Dave Lovemartin

Engage readers with hooks, promises and payoffs

Turning insight into an engaging read

last tended: 7.08.2023

I wrote a blog post which had a profound effect on someone else’s life.

They told me how a few weeks ago at the fantastic Pixel Pioneers conference.

In one of the breaks between talks, a familiar-looking and smiley chap bound up to me. He introduced himself as Josh and reminded me that we had gone for a pint with a mutual friend a few years ago — it all came flooding back.

Josh told me at the time when we first met, that he was at a crossroads, had read an article I’d written about my role as a Creative Technologist (someone who builds prototypes for usability testing), and showed it to his boss. They took some of the principles I’d described and changed the way they worked.

And it stuck. Josh forged out a niche as a Creative Technologist and never looked back.

I felt immensly proud that something I’d penned had actually made a difference to someone. (I wasn’t even sure that my articles were read by anybody but here was someone who had not only read something I’d written but acted on it too).

Hearing Josh’s tale inspired me to take up writing once more.

But how do you write stories that engage your audience? How can you structure your writing so that it will have a powerful effect on the reader?

I’m going to describe how you can use hooks, promises and payoffs to captivate, immerse and absorb your readers.

The hook

A good story hook captures attention from the very beginning.

Your hook starts with an intriguing or relatable anecdote, question, or statement to draw readers in.

By creating a strong emotional connection or piquing their curiosity, the hook entices your audience to find out what happens next.

Stories resonate with people on a deep level — humanising your message by tapping into the reader’s emotions and experiences.

Here, I’ve used a personal story about blog writing as my hook. It’s kind of relevant as it sets up writing as a powerful means of communication.

The promise and the payoff

By using a consise story to engage your audience and create intrigue, you’ve hooked your reader — but make sure it’s relevant and that it leads to the promise.

The promise is something that tells your audience what’s to come so that they have something to look forward to. When you fulfil the promise, the audience is rewarded with a payoff.

This creates tension and resolution.

Start your planning with the payoff. The payoff is your end goal, your big moment. Then work backward to create your promise and the rest of the story to build to that moment.

The payoff is the main take away from your article. Think about the effect you would like to have on your reader:

In the blog post that inspired Josh, I wanted potential clients to understand what a Creative Technologist does.

I showcased the value that the role has, using personal anecdotes from real projects.

And I think this was effective because I was writing from the heart.

I honestly believed in what I was writing because I had seen the benefit of the work. The payoff was an authentic account selling an idea.

To set up this payoff with a promise, I literally posed a couple of questions and wrote a summary of what would come next.

That’s the theory anyway. I’d be really interested in whether you feel this essay has hit the mark and what you might improve. What other techniques could improve my writing and have the impact I’m searching for?

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