As speakers, authors and coaches we are in the business of grabbing and then keeping attention. Your first line of anything needs to be interesting — here’s how!
Your opening line sets a tone — whether it’s the first line of your book, an email subject line, or the first thing you say on stage. That line sets the stage for what you say next; it allows you to warm people up, excite them, gets them angry, make them ponder, creates thinking.
You MUST grab the attention, so your opening line deserves some time. A lot of the time, it’s something that you have a ‘working’ opening line for, until the rest of the product is made, written, created. The perfect opening line emerges from all the rest of the words.
Only 20% of email headlines grab our attention
You want your time to be efficiently used and your efforts to land on receptive ears and eyes, right? Which is why your headlines need to do a lot of the heavy lifting. And the headline doesn’t even guarantee they will keep reading or listening fully! To potentially disappoint you, many don’t read every word you’ve written. All that stuff you REALLY want them to read goes un read / unwatched.
Your reader’s attention is bombarded and distracted all the time
To stand out from the crowd, to give your words the chance to be devoured, you have to choose carefully. THAT means you have to have your avatar at the heart of all you do. The words need to resonate with them more than anything. They need to engage them, and make them want to read that next line, open that email, pay attention to you on the stage.
Here’s WHAT to do to get better at writing opening lines
Now you know why, we need to look at WHAT we mean here:
- First line of your business book
- First thing you say on stage
- The first sentence of that dreaded 60 second pitch
- The email headline
- How you start your FB lives
- Even more — how you TITLE your FB live
Your opening line can be started in a number of ways — it can be funny or serious, have many words or few. So you need to understand how it’s being received. That’s down to numbers, interaction, responses, and open rates.
You need to know what is “landing”; if you mean to be funny, are they laughing? If you are using controversy, does the mood change. Check your stats: are they opening those emails?
Numbers show you: start to look at your conversions — open rates, sales conversions etc. Look at how many have read that blog. Read all those comments and respond to them.
A good place to start
You need to know what the purpose of your opening line is. Let’s say you are working on a big proposal. Is your subject line of your email giving it the best chance of being opened ‘in the right state’ by your client? Is that blog title going to stop the scroll factor and pull your reader out of their ‘fog’ and into your world? Is that book title going to grab the attention and make your book the next book they buy?
Knowing what you want them to do next, why you are writing can go a long way to keep you focused on getting that line right.
Here’s how to get better at writing opening lines when speaking
To give you a little inspiration, here are some great ways to think about that why, and combine it with your thinking so you write the right line that is fit for your purpose.
When speaking, share a fact, a statistic that’s outrageous, something that engages them is important. Or something that sets them thinking:
- Pose a question — involve your audience — make it about them or about the subject
- Share a statistic — shock them!
- State the problem (elephant in the room!)
- Get them to DO something (say something)
- Provide some intrigue — maybe presenting the solution you are talking about with a how to?
- Frame up what’s about to happen
- Tell them something true about them (that they have to resonate with)
- Tell a story
- Start with something unexpected
Consider how your opening line make them feel?
- Outrage me
- Excite me
- Enrage me
- Intrigue me
- Make me laugh
Here’s a little top tip: using adjectives in headlines is a proven way to get more opens i.e. grab attention. Those adjectives are related to the feelings, so combine them.
Here’s how to get better at writing opening lines when writing:
When writing, the principles above work, and there are more things you can do too. Here are some of those:
- Always draft a first line, then tweak it based on what content you’ve come up with. It will morph itself. The draft first line gets you writing, the finessing of it helps you get and keep attention. (Don’t get stuck trying to write the perfect line!
- Use headline analysers — they really do help and will over time get you thinking in ‘headline speak’. There are plenty out there, find one you like. Just google headline analyser and have fun — do remember to come back out of the rabbit hole!)
- Use power words: “Power words are words that smart copywriters use to trigger a psychological or emotional response. They’re called “power words” because they are so persuasive that people simply can’t resist being influenced by them!”
Here are some highlights from the article by Optinmonster to help you with this:
- Greed — we want more than we need — FOMO/ scarcity — bargain, running out, gift, prize, best, quick, final
- Curiosity — urge that must be satisfied — hush hush, sneak peak, top secret
- Sloth — avoidance of work — piece of cake, easy, instant, efficient, snap, now
- Lust — intense desire — captivating, engaging, shameless, thrilling, wild,
- Vanity — we all want to look good /successful — smart, strong, brilliant, effective, you, ultimate, magic
- Trust (proof) — approved, authentic, guaranteed, reliable, best, tested
- Anger (directed at someone/thing else) — annoy, arrogant, bully, smug, hate
- Fear — stir up the emotions — fool, panic, danger, trauma, stupid, suck
Now, depending on what you are creating, you need to determine which of these appeals or is most relevant to getting your avatar’s attention. Headlines really grab the emotions, so use emotions to support that.
Get inspired by others!
Start to keep a swiped lines section. If you see or read something that works, put it in your file (for emails especially, but also for ads, hearing how people start their TED talks, their FB lives). Notice what grabs YOUR attention. If you start to listen or look out for that, you can start to make a directory for yourself, so when you need a good headline and inspiration is not at hand through you, you can still create something that works with ‘help’ from others!
Have several ways to begin something. That creates flexibility in your delivery — for when you are in a playful mood, a somber mood, or if the atmosphere requires it. If you only have one way to say something, you may not grab attention the way you’d like to or in a way that’s relevant.
Spending time on your opening line is vital — you get their attention and you have the opportunity to do more with them and serve. Keep evolving, keep listening to what your avatar wants and tweak your words accordingly.
Finally, make sure you have a good call to action for everything — evaluate what ‘opening lines’ you use, put yourself in the listener’s shoes and think about how well they respond. And finally, measure it all — does what you are attracting people with actually work?