For decades, marketers have used the AIDA formula to craft persuasive marketing copy. It has nothing to do with opera. The letters stand for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. You can use those letters with some slightly different meanings to craft excellent book chapters.
Both formulas work because they take advantage of human nature. We’re hit with thousands of messages every day and only a few grab our attention. They’re the only ones we watch, read, or listen to. Whether you’re writing a book, a blog post, or a marketing piece, you must capture your reader’s attention before anything else can happen.
After that, you draw the reader into your piece, so you can make your point. And, in most business writing, at the end you want some kind of action. Here’s how you can use AIDA to make your book chapters sing. The words I use are different from the classic formula.
Before you start conveying the details of your message, you need to tell your reader why what you have to say is interesting and possibly important. Your chapter titles should be mini sales pieces, persuading the reader to go further.
Tell the reader why what you’re about to say is worth their attention. Here are a couple of examples.
Eric Barker does a wonderful job of grabbing attention in Barking Up the Wrong Tree by using provocative and curiosity-inspiring chapter titles. Chapter two is “Do Nice Guys Finish Last? What You Can Learn About Trust, Cooperation, and Kindness . . . from Gang Members, Pirates, and Serial Killers.”
Here’s the title for chapter one in Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao’s Scaling up Excellence. “It’s a Ground War, Not Just an Air War: Going Slower to Scale Faster (and Better) Later.”
The title of chapter four in Adam Grant’s Originals is “Fools Rush: In Timing, Strategic Procrastination, and the First-Mover Disadvantage.”
When you grab a reader’s attention, he or she thinks, “Hmmm…I wonder what the author means by that” and is primed to continue reading. That’s good, but it’s just the start.
The best thing you can do in the first part of your book or a chapter is to tell a story. We love stories.
Think back to a time when you were in a training program right after lunch. Energy is low, heads are nodding and then snapping upright, many people are slumped in their chairs. Then the instructor says, “Let me tell you a story.” Almost by magic, people sit up straight and begin to pay attention.
The same thing happens in your book. If you begin with an interesting and relevant story, it draws people into the chapter. They want to pay attention. It’s human nature to pay attention to stories. Stories are great, but they can’t carry the entire communication load. For that, you need some specifics.
Every business book chapter should have three things. You should state the point you want to make explicitly and clearly. You should support that point with research data. And, you should illustrate your point with anecdotes or stories.
The story that draws the reader in can be a story that you use throughout the chapter. Each sub-chapter should have its own point, story, and data.
Surveys and studies strengthen your point. Stories connect the point and the data to real people. Your stories and your data reinforce each other.
Remember that people read business books so they can find out how to do something differently that will make things better. This is where you tell them what to do next.
Authors have different ways of doing this. Some incorporate exercises or action points. In their book The Idea-Driven Organization, Alan Robinson and Dean Schroeder list “Key Points” at the end of every chapter. When Tom Hall and I wrote Ruthless Focus, we put both “Thinking Points” and “Action Steps” at the end of each chapter. Heidi Grant Halverson has a marvelous way of doing this. She ends each chapter of her book, Succeed, with a “What You Can Do” section. Here’s how she describes the purpose.
“I’m going to end each of the chapters in this book with a short summary of the main points I’ve tried to get across. That way, you can see at a glance the steps you can take in your own life to improve your ability to reach your goals.”
If you want to write a great chapter, use a provocative or benefit-rich title and similar sub-heads to get the reader’s Attention. Involve the reader with an effective story. Use the story and research findings to provide Data that support your point. Wrap up the chapter with something that urges the reader to take Action.