You’ve heard the expression, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
Or perhaps you’ve come across that interesting statistic regarding how much time the average reader spends on an online article: 15 seconds.
It’s true that in any form of storytelling, you need to grab and keep your readers’ attention with your opening paragraph. However, unless your business is a medical clinic or veterinary hospital, blood should not enter into the conversation. Instead, try one of these methods and find which works best for your story.
Start with a Universal Experience
By beginning with a situation or experience many people can relate to, you automatically activate the power of associative memory, a.k.a. the ability to learn and remember the relationship between two unrelated items.The brain more easily remembers things it already has a connection to, especially if the original information has an emotional resonance. In this example, any pet owner will recognize the scenario described in the opening paragraph. Speaking of veterinarians . . .
For most animals, visiting the vet is on par with a human trip to the dentist – or perhaps the torture chamber. Shows of resistance range from howling and shaking to refusing outright to get into the car, which they psychically know is heading toward That Place.
But times have changed at Raintree Veterinary Center, which is now a certified Fear Free Clinic. Every member of the staff from the veterinarians to the administrative assistant is trained in techniques to make animals’ visits as comfortable and stress-free as possible.
Contrary to common storytelling methods that activate what’s known at System 1 thinking, which is automatic and intuition based, statistics stimulate System 2 thinking, which is more deliberate and analytic. Our brains constantly seek to identify patterns – and then to create meaning out of the patterns we find. Using statistics automatically leads readers to wonder about the ‘why’ behind the numbers, a question your article should address.
According to the Washington Women’s Business Center, women-owned businesses have increased by 28.5% in the Seattle metropolitan area in the last twelve years. Nationally, however, women account for only 16% of conventional small business loans and women seeking first-year funding receive 80% less capital than their male counterparts.
As a board member of WBC and a passionate advocate for women entrepreneurs, Kristina Maritczak is familiar with those statistics, and she intends to help change them.
Simply put, novelty makes us happy. Repeated studies have shown that anything new to us releases dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. Neuroscientist Dr. Judy Wills advises teachers to do something unexpected at the beginning of class because it primes students’ brains for learning. The same is true for opening paragraphs, as in this example that belies expectations about the world’s largest tech companies.
The most popular company course among employees at Google involves no technology. It has a six-month waiting list and has been going strong since 2007. Called ‘Search Inside Yourself’, it trains participants in mindfulness and meditation. Microsoft, Sony, and Nike have also invested in mindfulness training for their staff, and the trend is even bigger in other countries.
Begin with a Story or Scene
One of the most powerful aspects of storytelling involves the limbic system, which is responsible for emotional responses. Specifically, the amygdala’s job is to identify danger which translates to anxiety and suspense when we hear or read something that involves a potential threat. Activating the limbic system creates greater involvement for readers right away, because their brains want to know how the story ends.
Sam Peebles first heard about YouthBuild from his parole officer.
His father had died when he was 11, his mother was heavily involved with drugs, and he’d just completed his second stay in juvenile detention.
“I saw my life as set in stone and that nothing was going to get better,” he says. “My plan at the time was to give up and go back to doing crimes, end up in prison for the rest of my life, or just die.”
Ask a Question
According to neuroscience research, questions literally hijack the brain because our brains can only think about one idea at a time. By posing a question as part of your opening, you capture readers immediately. Their brains are now demanding an answer and they’ll keep reading to find it.
Most businesses understand the role that demographics play in marketing, allowing them to effectively target different segments of their community, whether regionally or in cyberspace. But what happens when a core demographic is right under your nose and you don’t see it?
Case in point: a funny thing happened at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts this year.
Intriguing or Provocative Statement
Like questions and openings that confound expectations, intriguing or provocative statements get our brains working, whether we agree or disagree with what’s being said. We want to know the justification for the statement, particularly if we want to prove it wrong.
There is no sure fire way to avoid bad hires.
So says Gina Stommes, a specialist in conflict management, employee relations, and recruiting, The owner and founder of HR Expertise, LLC. maintains that employers can screen, check references, and use screening apps but still, companies can end up with employees with extreme behaviors like bullying, harassment, theft, and even violence.
Did you notice how we managed to avoid bleeding in all the above examples? Just sayin’. There are other ways to effectively begin blog posts and articles, but this should be enough to help you get started. The links above are for the original stories and I’ve included links below for anyone interested in pursuing more information about the neuroscience cited here.
Your Brain on Statistics by Will Chen, University of Washington
Want to Know What Your Brain Does When It Hears a Question? By David Hoffeld, Fast Company, 2.21.2017.
The Biology of Storytelling: The Logical and Emotional Brain by Jake Taylor, Little Jack, 10.2.2015
The Importance of Novelty by Nicole Dean, BrainWorld, 10.17.2018