The people you're trying to communicate with--customers, employees, colleagues and others--don't need any more facts. They certainly don't want to be lectured. And they'd rather you not use Corporate Speak or rhetoric or other empty abstractions.
What every audience member could use, however, is some friendly advice. In fact, a powerful way to create compelling subject lines, headlines and content is to use the two-word phrase "how to."
That's because human beings are drawn to instructions, guidelines and (with the exception of guys who are lost while driving) directions. We're happy to accept guidance, if it helps us accomplish something that matters.
And that's why a key way to get your audience's attention is to provide a "recipe:" helpful advice that makes at least one aspect of their lives easier.
How-to information helps audience members do something they want to do, expressed as a set of suggestions. The accompanying body language is a hand on your audience member's shoulder, offering encouragement.
There are many places you can go for inspiration on how to be helpful: Turn on the television and watch HGTV, pick up a consumer magazine like Cooking Light or browse the craft section at your local bookstore. One of my favorite examples can be found in a newspaper near you: the column called "Hints from Heloise."
It all started in 1959 when a Honolulu housewife named Heloise Cruse decided she wanted to write a newspaper column to help other housewives do their chores more effectively. So she approached the editor of the Honolulu Advertiser about her idea, offering to work for free for 30 days as a trial. Her column, "The Reader's Exchange," was such a success that in 1961 Time magazine reported on it, and soon the column, renamed "Hints from Heloise," became syndicated to newspapers around the world.
Ms. Cruse's daughter Poncé took over the column when her mother died in 1977 and has continued to play the role of helpful Heloise.
Heloise's ongoing success is simple to understand: In her newspaper column, her books, and her radio and TV appearances, Heloise offers simple, clear advice on a wide array of practical problems. The tone is helpful and matter-of-fact. When Heloise answers a reader's question, she takes the concern (no matter how trivial) very seriously.
And in imparting advice, she never lectures--just provides recipes for daily living in a conversational tone.
For instance, here's an excerpt:
Don't you love coming up with other ways to use everyday items in the home? For instance, inexpensive paper plates (cheap, white ones) have many great uses in the kitchen and all around the house. Here are just a few to get you thinking: They are great as an instant dish cover in the microwave to keep food splatters contained, or under the dish for easy cleanup if something boils over. For a quick dustpan, cut one in half to scoop up spills or to remove swept-up dust.
And though your area of expertise is probably not keeping house, you can use this how-to method for any topic you're trying to communicate. If you're an accountant, you can offer tips on how to save on taxes. If you maintain pools, you can give advice on avoiding algae. If you manage benefits, you can help employees get the most out of their prescription plan.
What people want most is a friendly helping hand to help them solve problems and get stuff done. If you provide that, you're sure to get and keep your audience's attention.