How To Write A Powerful First Sentence

You’re about to learn a skill you’ll use on every blog post, email, and presentation you write for the rest of your life.

Because you’ll always want the first sentence you write to be as powerful as possible.

Here are a few concepts to help you accomplish that…

The job of your first sentence is to get people to read your next sentence.

It’s not to repeat the headline, summarize your thoughts, or explain who you are.

Its only goal is to grab a reader’s attention and make them curious to read the next sentence.

Your first sentence is an audition.

(Btw, this concept also applies to newsletters as I’ve learned from sharing the secrets of successful creators each week.)

Open a loop in the reader’s mind.

Ever notice what TV shows do before a commercial break?

Something happens in the story that opens a loop in your mind and makes you curious to see what’s going to happen next. 

Think of it as a tease or a cliffhanger.

Shows do this to keep you from changing the channel during the commercial break and not coming back.

They know once a loop opens in our mind, we feel a need to close it and that holds our attention.

Open loops are so powerful they even capture the attention of people who don’t like the content. For example, watch this scene:

Open loops work in first sentences too.

You’re reading this now in part because my first sentence opened in a loop in your mind — you wanted to know what I’d say that would impact everything you write.

The speech below features one of the best open loop first sentences I’ve ever seen. The line?

“I want to discuss with you this afternoon why you’re going to fail to have a great career.”

(For a deeper dive into open loops, I recommend checking out Andre Chaperon’s work.)

Mention what your audience wants.

Write to help specific people solve specific problems.

And when you do so, be sure to mention exactly what your audience wants in your first sentence.

Let’s say your audience wants to get better at selling products.

Which of these first sentence options do you think will be more effective?

Option 1: 

“I’ll never forget what my teacher said to me in kindergarten.”

Option 2: 

“I never imagined the key to selling a million dollars worth of products would be something I learned in kindergarten”

Option 2 will capture more attention because it references a specific thing the audience wants.

(If you’re not sure what your audience wants, here are five ways to identify your ideal audience.)

Start in the middle.

You don’t have to start at the beginning of the story.

A more attention-grabbing moment of your story can likely be found in the middle of your story and will better enable you to open a loop in the reader’s mind.

Think about how Hollywood does this.

Movies often start with a scene from the middle (or end) of the story and then flash back to explain how we got to that point.

Because they know the role of the opening scene (or the opening sentence) is to grab attention so they optimize for that — not chronological order. 

Remember how Goodfellas began?

Set expectations.

Everything you write is ultimately designed to get the reader to take an action.

To do that, it helps to set expectations in your first sentence — this is especially valuable when writing emails.

If someone opens your email, the only guarantee you have is that they’ll read your first sentence.

Don’t assume they’ll get to your fourth paragraph and bury a call to action in it.

Use your first sentence to communicate a clear expectation of what you want the reader to do and the purpose of what you’ve written.

If the purpose of your email is to get answers to three questions, say so in your first sentence.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, it has to be clear. Something like this:

“I’ve got three quick questions for you.”

That clarity makes it more likely they’ll take the action you want them to take and not overlook it.

And at the end of the day, nothing’s more powerful than clarity.

For more writing advice check out How To Become A Better Writer and How To Write A Newsletter.