How to create your own ‘Man on the Moon’ moment

man-on-the-moonIn 1961, John F Kennedy the American president had a vision for space travel.  This was when the average person hadn’t even been on an aircraft. JFK chose to present this vision by saying ‘We want to put a man on the moon and bring him back safely to earth by the end of the decade’.  ‘Man on the moon’, inspired a generation of Americans to work to make it happen, and on 21st July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon.

As leaders we would all kill for a ‘man on the moon’ moment, when our communication moves and inspires people to action, that transcends possibility.  So here are our top tips for creating your ‘man on the moon’ moments.

First think in bumper stickers.  If your message was a bumper sticker what would it say?  Hint: You will never see ‘Optimising Synergies’ as a bumper sticker.  For inspiration, play with your favourite quotes, current bumper stickers and see how you can mix and match to craft something pithy and that will strike a chord with your audience.  A financial planner could take a popular proverb and put a sting in its tail to read ‘Money is the root of all wealth’, when people were expecting to read ‘Money is the root of all evil’.

Second, if you were to write your key message as a headline, what would it say?  Remember ‘Dog bites man’ is not a headline as much as ‘Man bites dog’.  What is the angle in your message that would grab and hold people’s attention, and use that to craft your message.

Man on the moon, is pure poetry so channel your inner poet.  A simple way to start is think in rhymes.  Dan Pink in his latest best seller To sell is human’ says a rhyming message is more readily accepted that one that isn’t.  Research conducted at Lafayette College showed that groups that were given rhyming proverbs such as ‘Woes unite foes’ rated these proverbs as a more accurate description of human behaviour than groups that were given the same proverb but in a form that didn’t rhyme.  Pink says ‘Rhymes enhance processing fluency, and when processing fluency increases, people understand things more deeply and your ideas stick’.  Who would have thought the humble rhyme had such power?

Put your message through the ‘T shirt test’.  If it was a slogan that could go on T-shirts, what would it say?  Nike’s famous ‘Just do it’ works for both a bumper sticker and a T-shirt.

And finally the Twitter test, can you write up your message in 140 characters.   Is that even possible? Way before twitter in the 1920s Ernest Hemmingway’s colleagues bet that he could not write a complete story in just six words (33 characters in Twitter).  Hemmingway responded with ‘For sale: Baby shoes, never used’.  Poignant.  The colleagues paid up and Hemmingway is said to have considered it his best work.

Finding your ‘Man on the moon moment’ is distilling down what you want to say to its elegant essence. Then having the courage and chutzpah to find bold words to paint a picture, capture the imagination and inspire action.   Just do it.

Writing with purpose: Love the “nub”

excellently-written-paperYou can grab and hold your readers by understanding the “nub” paragraph.

By: Kath Walters

Some ideas change your life. Yep, that is what learning about the “nub paragraph” did for my journalistic career.

I’d been writing for BRW magazine for several years, and I couldn’t understand why my editor wrote “YUK!” and “GUFF” on some of my stories (helpful, eh), while he let others sail through to the magazine unscathed.

I discovered the answer: some of my stories were missing a “nub paragraph”, and I am going to tell you about how and why to use the “nub” in your writing.

Without a “nub para” in your story, your readers will simply turn (or click) to the next page – all your hard work, your brilliant ideas, your thorough research and your passion for your subject will be lost.

Sadly, readers are even tougher than editors.

Of all the valuable tips imparted by my excellent trainer (whose name I sadly cannot remember) the role of nub paragraph had the most immediate impact on the quality of my stories.

I got a promotion to “section editor” shortly after completing her training. And I started to have much more fun as a writer.

Once you have read this blog, reading your Saturday paper will never be the same. You’ll be amazed to find that even some journalists fail to deliver a nub para! But you will also notice many who do it beautifully and skilfully, and you can learn from them.

The nub para

1.  The nub paragraph is not a secret. You can search the term and get lots of hits. However, it is neither well understood, nor widely practiced, and my definition of the nub is slightly different to most.

2. The nub paragraph is commonly defined as “telling your reader exactly what your article is going to be about”. I think there is a little bit more to it than that.

The nub para has to answer this question in your reader’s mind: “What’s in it for me?” If you are writing about a small business success story, why would your small business readers want to listen to someone crowing about it? It might be that the story holds practical lessons about how that success was achieved, or perhaps it is an inspirational story about how the business owner overcame their own personal shortcomings to triumph against the odds, giving readers hope in their own work.

3. Knowing the nub of your story is not always easy. It is made easier if you are clear about the purpose of your writing, and the proposition you are arguing from the start (subjects for future posts). But the big reason that writers struggle with the nub is that they have not thought about their readers? The nub directly addresses your readers. You can’t write a nub para unless you have given some thought to who will be interested in the message of your story.

4. The nub doesn’t have to be at the beginning. A compelling introduction – an engaging anecdote or amazing fact — will hold you reader’s attention for a para or two. Then you must deliver the nub, or they will lose interest (even if they don’t know why). Sometimes, a skilful writer can put the nub as many as five paragraphs into the story, but in general, especially when you are starting, you should put the nub in the second or third para.

5. There’s no nub in news. News stories hold our attention because they are current, and because the person, the event or the circumstances grab our interest. To keep us reading, the writer has only to satisfy it by answering the reader’s questions — who, when, where, why and how — concisely and vividly.

The nub paragraph belong in blogs, features, reports, reviews, presentations, talks … in short, the nub para is critical when we are writing about ideas, when we want to deliver a message in a way that persuades our audience of its relevance at the very moment they encounter it.


Copyright ©  Kath Walters 2013 : Your rights: Publication rights for (syndication by agreement)

Author Bio

Over 16 years of writing and editing for top quality print and digital media mastheads, Kath Walters has written an estimated 1.3 million compelling, informative and carefully researched words. The mastheads that have published them include: LeadingCompany, BRW, Australian Financial Review, SmartCompany, Business Spectator, Crikey, Women’s Agenda, Property Observer. Visit Kath’s website.