My formula for persuasive writing


When I write sales copy, presentations, books, or blog posts, I often use a formula that makes it more likely the reader or listener will do what I want them to do.

I may want them to buy something, do something, or remember something. The formula works the same way.

The persuasive writing formula I use (no, I didn’t invent it) has five parts:

  1. State the PROBLEM (here’s what’s wrong, what you don’t have, what will happen if you don’t do anything about it.)
  2. AGITATE the problem (dramatize the pain, here’s more about how bad it could get, here’s other ways this will affect you)
  3. Present the SOLUTION (what can be done to stop the problem)
  4. Describe the BENEFITS (relieve your pain, other good things you get with this solution)
  5. CALL TO ACTION (what to do to get the solution and benefits)

Try this formula the next time you write something. You may find it helpful to start with the call to action. What do you want them to do? What’s the key takeaway?

Then, either work backwards through the other parts (ie., the benefits they will get when they do what you want them to do, the solution that delivers those benefits, etc.) or go to the beginning, describe the problem, and work forwards.

Anyway, an article in the Harvard Business Journal presents a similar formula based on classical story structure. In “Structure your presentation like a story,” author Nancy Duarte says:

After studying hundreds of speeches, I’ve found that the most effective presenters use the same techniques as great storytellers: By reminding people of the status quo and then revealing the path to a better way, they set up a conflict that needs to be resolved.

That tension helps them persuade the audience to adopt a new mindset or behave differently — to move from what is to what could be. And by following Aristotle’s three-part story structure (beginning, middle, end), they create a message that’s easy to digest, remember, and retell.

Persuasive writing is about creating tension (or identifying it) and then relieving it. If you want someone to hire you, show them the status quo and the path to a better way: “You’ve got this problem that’s only going to get worse; if you hire me, I will solve that problem (or help you take the first step towards solving it); here’s how you’ll be better off; here’s what to do to get started.”

Tell them a dramatic story that makes them angry or afraid. Just make sure it has a happy ending.

Do you know the formula for earning more in your practice? Go here.


How to be more persuasive in your writing and speaking


When I was in law school I helped a friend with her divorce. I prepared the Petition (yes, under supervision) and served it.

In those days, even though there were no children or real property and the matter was uncontested, she had to appear in court. I went with her to the hearing in downtown Los Angeles and we waited in the hallway for the courtroom to open.

I’d never seen my friend so nervous. She had never been in a courtroom and was afraid she wouldn’t know what to say. I told her this was a very simple case, the judge would ask a few basic questions and everything would be over in a few minutes. I kept talking, trying to calm her down, but nothing seemed to work. She was visibly shaking and barely able to speak.

Finally, I said, “Oh, here comes the judge.” I was looking over her shoulder behind her. She turned to look. Coming towards us was a shabbily dressed old man with dirty, unruly hair and an unshaven face. It was not the judge of course but a homeless man and the sight of him shuffling down the hall made her laugh.

A good laugh was exactly what the doctor ordered. My friend was able to get through the hearing and soon, we were on our way home.

In the car, she thanked me for helping her and especially for helping her to calm down enough to get through the hearing. It meant a lot to her that I cared enough to do that. We are still very good friends today, more than thirty years later.

So, why did I tell you this story? I could have simply made the point that your clients want to know you care about them and really do appreciate the little things you say or do.

Telling you that story was a better way to make that point, don’t you think?

I talk a lot about using stories in your writing and presentations. You’ve often heard me say, “facts tell but stories sell” and I’ve explained why:

  • Stories have people in them and the reader or listener can relate to them and their experiences.
  • Stories have a dramatic theme; people want to know, “what happened next?”
  • Stories have verisimilitude; they “show” instead of “tell,” and are often more persuasive than a logical argument
  • Stories appeal to human emotion. When you make people feel something, you connect with them on a deeper level.
  • People remember stories long after the facts are forgotten.

As you read my story, I hope you were you able to see my friend and me in that hallway and you could relate to the experience of trying to comfort a nervous client. If you could, then my story did double duty–it made the point about showing clients you care and it showed you why you need to put more stories in your writing and presentations.