As I listened to a group of unemployed executives deliver their personal elevator speeches (i.e., their 30-second commercials), that little voice in the back of my head was working overtime.
“Don’t bury your lead,” it kept screaming at them as I had eerie flashbacks of my time as a newspaper editor talking to young reporters. Time and again, the really interesting stuff — the great visual images, the jaw-dropping results — came at the end while the beginning was filled with standard phrases like “results-oriented” and “IT executive.”
In the newspaper business, the lead is normally the first paragraph that contains the essential elements of the story. A well-written lead keeps the reader reading…rather than turning to another more interesting story.
When it comes to Simplicity, journalists have the roadmap. Most of their stories are written in the inverted pyramid style, with the most important piece (the widest part of the pyramid) at the top and the rest of the information in decreasing order of importance.
Let’s face it. As a reporter, a job-seeker, or someone presenting your important business idea at work, you’re competing for your audience’s attention…and they have lots of alternatives. Time and again over the past few weeks, I’ve heard stories that a job posting had generated 200-300 responses within just a few hours.
Successful reporters agonize over their leads because it’s the most important investment they make in their stories. A great lead makes the rest easy…and it makes their editors’ job easy because under pressure they can just cut from the bottom and print what’s left for their available space.
If you think of your boss or the recruiter as your editor, this concept becomes easier. As they write and edit, reporters often find that their best stuff is in their third, fourth, or 10th paragraph (hence the phrase, bury the lead) so they move it up.
Think about what makes you or your idea memorable. Now take a good look at your resume, your elevator speech or 30-second commercial, or your presentation. If you’re making your reader work hard to find that special something, then odds are that your idea, your resume, or you are about to be placed on the No pile.
It’s not easy. We often get so bogged down in the details that we lose our core message and bury our lead.
Who are you? What makes you different? What value do you provide? What problem can you solve? Get that into your lead and you’ll be much closer to grabbing your audience’s full and undivided attention.