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Communicate the New: How to Breach the first Barrier

Communicating new information to an audience is inherently challenging. Humans often dismiss or reject information that is foreign, complex, or scary. This is especially challenging in persuasive writing, wherein you are trying to inspire action, not just inform.

Recently, I participated in a workshop by Useful Fiction. The workshop covered the power of using narrative techniques to communicate effectively with decision-makers. Narrative form captures the power of storytelling, making your message relatable and memorable.

The opinion column is a natural arena for these techniques. As we discussed in What is a Column?, opinion writing is, at its core, writing for people who don’t have to read what you write. It requires a compelling story and persuasive prose.


When communicating something new, the writer needs to address two questions:

  1. How do I frame and explain this information?

  2. How do I communicate the new (and inherently disruptive) idea?


Too often, a writer or briefer will jump into the second question. When they understand and believe an idea, they make assumptions and take facts for granted. If the audience does not share those underlying beliefs, they can dismiss the message off-hand. By skipping the first question, the writer has failed to “set the stage” with their audience.

You can mitigate this by taking the time to answer the first question. This requires audience research and an effective hook to guide your diverse audience to a common starting point. A good hook uses something the audience shares, such as a common experience or emotion. Proper framing creates a receptive space in your reader’s mind that helps achieve understanding, persuasion, and retention.


Some Examples taken from Useful Fiction (thank you to August Cole and Peter W. Singer for allowing me to share these):

  • Scenarios of the future: Instead of writing “if this, then that.” Put yourself into the position of a person experiencing the future, and describe the scene from the character’s point of view.

  • Grounding in the familiar to connect with the unfamiliar: Look for opportunities to leverage familiar stories, archetypes or situations. This gives the reader a comfortable starting point to enter the unknown. Think about science-fiction. Stories are often told through familiar characters in unfamiliar settings. A hover-cab driver in LA, a detective in the future crimes division, a farmer turned freedom fighter on a planet far, far away.

  • The power of a small detail: Small details are often the most widely shared and the most powerfully linked to emotion. For example, having to stand before a class and talk, love for a pet, or anticipation for the weekend. Just be selective with the detail you choose to ensure it connects to your target audience.


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