The Leading Hook: Engaging Reader Interest

Most writers will agree that summarising the theme of your story, whether you’re writing a feature article, or an executive summary in a proposal, is central to orientating the reader, and creating great expectations on what’s to follow…

You’ve jotted down your main points. Check.

You’ve ordered your points into a coherent, and logical structure. Check.

You’ve reviewed your main points to see if any are ‘off message’ or irrelevant to your story. Check.

I have always said, that getting the structure of your story in place first, is the most time consuming and often frustrating part. Once this is well-ordered, the writing should flow.

Now, how to get started? Once your structure is in place, it’s always important to introduce your theme to the reader to set the expectation. Most people are time poor, or easily lose interest, so getting the summary right, will determine whether your audience will stay the course.

The easiest way to write a great summary is to write it as you would speak it first. Listen to the words in your head, write it down and then say it out loud, as if you were speaking to your audience.  Writing your summary in a conversational-style will help illustrate your story – which allows the audience to think in pictures.

Prose that sounds human, especially in the English language, gives sentences a natural rhythm. The sense that there is a distinctive human voice behind the words, creates intimacy – which is the key to engaging your reader’s interest. Avoid abstract nouns and passive voice. Always write in an active voice, to keep the story moving past the summary to the juicy bits of your story. A way to do this is to use active verbs with objects.

Once you’ve written your summary, go back over it to check for any words that may jar the reader’s ear. Remove any awkward words. The best way to make your summary sound like honey, is to use narrative devices such as consonance and assonance – subtle rhyming sounds, keep the reader in the dream – which is what the writer wants – particularly if the intention of your story is to persuade your audience.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

Translating a Speech into a Showstopper Spoken Word Performance

While clever and emotive rhetoric and narrative devices all help to engage and hopefully, persuade your listeners to your proposition or position, sometimes all it takes to blow away your audience is a simple statement delivered with perfect precision – timing, pause, emphasis, poise and projection.

Often times, we may read a speech, and note its punctuation as the ‘dynamics’ of the delivery, but this is really only one tiny aspect of interpreting the written word in order to bring it alive in front of an audience.

The best way to think about delivering a speech is to read the speech thoroughly and slowly first – as a musician whom reads sheet music before an attempt is made to play it. For example:

Projection

For anyone whom plays an instrument, you will know that it’s the dynamics of the music that brings the notes on the page alive e.g Pianissimo (very soft), Mezzo Forte (moderately loud) or Fortississimo (ridiculously blow your eardrums loud) etc… A powerful speech will be littered with softly spoken moments; or a steady rise in crescendo to boom your statement for maximum impact, and then you may fall again and fade out to an ellipsis… to let the audience reflect and take in the sentence.

Timing & Tempo

Comics rarely share their material, but one thing that is universally known, is ‘timing is everything’ – and for a speech, this adage applies.

Whether you’re delivering a funny one-liner or anecdote, or you’re hoping to build suspense, look for moments in the text that will require a faster delivery (vivo!), or you may need to slow right down (adagio) for more deliberate, clipped words to accentuate each word (staccato!) in a sentence.

Never let words run into each other, but take your sweet time in making every word count.

Pause & Emphasis

In both music and the written word, stress and unstressed words or notes are linked together to create a rhythm.

When delivering your speech, highlight words where you can use pause as way to ‘stress’ a word or ‘unstress’ a word to add or reduce emphasis to your point and retain the audience’s attention in your message. As I mentioned earlier, just because the sentence you have written has one comma because it makes sense grammatically (on the page), does not mean that you cannot add four more commas to enhance the delivery of the speech. Never forget that reading and performing are two very different functions, the latter requires physical and verbal expression to engage your audience.

Poise

Everyone gets the jitters before public speaking. The difference is that some have greater control of their person than others.

A really good tip to keep your heart rate steady, and in turn, help prevent your speech from falling into a bumbling monotone monologue, keep your mouth closed and tickle the roof of your mouth with your tongue. This forces the breath to inhale and exhale through your nostrils and will calm you down immediately. You can use this trick between pauses in your speech too. Funnily enough, it is impossible to cry when you do this as well, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your own awesomeness and want to sob (appassionato!) halfway through your speech – give yourself a little tickle, and that should buy you enough time to round out your showstopper to a standing ovation.

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo