Learn To Write From Obama
President Obama is one of the most powerful speakers of the century. His oratory skills have carried him from community organizer in the streets of Chicago to the White House. Whether you love or hate him, he has plenty to teach you about writing. Of course, speaking and writing are different types of tasks but they have a common thread- they need to hold our attention from the first word to the last or we walk away. Here are the most valuable lessons President Obama has to offer.
Make a Bold Promise.
All writing starts with a promise to the reader. If you don't realize you're making a promise, you risk promising the reader that they don't want to keep reading. The most common reason writers don't make a promise, or don't know that they're making a promise, is because they don't know what they're writing about. They haven't started with a clear objective in mind. If you're writing for a newspaper or magazine, promise the reader information. If you're writing fiction, promise the reader action or romance. If you're running for President of the United States in an era when people don't believe in the Government, promise change.
It worked well for Obama. He knew that people were tired of the status quo in government and were looking for change so he took the word and ran with it. His promise was what drew people in. He then took that promise and broke it down into what he was going to change. Good writing does the same thing. It makes a broad promise and then fulfills it throughout the piece.
The bolder the promise the better. Know what your story is, know what you're capable of, then promise your best. Promise information that will help people, promise a story they won't forget, promise that your writing will change the way they view the subject.
Then deliver it.
Your promise may not be to change the course of political history like Barack Obama's, but it has to be something the reader cares about.
Use Plenty of Hooks.
Every writer knows that he needs to put a good hook in the first paragraph of the story to keep his audience reading. However, one hook isn't enough.
During the long campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama kept his audiences hanging on to his every word by threading promises all the way through his speeches. He would start with his overall message- Change doesn't come from Washington, change comes to Washington- and then make smaller promises in keeping with the theme of his speech.
For instance, he'd say, "I'd like to tell you the story of a 106 year old woman in Atlanta." The audience listens astutely. What's the story? Who is this woman. As soon as he finished telling that story he'd throw out another hook like, "All across America, people are suffering." What are they suffering from? How are you going to help them?
These are both promises. Not necessarily direct, but implied promises. It's something that you need to do in your writing as well. Every 250 to 300 words ask yourself, "what will keep the reader going?" Build suspense while packing in information. Readers abandon your writing when it starts to get boring. Keep your readers enthralled by putting plenty of hooks into your story.
In his speeches, Obama presents a problem that seems to be looming in American society and then offers hope that it can be overcome. "Yes we can," became one of the catch phrases of his campaign. Audiences, whether they're in a crowd or reading an article, thrive on hope. Don't paint a hopeless picture. Hope is a powerful emotion. Readers pay attention when you present problems but they rejoice when you offer them solutions. Always be prepared to offer the brighter side.
If you're writing for a more objective publication, like a news story for a paper, you can always find a source that has an answer. In fact, your story won't be published if it's too one-sided. For example, a global warming story will present a lot of facts about the damage being done to the earth. But if you don't include possible solutions people won't want to read it. We all have enough problems in our lives, we don't go around looking for more. What we do spend time searching for is solutions to those problems. Give the audience what it wants. Give them solutions.
The Audience is your Friend.
Most people want to like you. They need a reason not to, but those reasons are varied. They range from major disagreement on your opinions to using words they don't understand. Be their friend. During his campaign, Obama was rarely shown in the press without a big smile on his face. He told jokes to lighten the mood during his speeches and he mostly avoided the negative campaigning that plagues politics. He used colloquial language that didn't alienate anyone and broke down topics so that everyone could understand them (and understand them from his point of view).
One of the questions that decided the 2004 election was which candidate would you like to have a beer with? If people use that as a factor to decide the leader of a nation, they certainly use it to decide who they read in their spare time. Be the guy or gal that everyone wants to have a beer with. Even when you're writing a heavily opinionated piece, don't bash the other side. Be the guy that the other side wants to have a beer and debate with. People act on their emotions. The more they like you, the better your chance of getting them to the last word of your writing.
Remember, writing has no rules, just suggestions. What works for some writers (and politicians) won't always work for others. Tailor every piece to suit your style and personality. Make a bold promise, but don't make an unrealistic one. Use plenty of hooks, but don't overwhelm the readers. Be positive, but stay realistic. Try to make the audience like you but don't be a brown-nosing fraud. Readers can smell disingenuous writing and abandon it quickly. The best way to earn respect is to respect the readers. Take it from Obama- that's change you can believe in.
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