Content, like fashion, is impacted by trends and culture. While the fundamentals of good content don't waiver much, the ideal tone or presentation of a message will evolve along with the tastes of its audience.
Running a publishing company with a roster of authors that includes many professional speakers opens up a window to watch trends in both the retail book market and the speaking circuit.
Over the past few years, the content trend that has practically become a mandate is "make it actionable." This is especially true for business books but applies to any non-fiction content intended to help someone develop on a personal or professional level.
Here are four ways to make your content actionable.
1. Teach, don't tell.
Giving your readers the "what" to do is just the starting point. "Engage your audience!" "Upsell more product!" "Give millennials a sense of purpose!" All of these are examples of "what" which require clearly defined next steps in order to actually be useful.
Rise above basic, surface-level content and give clear guidance and action steps like checklists, frameworks, reading resources, and exercises for the reader to implement so they're not left guessing at how to get to the result you're prescribing. When you give your reader the tools to put your recommendations to work, you're creating real value.
Some authors cringe at the notion of "giving away the farm," especially if they are consultants who use a framework to solve problems for their clients. Remember that the DIY audience was never going to hire you in the first place. Your real audience appreciates the experience you bring to your area of knowledge, and giving them a taste of your approach is more likely to pre-qualify compatible clients than drive them away.
Naturally, this can't be applied to all content (editorial opinion pieces, for instance) but for most prescriptive non-fiction, this is a requirement whether the content falls into book form, video, blog, podcast, or another format.
2. Emphasize the learning elements.
Providing a set of tools for your reader to use is a differentiator and a selling point, and it should be highlighted visually and through the organization of the content.
Use call-out boxes to distinguish action items within your content and make it easy for the reader act on your advice. Using a consistent design theme to identify these tools will help organize your content and empower the reader to easily pursue (and reference) next steps.
Consistent themes also work well to cue the reader when you're giving them action items. For example, Beth Levine's communication skills book Jock Talk incorporates consistent action items at the end of each chapter. In this case, they are simply "Takeaway Tips" (a summary of the main learning points) and "Exercises" (self-explanatory). Some authors brand these action items to tie them back to the larger framework they teach.
3. Use Stories and Examples.
Given that your readers will be bringing their own worldviews to how they view your content, it's important to provide stories and examples to illustrate your ideas and help the reader visualize your advice in action. Stories, metaphors, and examples make ideas memorable and relatable.
New York Times bestselling authors Chip and Dan Heath do an excellent job of using stories and metaphors to drive home the frameworks in their books, and then of using those stories as reminder prompts within the takeaway action framework.
4. Highlight your team.
Whether you're the CEO writing articles about how your company succeeds or you're a content writer in charge of your company's blog, it's quite possible that you know a lot of the "what" to do without being knee-deep in the "how" to do it.
For that reason, developing actionable content provides a great opportunity to highlight the deep subject area expertise of your team. You can structure this type of content in an interview/Q&A format, or you can split it up between an introduction of the "what" from one person followed by the "how" from another (be sure to play up that person's expertise and credentials to get the reader excited for the transition).
Allowing your company's staff to step up and share their knowledge helps ensure strong, actionable content in addition to publicly recognizing them for their subject expertise.
As you're planning next year's content strategy, deliberately design your writing to be actionable using the tips above. Your readers will appreciate the meaningful content and will therefore be more likely to share your work with others, multiplying the fruits of your labor.