Organization & Leadership Consulting

Use Powerful “Ledes” to Tell More Captivating Stories

“Almost as soon as she started her Comedy Central series, the comedian Amy Schumer thought up a sketch: What if there was a single day on which an aging actress’s desirability evaporates?” (New York Times 7.8.15).
“One night, when her face turned puffy and painful from what she thought was a sinus infection, Jessica DeVisser briefly considered going to an urgent care clinic, but then decided to try something ‘kind of sci-fi.'” (New York Times 7.11.15).

Crafting Powerful Ledes

Did the lines above grab your attention? Did they entice you to want to read the rest of the story? Of course they did! You want to know what comedian Amy Schumer did with her idea and what ‘sic-fi’ thing Jessica DeVisser did instead going to the urgent care clinic. That is precisely the reason these opening lines were crafted as they were and why they were opening paragraphs of articles in the New York Times.

This attention getting journalistic technique is called a “lede.” And before you write to tell me I misspelled that word, let me assure you this spelling is intentional. Journalists spell it ‘l-e-d-e’ to distinguish it from its cousin ‘lead’ (which can be read as ‘led’ as in your pencil lead). The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a lede “the introductory section of a news story that is intended to entice the reader to read the full story.”

Tell Your Story

Storytelling is essential to running a successful organization. You need to regularly telling compelling stories that rivet your readers and draw them into the mission of your nonprofit. Businesses need to craft the story of how they transform their clients’ lives so they can sell more products and services. Writing a great lede is essential in both endeavors.

So here is how to write a lede that captures attention and compels readers to read on:

  • Write your story and then edit it to optimal succinctness;
  • Now, find the heart of your story and capture it in one sentence;
  • In this age of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), be sure to use Keywords in your lede that will help online search engines find your piece;
  • Step back and ask yourself, “Does that sentence entice readers to want to know more?”

In this age of short attention spans and even shorter writing styles, you have precious little available ink to draw in your audience. Writing better ledes is one simple way to tell more powerful stories in fewer words.



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