You clicked on this article because you want to know how to keep readers engaged. And I can definitely help.
But I only have about 10 seconds to capture your attention. So here’s a photo of a super cute kitten:
Did it work? Are you still here?
Research tells me that if I “hook you” fast and manage to hang on to your attention for 30 seconds, you are likely going to keep reading. You may even stay engaged for a few minutes, which is an eternity on the web.
But here’s the problem…
My article isn’t about cute kittens. It’s about how to make your content more engaging. And let’s be honest… that topic isn’t as cute as a kitten.
But it is worthy of your attention. So now that we’ve passed the 30 second mark, let’s settle in and start learning…
Trick #1: Talk directly to the reader
The very first word in this post is “YOU”. This isn’t accidental.
Emotionally, it pulls you into the article. It makes you feel like I am speaking to you directly. Like we’re friends, or at least strangers with a few things in common.
Using “you” and “I” sets a warm, conversational tone that is immediately more engaging.
Think about your existing content. Is it conversational? Or are you just lecturing AT the reader?
💥These are just things to think about. Don’t click away to your own website or blog yet! Finish my article first, THEN review your content.
Trick #2: Ask questions
When I asked you to think about your content… did you?
Did you ponder – even for a second or two? Because most people would.
It’s human nature to be pulled into a question.
Think about a keynote speaker who did a great job of holding your attention. I bet there were moments when they paused, looked out at the audience, and asked a question.
Obviously, they weren’t looking for information!
This is just a technique to keep folks engaged. And it is VERY effective.
Trick #3: Skip the big words and jargon
Unless you’re writing for a scientific journal, or some other publication where you know that everyone will know the terms, simple is best!
No one likes to feel stupid. Or waste time digging through a clutter of 4-letter words and insider jargon, searching for your point.
FYI: Business jargon isn’t just about buzzwords. It is a whole collection of nouns and verbs and adjectives that most people don’t use in regular conversation. I wrote a whole post about the bits of jargon you need to stop using – and what to say instead.
You should check it out sometime. But not now! Right now, you need to STAY ON THIS PAGE and keep reading.
If you’ve become accustomed to leaning on big words (which lots of business professionals have), it can be a hard habit to break. The voice inside your head has been lying to you for years – telling you that those words make you look smart.
But the truth is completely the opposite. To keep readers engaged, and demonstrate real expertise, you must be able to explain complex ideas in clear, simple terms.
“Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” – Steve Jobs
Trick #4: Use quotes
Everybody knows who Steve Jobs is. And he did a great job of explaining why simple is best.
There’s no shame in sharing the wisdom of others. In fact, it’s a great way to engage readers AND add strength to whatever point you are trying to make.
Just remember to give credit where credit is due. Quotes are good. Plagiarism is bad.
Trick #5: Embrace contractions
This is not medieval England. If you want to keep readers engaged, your words need to reflect how REAL people – in the 21st century – talk.
Contractions are an accepted part of our dialogue. They’re not slang. And using contractions can help readers “hear” your authentic voice.
For the most part, your writing should sound like your speech.
If you commonly say things like “I cannot” or “I will not” then I guess it’s okay to put those statements into your content. But I question where you are from and why you are speaking like a knight in King Arthur’s court.
For the most part, if you and your ideal reader are just normal people, living in today’s world, contractions will feel more natural. Use them.
Trick #6: Find better adjectives
“Good” is not good. “Great” is not great. And the universe is overflowing with fabulous, awe-inspiring, spectacular, breath-taking, mind-blowing alternatives!
Adjectives exist to add ZIP and flavour to your writing.
Boring, over-used adjectives are the writing equivalent of those old, dried out spices buried in the back of your grandmother’s cupboard. They add NOTHING (and may actually make make things smell a little STALE).
Your objective is to find catchier, more lively adjectives without overdoing it, or veering into jargon and gobbledygook. (Remember how we talked about that back in Trick #3!) It takes a little research and a bit of practice, but trust me…
Mastering the art of adjectives will take your writing up several notches.
Trick #7: Use “active voice” more often then “passive voice”
When you use active voice, the subject comes first and performs the action. It’s straightforward and easy for the reader to follow.
Passive voice, on the other hand, puts the object and the action first, which leaves the subject at the end of the sentence. This tends to make sentences wordier and harder to follow.
Active: I really love helping clients
Passive: Clients are really helped by me.
Hear the difference?
It’s subtle. And there are exceptions. Sometimes, passive voice works better.
But, as a rule, using more active voice will keep readers engaged by making sentences shorter, snappier, and easier to read.
The active voice/passive voice trick is tricky! But, it’s worth learning.
There are a zillion articles on the subject and lots of apps and plug ins to help you. YourDictionary does a pretty good job of explaining how active voice adds impact to your writing. It’s short and sweet – a good spot to start.
As adults, we all know the basics of writing, just like we know the basics of cooking.
But it takes time and effort to get from “edible” to “yummy”.
There are countless writing tricks to help keep readers engaged. And while some are pretty simple (like adding quotes), others take time and practice. I’m still learning the complicated dance between active voice and passive voice.
I recommend not worrying too much about the finer details when creating your rough draft. Get your thoughts in order first. Then do multiple rounds of edits.
And read the whole thing ALOUD before you hit publish. If you struggle with a passage, or if you can’t hear your voice coming through the words, keep editing.
Ultimately, the best writing best writing advice is to write often, revise with passion, and continually ask for feedback (from people you trust to tell you the truth).