.

Values Statement: My turn? (Really?)

As I said at the beginning of this post, I’ve managed to avoid writing values statements for my clients. But last week I hired an assistant, a recent college graduate, to help me with some of my social media and marketing efforts.

She’s a writer herself, so she’s got the chops for the job. But she hasn’t had a lot of experience working with organizations. And she doesn’t know much about me other than what she’s read in this very blog.

How get her up to speed with who I am and what I do?

At first I thought I’d just write a couple of sentences. But people can forget sentences. I needed something snappy and memorable. I needed—oh, God, do I really? Yes, it was inescapable: I needed a values statement.

Bennett Ink Core Values

Giving GIFTS to everyone we interact with, from long-time clients to casual readers.

“GIFTS” is a mnemonic for the five qualities I want people to associate with me or my work:

Generosity
Integrity
Fun*
Teaching
Support

*our humor can be sassy with a little attitude, but it’s never sarcastic

It wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. For one thing, I didn’t do it by committee (well, I tried to delegate to Fenway but she doesn’t work during chipmunk season).

For another thing, these aren’t stretch goals—this is really who (I believe) I am. And I often find clients reflecting these values back to me: the woman who listened to my podcast interview and wrote to thank me for my generosity. This feedback from my free elevator speech webinar:

“I got more than I expected. You are a wonderful and very effective communicator.”

That’s what we’re about here at Bennett Ink, “more than I expected.”

Is it cheesy to put that into a mnemonic? Frankly, I don’t care. I’d create a Dr. Seuss rhyme out of it if that’s what it took for my new colleague to remember what kind of behavior and work I expect.

That’s the real purpose of a value statement. Whether it’s for an organization of thousands or one whose “all-hands meeting” could fit at a table in Starbucks.