Master these six principles on first sentences and you’ll not only grab people’s attention — you’ll keep it.
Master copywriter Eugene Schwartz often spent an entire week on the first 50 words of a sales piece —- the headline and the opening paragraph.
Well, just imagine how disappointed you’d be after reading a killer headline for an article only to lose momentum and interest on the first sentence.
Trust me. It happens (listen to episode 12 if you don’t believe me). Here’s how not do that.
In this 11-minute episode you’ll discover:
- The solitary purpose of your first sentence
- How using quotes to open an article can make you look stupid
- When statistics don’t work
- The $80 book every writer needs on his bookshelf
- The magic a question about truffle-hunting pigs can do for your article
- Demian’s favorite metaphor for explaining who he truly is
Listen to Rough Draft below ...
The Show Notes
- Here’s How to Answer the Most Important Question in Life (and Make a Living from It)
- Breakthrough Advertising
- 5 Simple Ways to Open Your Blog Post with a Bang
- How to Nail Your Opening
- “Hang in There!” – Arthur Schopenhauer
- Advertising Secrets of the Written Word
6 Proven Ways to Open an Article With a Bang
Demian Farnworth: Hi, welcome to Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I’m your host, Demian Farnworth, Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.
And thank you for sharing the next four minutes of your life with me.
Episode 14 is called “6 Proven Ways to Open an Article.”
Now that we’ve explored some good theory. Let’s dig into some deep tactics.
This is next in line because how you start your article — the first sentence, the first paragraph — next to the headline, is the most important piece you have to get right.
Because a great headline with a lame sentence is sort of like inviting someone to your party — but slamming the door in their face.
Let’s not do that.
I have to remind you that this episode is brought to you by Authority Rainmaker, a carefully designed live educational experience that presents a complete and effective online marketing strategy to help you immediately accelerate your business.
It’s a single track, curated marketing experience.
We are holding it in May of this year, in beautiful Denver, Colorado at the stunning Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
The lineup of speakers is equally as stunning. We’ve got author Dan Pink, punk legend Henry Rollins, fascination aficionado Sally Hogshead, the omnipresent Chris Brogan, Sean D’Souza, Pamela Wilson, our very own Brian Clark, Sonia Simone, and Jerod Morris and, so on.
But a person that I think you need to learn more about and I want to introduce you today is, Bernadette Jiwa. And I did an interview with her a few weeks ago and it’s called “How to Answer Life’s Most Important Question (and Make a Living from It).”
That’s a bold claim. But she delivers. She delivers. In this interview she gives:
- Guidance to people who feel like their careers are going no where
- Advice to people who think they are unoriginal — and think they can’t do anything about it
- How to stop falling for the popular myth about scaling your business
- How we don’t need more marketing
So what is it we need to do more of? Well she answers that question because she is such a generous and smart person.
You can only see Bernadette this May at Authority Rainmaker. Get all the details right now at rainmaker.fm/event, and we look forward to seeing you in Denver, Colorado this May. That’s rainmaker.fm/event.
Now on to the show.
The Solitary Purpose of Your First Sentence
Quick quiz: See if you are paying attention. What’s the second most important part of your blog post after the headline?
I hope you said “the first sentence.”
Master copywriter Eugene Schwartz often spent an entire week on the first 50 words of a sales piece — the headline and the opening paragraph.
Just imagine how disappointed you’d be after reading a killer headline for an article, only to lose momentum and interest on the first sentence.
Why Statistics Don’t Work
Think back to the research we talked about in the last episode. On average people have time to read only about 20% of an article.
You have to make sure your first sentence does not suck.
What we are going to do, we are going to look at a Brian Clark’s wrote called “5 Simple Ways to Open Your Blog Post with a Bang.”
Will capture the reader’s imagination and pull them deeper into your content.
1. Ask a Question
What’s the number one reason men fail at relationships? Did you know latex gloves will give you cancer? Did you know they use pigs to hunt for truffles?
They do. It’s on the internet.
2. Share an Anecdote or Quote
Mark Twain. Steve Jobs.
There is a warning when you use Brainy Quotes.
“Hang in There!” by Mark O’Connell
Arthur Schopenhauer—the 19th century German philosopher for whom human existence was a perpetually swinging “pendulum between suffering and boredom,” and the world itself a hell in which “human beings are the tortured souls on the one hand, and the devils on the other”—tends to get pigeonholed as a fairly downbeat guy.
Just don’t jump on to Brainy Quotes. Make sure you have a good source.
3. Invoke the Mind’s Eye
By using words like “imagine,” “picture this,” “do you remember when,” etc. This also works well for dates: November 14, 1986.
4. Use an Analogy, Metaphor or Simile
Her heart was like a hard-boiled egg. I am the tofu of the human race.
5. Cite a Shocking Statistic
Three thousand million Marketing messages we are exposed to every day. How many blog posts published every day. Heard those so often they are no longer shocking.
Make sure it’s unique. Original. And actually shocking.
But those are five …
The single greatest tip when it comes to openings has to be this idea that your first sentence should be short.
This idea, I think, originated with Joe Sugarman.
He had this idea that your headline should stop your reader in their tracks with a captivating promise. Get people to stop, and then your opening is where you convince them to continue to read.
Sugarman’s view was that he treated it as a slide.
The purpose behind the headline is to get you to read the first sentence. The purpose of the first sentence is to get you to read the second sentence.
And so on.
If you examine his work, he usually starts with a simple sentence.
It could be a one-word, two-word, three-word, four-word sentence. Five, six is probably pushing it. But just that one word.
And the goal behind was to shock, to awe them, to make them laugh, get them in a state of kind of expectancy and anticipation.
The $80 Book Every Writers Needs on His Bookshelf
His book, “Advertising Secrets of the Written Word,” good luck finding a copy for less than $80. It’s worth the investment in the ads in the back of the book.
For example, he’s got an ad called ”The Nose.” It’s a smoke detector.
And he opens that ad by simply saying “It’s proven.”
The ad for Blueblocker sunglasses. “I’m about to tell you a true story.”
There was this product called “Bone Fone.” It’s a boom box that wraps around your neck like one of those neck pillow things. Clearly that one didn’t last but he opens up that article by saying, “You’re standing in an open field.”
He does it all with wonderful first sentences.
So get in the habit of agonizing over headlines and first sentences. And to help us learn more, in the next episode we are going to look at the first sentences of David Sedaris.
Many of you probably know David have read some his books. His collections of essays. His collections of autobiographical essays.
- Me Talk Pretty One Day
- Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
He was a master of the first sentence. Study a few of these sentences. Including what I think to be his single best one.
Until then, take care.
And oh yeah, Ginger reminded me to tell you to jump over to iTunes and subscribe if you haven’t. Leave a rating, too. It will make her very very happy.
And tell your friends about the other shows in our network. The one that I’m digging right now is by our Editor in Chief, Stefanie Flaxman. it’s a show, no surprise, called “The Editor-in-Chief.” What I think is even more surprising is unusual way Stefanie looks at her job. And how that can make your life as a writer better, too.