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Write like a thought leader
Think. Write. Lead. - Issue #56
In this issue, I collect several of my top writing tips from the archives of Think. Write. Lead.
I call them the 4 principles to write thought leadership content:
Hook your readers with curiosity.
Explain concepts with clarity.
Write with emotion.
Use the CPE method.
Search online for “the anatomy of a great blog post” and you’ll find generic advice from HubSpot and the likes about the number of words, the types of headlines and subtitles you should use, the SEO elements you must include, and the classic structure of introduction, body, conclusion, and call to action.
They tell you to use attractive headlines like “The Ultimate Guide to…” or “10 Proven Strategies for…” or “How to Get Started with…”
But thought leadership doesn’t really care about the rules above.
What then? Glad you asked.
Obviously, you must have some original and provocative content to share in the first place. But to communicate your ideas more effectively, follow these principles for a great thought leadership blog post:
1. The hook
Have you ever been hooked on a television series? I have.
A full weekend binge-watching “Money Heist”? Yes, my wife and I have done that.
You know why? Because the writers of the series are brilliant, the actors are top notch and the story is gripping and addictive.
I bet you’d love people to binge on your blog posts, podcasts, videos, or whatever content you put out. But do they? Maybe they give you some likes, some comments, they open your emails (sometimes) and learn a thing or two.
But, do you want to know how to hook them on your content? I’ll tell you in a minute.
You see, your audience craves entertainment. Actually, they crave the neurochemicals released into their system when their curiosity is triggered by the plot of a TV show: dopamine and norepinephrine.
Scientists say these neurochemicals are as addictive as cocaine. And that is good news for you as a blog writer.
Unless you are writing scripts or novels, you are not in the entertainment business. You want to help others, inspire them, and educate them somehow. Not just entertain them, right? Still, you can use neurobiology to your advantage.
Want to know how? It’s a simple technique I use in my novels.
And I am using it here. A few paragraphs above, I promised to tell you how to hook your readers. But I haven’t done it yet. I made you curious about something, then I withheld the information for a while.
That curiosity created a surge in your brain activity. Then I revealed the secret and your brain rewarded you with another neurochemical that makes you feel good.
(The dopamine levels here are not as high as with a story that involves more senses, but the principles are the same).
Let me tell you more.
See what I just did?
I don’t want you to stop reading just yet, so I make another promise and get you curious again. That’s how a TV show or a book series can last for years. It creates questions in the audience, and resolves some, but keeps stacking up more questions.
One season ends in a cliffhanger scene where you don’t know whether the villain is dead or alive. You wait until the next season to find out that he escaped at the last instant. But at the end of that season, there is another cliffhanger.
In fact, there are cliffhangers before every commercial break and at the end of each episode (or book chapter). Why? To keep you hooked, and wanting to come back for more. So, apply this principle to your blog posts.
2. Clear explanations
Last year we bought a condo, and had to sign a 100-page contract. And although I’ve read hundreds of books and articles, including medical journals, I could not understand that contract.
If legalese is an official language, it should be illegal!
So, I met with the agent from the builder and asked him to explain clauses 2.1, 2.4, 3.6, and so on. He read and re-read the clauses, made some notes, frowned a few dozen times, and then tried to explain it.
It didn’t match up.
“I understand you,” I said. “But what you’re saying is not what is written in here.”
Can you relate? Obscure writing is like a venereal disease infecting all sorts of industries. The good news is that there is a treatment.
I call it the CARE package. CARE stands for:
You are going to package your piece of writing in clear analogies or relevant examples — or both.
Think about some analogies from daily life that you can use to explain your concept with clarity. Then find some relatable stories you can tell to illustrate your points with impact.
In his book, The Art of Explanation, Lee LeFever says:
“Explanation is not focused on facts, laws, or specifics. Explanation is the art of showing why the facts, laws, and specifics make sense. By clarifying the reason an idea makes sense, we can put the facts into perspective. As such, explanation is the practice of packaging facts into a form that makes them easier to understand and apply.”
A thought leader goes beyond facts and figures and distills the why of things. A thought leader transcends theory and teaches how to apply knowledge. Aim for that in your blog posts.
3. Emotion-infused writing
In a digital world of influencers with glamorous lives, people are attracted to raw honesty and authenticity. Being vulnerable may feel risky, but it actually pays off in two ways:
You don’t have to pretend to be ultra-successful all the time and show a fake person in your writing.
Your readers can always tell when you are faking and actually respond better to weaknesses.
When you share your story and life lessons, people respond.
You know you are writing with emotion when your readers save, share, and comment on your writing. If you are generating strong reactions and starting conversations, you know you are on the right path.
You want to write with emotion to create emotion. It has to be intentional. So, start with the goal in mind.
Do you want to convey excitement or anger? Sadness or hope? Get into that state before you start typing. Feel that emotion wash over you and then search in your mind for the words that best describe those emotions.
4. Use a formula to express your ideas
In my experience, you only need 3 things to communicate an idea:
A clear concept: the brilliant business idea or step in your process.
Proof: the research, stats, or business results that support your concept.
An example: a story that illustrates your idea in action (this is the part readers will remember).
That’s the formula I use to write my books and articles and even to outline my speeches. And it works.
It’s similar to the formula used by Eddie Yoon to get published in Harvard Business Review:
Have a provocative point of view that overturns conventional wisdom.
Back it up with robust data or compelling case studies.
Draw broadly applicable insights and implications that are useful for as wide an audience as possible across multiple industries.
What are some promises that you can make to your audience that will pique their interest?
What are some analogies you can use to communicate your POV?
Is your writing too factual or are you adding a human touch to it?
Are you using the CPE elements in your writing?
Write an article or rewrite an existing one using the four principles above. Send me a link when you publish it! I’ll share the best ones here in the newsletter.
Writing like a thought leader means writing tight, sexy, and elegant copy that stirs emotions and changes minds.
Work on your craft and learn from the masters—whether scriptwriters or novelists.
Boring writing about brilliant ideas won’t make a difference. So lead with fun, intriguing writing that keeps readers asking for more.
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