Pictured: Brianna Blacet, VMware’s Innovation Storyteller
In the past, we have discussed the art of writing: whether it’s how to capture an audience’s attention, how to be a better blogger or advice from a Forbes contributor. But today, we’re in for a special treat as I recently got to chat with storytelling guru Brianna Blacet.
With 33 years’ experience under her belt, Brianna wields the written word to paint a beautiful picture in blogs, print journalism, websites and even ads. After creating a corporate branding voice for many cybersecurity, IT operations, software-as-a-service (SaaS), and mobile technology businesses, she now serves as the storyteller at VMware’s Office of the CTO. Based on her years of experience collaborating with engineers and research directors to tell the stories behind their innovations, she’s here to help us understand how to hone our storytelling skills.
- Technical blog outline
According to Brianna, there is a science behind the art of creating a technical blog. This basic outline helps bring in your audience and keep them. Follow this structure to ensure you are covering all the bases:
- Problem statement
- Background of project/event/story, etc. Include some or all of the following, where relevant:
- Genesis of project
- Who was involved?
- Who is the audience/customer for this?
- General statement about the solution (not in-depth)
- More in-depth info about the solution, including architecture/features/design (include diagrams). Break this up with subheads, where relevant.
- Plans/timelines for anything relevant coming in the future.
Although an outline provides an engaging foundation, that was just the beginning of Brianna’s advice. Here are some helpful tips to be mindful of while crafting your innovation story:
- Tips and tricks for writing a technical blog
- Format: < 1,500 words. If it’s more than that, consider breaking it into installments. Also, blogs are not the same style as a scholarly or academic paper. Try to be less formal and more accessible.
- Audience-first mindset: You should know what your audience wants to know and keep your content relevant. Or, as Brianna phrases it, “What value does this provide to my audience?”
- Story arc: A protagonist brings life to a story and makes it relatable. With a blog, the “protagonist” is usually either the writer, who shares their experience, other people involved in the solution, or a person whose problem you solved. You are free to write in 1st person, where relevant, or tell the stories of the people involved.
- Subheaders: Break up your text with subheads to make it easier for online scanning. Review each section and craft a descriptive subhead that helps summarize the content instead of generic subheads like “Overview,” “Introduction,” or “Conclusion.” Descriptive subheads help pull out the passage points and make them easier to remember.
- Art: Include images and diagrams, wherever applicable.
- Cite your sources: If you’re referencing an external report, not only state that finding but make it a hyperlink to the report itself. Including your sources saves a savvy reader time and effort. It also builds trust with the readership and shows professionalism in writing.
- A call to action: This should be included at the end, whenever possible. These may be next steps, info about the next blog in a series, downloading a published whitepaper where relevant, and so on.
- Engage the Reader
Lastly, the writing itself may be excellent, but if you don’t convince the readership that it’s worthy of a click, they’ll never find that out. Here are some final tips for grabbing a potential reader’s attention:
- Hero image: This is also known as the primary image, and it should be related to the blog’s topic. Avoid generic photos, and to avoid copyright issues, only use pictures online that you’ve purchased. Many writers use stock photography sites such as shutterstock.com or stock.adobe.com.
- Headline: The title should be concise, engaging, and an accurate description of the article’s subject. To figure out headlines that are the right length and have an appropriate emotional pull consider using a headline analyzer tool such as coschedule.com/headline-analyzer or headlines.sharethrough.com.
- Warning: Click-bait headlines tend to get people to open them, increasing your page views, but can wreck the other factor in page data analytics — average time on page. If most of your readers quickly leave your article, it will seem like your content is not high-quality. A good goal is to have at least a three-minute or more average read time.
- Social Media: Include proposed social hashtags, a LinkedIn post, and a tweet. Twitter allows only 280 characters, including spaces. Although LinkedIn technically allows posts to have 700 characters, it truncates with a “See More” tab at 140 characters. Remember to leave some characters for a link to the blog itself.
After Brianna dropped that wealth of knowledge on us, there isn’t a lot more for me to add. Having written this column for almost two years now, I can’t believe how much I learned from my conversations with Brianna. What a wonderful reminder of what a big and glorious world the written word can create. As we continue to learn more writing styles and to engage with our own readerships in new ways, I will say it again: happy writing!
Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.