A story wins every time
Like him or not, Boris Johnson is a lively writer. He often tells a story to draw his readers into his topic – and I find it a nearly irresistible technique. Tell me honestly, when you get to the end of the first paragraph below, don’t you need to know the source of Boris’s childhood shame? I certainly would not have put the paper down at that point.
“Lurking in the childhood of anyone ambitious there is always the memory of some humiliation that sets them on the path of self-improvement. Show me a billionaire, and I will show you someone who was beaten up for his lunch money. Many is the megalomaniac who first had to overcome a case of acne or puppy fat or being forced by his mother to wear a flowery tie to a friend’s birthday party. You want to know my moment of childhood shame? Shall I tell you when I decided that I was going to have to sharpen up my act to survive?
I must have been about six, and my younger sister must have been about four or five, and we were sitting on a sunny river bank being taught to read by my grandmother. We were reading alternate sentences aloud when my grandmother announced – as my sister Rachel has never ceased to remind me – that the girl was reading better than the boy. Yes, in spite of the 15-month gap between us, she was somehow deciphering the words more easily than I was. I cannot tell you how much it costs me, even now, to report this buried shame. I blushed. I fumed. Beaten! By my kid sister!”
The picture of the young Boris sitting on a sunny river bank is easy to imagine, and many readers will identify with his shame. But the point of the story was to get you into his argument about methods of teaching reading. For that you will need to go to the Telegraph for the original article.
I accept that most business writers do not have the luxury of time or space to tell stories like this in proposals and reports. But what about a few lines of illustration, a sentence with a vivid example or a verbal snapshot of life after the investment you are arguing for?
Instead of ‘the new software will enable automatic transfer of data and remove inputting errors’, could you say ‘after installation, there will no longer be a risk of Mrs Dorman becoming a doormat or of a bill for £100 being sent out as £10,000’?
Even board members are human and if your proposal brings the issue to life with examples they can relate to, I bet they are more likely to approve it.
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