Step Two: Work Your Prep
Now that you’ve prepped your work, it’s time to work your prep. Jump in and write your message following a simple formula: Hook, Look, Took, Hook.
The opening Hook is the curb appeal that lures your audience off the sidewalk and onto the front porch of your message. It grabs their attention from the first sentence. It entices them to enter your message and discover how it can make a difference in their lives. (Note of warning: if your front porch is too big, your audience may admire the window boxes but then walk away.)
A hook isn’t a gimmick to trick someone into reading or listening to your message. It’s the opening that helps your target audience relate to you and/or your message and decide if they want to hang around for more. The hook for an article designed for women in their later years may not grab the attention of young mommas. That’s okay. They’re not your audience this time.
The number of hook options is endless. I’ve included below a list of some popular ones and linked them to articles I and others have written using these hooks.
The best hook for you is the one that fits your personality, topic, audience, and writing style. It also depends on the availability of information. If you’re writing a message on fear, do you know a good story about fear with which to introduce it? If not, try a different hook. Maybe you’ve heard an intriguing quote about fear or an unexpected statistic. This list will get you started.
Effective Hook Options:
- A made-up story to fit the topic (be clear that it’s fictionalized)
Hooks to Avoid:
- Jokes: if your joke falls flat—as jokes often do—you may lose your audience immediately.
- Sarcasm: audiences too often miss sarcasm and wind up confused or offended.
Transitions: Transitions are hooks that logically or cleverly link the previous paragraph or section to the next one and keep your audience engaged. Without smooth transitions, your message can sound choppy or disconnected.
This doesn’t mean you have to have a “transition sentence” before every section or point. Sometimes the transition is built-in, such as with the format of a list. For instance, the next paragraph in this article is the next step in the Hook, Look, Took, Hook formula. It doesn’t need a clever transition because the audience is already anticipating the next point.
The Look is the meat of your message, what you want your audience to see, learn, and understand. This is where you’ll flesh out the ten-second summary of your main point that you created in step one. But how?
Helpful tools for this section of your message are numerous and varied. Here are the main tools I use. (Note: I wrote this last sentence as a transition to the tools I like to use.)
- Points and Sub-points: It’s easier for our audiences to digest a large amount of material when we break it down into points and maybe even sub-points. Use as many as needed to make your message clear, being sure each supports your main point. A target word count for each point or sub-point is about 300 words or less. If it’s longer, consider breaking it down even more and/or editing out needless words and sentences.
- Logical Order: The flow of the information in your message makes a difference. The more logical the flow, the easier it will be for your audience to follow you. While writing this article, I first placed “Know Your Audience” after “Answer Three Important Questions.” But since knowing your audience is vital to being able to answer the questions well, I moved “Know Your Audience” before the questions and created a better flow. Sometimes I print out a draft of my message, grab a pair of scissors, and play around with the order on my kitchen table.
- Stories/Illustrations/Quotes/Etc.: Any item from the previous list of hook options can be helpful to demonstrate or clarify a point. My message story that bombed illustrated the need to know your audience. In this post, I’ve clarified several of my points with examples (like this one).
- Lists and Bullet Points: Whether published online or on paper, lists are easier to read—and thus to remember. I could’ve written this section in paragraph form, but a bullet point list seemed more effective.
- Sticky Statement: Weave your sticky statement through your message enough that your audience doesn’t miss it, but not so much it begins to annoy them. How often you repeat it depends on the length of your message.
- Transitions: I can’t stress enough the importance of transitions. You don’t have to be super clever, although clever is great. A logical transition will do the job.
The Took is the takeaway—the call to action, the invitation to respond. You may encourage your audience throughout your message to respond in various ways, but you want to be particularly intentional at the end of your message.
Your takeaway may be a physical action like Download the template and write an article, or a spiritual response like Trust God with the results of your message. You may have one call to action or a list of several, depending on the type of message. If it’s spiritual in nature, keep the calls to action short and memorable. If it’s a how-to message, give your audience every action step they need to be successful without overloading them with superfluous steps.
A good closing Hook satisfies your audience and ties your opening hook into your conclusion. In next week’s post, you’ll notice in my final paragraph (my closing hook), that I bring back the feeling of fear I introduced in the opening hook. You’ll also notice that I’ve included my sticky statement in the heading as well as a version of it in my final sentence. Finally, I’ve provided a call-to-action button so you can download the free template and start writing an effective message as soon as you read the final post.
Join me right here next week for the final step: phone a friend. Want to get a head start on your Look, Hook, Took, Hook sequence? Download the printable message template here!