Ten tips to turn boring business writing into a page-turner

by | 31 Jan 2023

Ahhhh. That moment when a gripping page-turner of a report, memo or email swooshes into your inbox.

You know the type.

The one you can’t put down.

The bustling office behind you fades as the words gently caress your eyeballs, tug you in and swallow you whole. With every poetic paragraph and each beautiful bullet point, you slide deeper and deeper into the depth of that business report.

You missed your lunch break – you don’t care! Time warps until you reach the wild crescendo.

Wow.

You know you’ll never be the same.

Has that happened to you lately?

Well, no, me neither. But don’t you wish it had?

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You already know storytelling in business writing is powerful

We’ve known for centuries that storytelling is a powerful tool for us to build an emotional connection, share information, and persuade our audience to act.

Yet, the corporate world still bulges with beige, bland and fully forgettable content.

“For the love of guacamole, why?”

— Me, 2023

Too hard or just too risky?

Many people think storytelling is hard, or at best, something they need more time for.

Others are scared to take the risk and break the corporate mould.

“Everyone around me writes in monotonous, meaningless corporate jargon. I better do the same”

— Bored business writer, 2023

As a parent of two primary school kids, let me tell you, storytelling is not that hard. It’s part of who we are as human beings.

Yet the bombardment of boring business content has made us forget how to tell a tantalising tale.

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Let me give you a refresh

Are you prepared to take a risk and break free from the business beige? Do you want people to absorb your corporate content rather than skim it?

If you need a refresher on how to tell a compelling story in your business writing, you’ve come to the right place.

Whether you’re writing a sales pitch, a newsletter, a proposal, a report or a presentation, incorporating storytelling can make your writing more compelling and memorable.

In this blog post, I share ten tips to help you tap into storytelling’s power and make your business writing sing.

1.      Ditch the dry opening and start with a bang

Bear with me while I channel a regular, run-of-the-mill business report.

“This report aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the current market landscape, while highlighting key strategic opportunities for growth and scalability. Through a thorough analysis of key performance indicators, as well as a robust evaluation of market trends and disruptive forces, the report endeavors to identify actionable insights for driving increased levels of operational efficiency and maximising value for stakeholders.”

Holy cow. Put me out of my misery. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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Instead of a boring introduction like that, consider kicking off with a shocking statistic, an intriguing question or a powerful quote.

Put yourself into your reader’s shoes and find something they’ll find fascinating to grab their attention and make them want to read on. Speak directly to your reader.

Top tip: To do this well, you’ve got to know your audience first.

Same message, different intro:

“Are you struggling to grow your business in today’s ever-changing market? This report uncovers the hidden opportunities and provides clear action steps to help you increase your profits and future-proof your company. From identifying the key performance indicators that matter most to evaluating the disruptive forces that could impact your industry, this report is a must-read for any business looking to stay ahead of the game.”

2.      Paint a picture with words

A.K.A ‘Show, don’t tell’. Remember this chestnut from school? It’s as true now as it was then.

Use vivid imagery to transport your reader to the world you’re describing.

You could say: “We have a new product line.”

Or you could bring it to life by saying something like: “We’ve launched a highly anticipated new range of products offering the features and benefits our customers have long been asking for.”

“Show, don’t tell”

— Every creative writing teacher, ever

3.      Create relatable characters

Introduce real people or fictional characters that your reader can connect with. Use them to illustrate your points and make your writing more relatable.

For example, can you add a client case study or an employee’s before and after experience?

 4.      Use real-life anecdotes

Anecdotes are short, real-life stories that can help to illustrate your points in a relatable and memorable way. Instead of writing about the success of a campaign, explain how it helped one person.

Instead of saying, “The new software will improve our customer service.”

You could introduce a customer, like Jane:

“Meet Jane, a small business owner who recently placed a large order from our company. Before our new software implementation, Jane had trouble tracking the status of her order and getting timely responses to his inquiries. With the new software, Jane can easily track the progress of her order and communicate with our customer service team through a user-friendly interface. As a result, she can plan more effectively and run her business more smoothly. Our new software is not just improving customer service, but also increasing efficiency and productivity for our customers.”

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5.      Use dialogue

Dialogue can bring your characters to life and make your writing more engaging. Use it sparingly, and make sure it’s relevant to your story.

For example, including dialogue recorded at a customer focus group could powerfully bring your content to life.

6.      Introduce conflict

In storytelling, conflict drives the plot and keeps the audience engaged. In business writing, you can use conflict to highlight a problem that needs to be solved or a challenge that needs to be overcome.

For example, instead of writing about your company’s new service, write about the battle to get it ready and out to the market before your competitor.

7.      Use a clear structure

A clear structure is essential to keep your audience engaged. Use a clear introduction, body and conclusion to guide your reader through your story.

A clear structure creates momentum, making the content more engaging and drawing the reader in.

A predictable and structured flow is also more memorable. The reader can remember the main points and recall the content more easily.

8.      Use humour

A splash of wit and an occasional bit of cheek can lighten the mood and make your writing more engaging and readable.

But a word to the wise, don’t overdo it. And be mindful that humour can easily be misinterpreted.

This comes back to knowing your brand, your audience and reading the room. An email to customers about a data breach will never be the time to show off your comedic flair.

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9.  Once more, with feeling

Emotions make stories relatable and memorable, so don’t be afraid to tap into them in your business writing when appropriate.

Remember, you’re always writing for humans. And humans get all the feels.

10.  End with a strong closing

Leave a lasting impression on your reader by using a solid closing that summarises your main points and leaves your reader with something to think about.

Make it clear what you want them to do next. Or, as those marketing types would say, include a strong call to action.

What do you think?

Storytelling is a powerful tool for engaging and persuading audiences, and it can be just as effective in business writing as it is in creative writing.

So the next time you’re writing a sales pitch, a company newsletter, or a proposal, incorporate elements of storytelling and help me win the battle against boring business blah.

Do you have any tips to add?

I’d love to hear ‘em.

Aussie employees are quiet quitting en masse, with disengagement estimated to cost the country over $200 billion a year.

These shocking stats fuel the importance of internal communications to connect with and engage employees rather than simply broadcast.

The truth is, you can splash your strategy across dazzling slide decks, videos, intranet sites and emails until everyone chants the company mantra in their sleep. But if your messages don’t connect the dots in a relevant, relatable and engaging way, why should employees care?

Effective internal communication is not about playing the tune repeatedly until it’s stuck in your employees’ heads. It’s about making them want to dance to the music in the first place.

If you need to check whether your internal communications are in tune, an audit is a great place to start.

Facing up to any disconnect you uncover allows you to craft content that genuinely resonates.  

Here’s my five-step guide to conducting an internal communications audit as the springboard for an impactful strategy. Let’s get cracking.

audit internal comms

1. Map your channels

Take a little stroll across the employee communication landscape. It’s time to examine all the ways your people find out information.

Obviously, hit up email, intranet, social channels, internal events and even the kitchen posters… but look beyond the usual content pushed by the communications teams.

Are business unit leaders sending team newsletters? Are rogue town halls happening in some parts of the business? Have online communities formed around projects or interests? Dig deeper. 

Catalog every existing touchpoint to unearth hidden disconnected fragments. Like an archaeologist assessing a dig site.

Next, critically evaluate whether each channel and message authentically supports the business strategy in an engaging way.

Hot tip: Slyly rope in eagle-eyed outsiders like marketing pros or external comms advisors to validate content quality. An impartial squiz means more honesty and less smoke-blowing.

2. Analyse your metrics

Take a big spoonful of data soup.

Dive into:

  • Intranet analytics
  • Email open and click rates
  • Event attendance
  • Video views
  • Social content reach and engagement

Pick out patterns. Map the hits and the misses. Do some emails get high hits while others don’t make it through the gates?

You’ll soon get a good feel for what content works and what doesn’t.

3. Pick some brains 

So you’ve got your list of current channels and performance data.

Now, it’s time for some direct audience opinions to cement how your internal communications are currently landing.

Whip up a survey, run focus groups and one-on-one interviews with people across the business to understand your employees’ perceptions.

Ask people:

  • Where and how they source information
  • If they feel connected to the company vision and their leaders
  • What content and channels they find most useful
  • What content they tend to disregard

Engaging external consultants to facilitate focus groups and interviews can eliminate bias and assure confidentiality.

4. Study your market

Cast a cheeky side-eye at competitors and speak to peers in adjacent sectors using wow-worthy communications. Where are others raising the bar?

Explore channels and formats that set industry peers apart.

And tap people outside your bubble. What can you learn from vendor partners, agencies, consultants and conference speakers? People who cross between organisations can offer revelations.

Of course, it’s important to amplify what makes your culture distinct. But stay open-minded to piloting initiatives successful elsewhere that could translate or be tailored to your teams.

Ideas borrowed and bettered from broader viewpoints demonstrate commitment to continuously enriching the employee experience.

5. Create next-level experiences

Next, look at your findings. You may have discovered some channels firing on all cylinders alongside some gaps that need some spark.

Now is the time to get a succinct strategy down on paper.

Start by mapping out the ideal future state. What do you want your internal communications to achieve?

Now, use everything you’ve learnt to manifest the vision. 

Look for quick wins you can implement right away. Then, lay longer-term foundations for improvements that will take time to build.

Focus on strategies that map to your objectives. And sprinkle in temperature pulses to measure progress. 

Keep your research findings about your employees’ preferences top of mind, and tailor your communication strategy to meet their needs.

Establish clear ownership and a process for everything you’re proposing. Stay ambitious but be realistic given constraints like team bandwidth.

Speaking of bandwidth

I get it. The team is so busy doing the do that you don’t have the capacity to step back and declutter your communications.

As an internal communications specialist who loves to simplify complex messaging legacies, I’m happy to advise or lend outsider objectivity.

If you’re too swamped to tackle a content audit yourself, get in touch

Need another set of hands?

It’s time to craft communication that engages and converts your niche tribe into happy customers or employees.

I’m a freelance communications consultant and content writer for busy teams. Let’s chat about how I can help you create content that wows.

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