Tag Archives: telling

How to bridge the gap from good to great corporate stories.

Not every corporate story you write will merit a Pulitzer, but focusing on what you love in your writing, producing in volume and not letting reader stats distract you from your course will steer you towards your best work.

StoryGoodToGreat

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Trust that you have good taste

Following my last blog on balancing time between story selection and story production, inspired by a series of four short videos by Ira Glass, in Part 3 – On Good Taste Ira observes that you get into something because you love it, you have taste, but to expect that for a lot of your early work, your output won’t match your ambition or reflect your taste very often. But you’ll know that gap – and you must continue to produce and the quality will come.

Focus on what you love

In corporate story telling, you may have limited choice on your content, your medium or your writing deadlines. Try to find an element that you love, and hone your story telling skills around that. It might be your ‘voice’, it might be the format you work in, it might be a content specialism. Try to identify the essence of what you enjoy in your writing – and your reader will likely ‘hear’ that too.

Keep viewers’ feedback in perspective

Views and likes are great, comments are better, but keep them in context and critique your own work. Look at the work of other writers and ask yourself what it is in their writing that appeals to you, and see if you’re using the technique in your own work.

Start now – and keep on writing

One of Ira’s key points is that you mustn’t let your own critical eye dissuade you from writing, it’s only in producing a body of work that you’ll create material that you truly feel reflects you. If you stop at the first hurdle – you’ll never know. Many employees have a sense that everything they write has to be Pulitzer worthy, it makes them nervous, and they dabble only as far as comments and status updates, likes, or don’t join in at all. Take a leap of faith and ‘publish and be damned’.

My take outs

  1. Amongst all of your corporate content and obligations, find what you love in each piece and let that be your focus.
  2. Audience feedback is great, but write first for yourself – your audience will appreciate it more.
  3. Every article won’t win a Pulitzer – it’s not supposed to – so ‘publish and be damned’.

Have you found a foreboding sense of corporate writing perfection has prevented you from publishing or felt constrained to venture only as far as reading, liking and commenting?

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The 50:50 of story editing – balancing your production and selection time

The art of story telling isn’t solely in the writing, it starts with choosing the stories your audience will find most compelling – but what’s the best balance of time between these two activities?

Why spending as much time selecting stories as editing them is important

Following my last blog on Fact Sheet Flatliners, inspired by a series of four short videos by Ira Glass, Ira makes three observations in Part 2 – Finding the right story.

  1. It takes as much time to find a good story as it does to capture, edit and produce it.
  2. Half to a third of stories get canned.
  3. Edit aggressively, give yourself deadlines to constantly create, know that 1:5 will be great, the rest won’t be memorable – and that’s ok – you have to create work to get great work, no one does 100% great work constantly.

How do you know what stories to drop?

A pie chart showing 50% time for story selection and 50% time for production

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As corporate story tellers we can tend to focus on production, honing content that we hope will resonate with our audiences, but how much time do we spend on filtering content, and how much do we deselect, compared to that we choose?

An approach used to measure content in focus groups is to ask audiences what the test material makes them think, feel and would tell a friend. This gives a good framework for filtering content for potential stories too:

  • What will the audience think – is the story persuasive, is it realistic?
  • What will the audience feel – is it told with authenticity, does it engage emotionally?
  • What might the audience tell a friend – does it grab attention, is it memorable?

Take outs

  1. Spend as much time on story selection as production
  2. Use the focus group approach of considering what will your audience think, feel and tell a friend having heard each story as a way to select the ones most likely to engage to take to the production stage
  3. Know that half to a third of stories won’t make the grade, which will give those that do the greatest chance to be heard.

As a corporate story teller, what’s your experience? How much time do you devote to story selection rather than writing and publishing?

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Story telling – avoiding fact sheet flat liners

Story structures are great, but too much formula can lead to fact sheet flat-liners or drawn out disappointments that fail to get the audience engagement we know they’re great for.

Story telling is coming to the fore as a way of communicating and driving engagement, and it’s often accompanied by sound advice such as having a clear three act construct, a hero/protagonist, defined scenes, obstacles/opportunities, actions, resolutions and lessons learned. But whilst we stick rigidly to this structure we can still risk losing our readers.

Some advice from Ira Glass

Since 1995, Ira Glass has hosted and produced ‘This American Life’ a public radio show in the US that now reaches over 1.7 million listeners on over 500 stations weekly – and I think the techniques he suggests can really help put some drama into our corporate stories.

Ira’s advice is in a series of four short videos, each under 5 minutes, this blog is based on Part 1 – Story Format.

Ira points out that when we’re in school, we generally learn to tell stories around one argument that’s then supported by facts – which can be a little flat.

To build some drama and personality into his stories, Ira recommends using anecdotes and moments of reflection which he illustrates using an example of a what could be a really boring story – about a guy waking up and going to his front door.

Anecdotes and Moments of Reflection

1. Anecdotes

Ira suggests using anecdotes to build drama and that anecdotes have two elements, momentum and ‘bait’ for the listener:

A. Momentum: is used to give a sense that the events in a story follow each other – give a sense of a journey and a destination and build some feeling into the story. Often stories start with scene setting, but it’s important to add some emotion over and above location.

B. Bait: for the reader: stories work best when they raise questions for the listener – in Ira’s illustration, what will happen to the man when he opens the front door, where is he going, why is it so quiet? This way, the author manipulates the listener by choosing when to provide the answers, and adding in new actions that raise new questions.

2. Moments of reflection

Here’s the reason for the story, here’s the point, the return for the listener for paying attention.

What can go wrong with stories

Great anecdotes with weak or no moment of reflection are disappointing and frustrating. They make the story predictable and give the listener nothing new.

Boring anecdotes with important moments of reflection miss the mark too and worse yet, dilute the purpose of the story so the listener feels they’ve wasted their time.

I’ve drawn a quick ‘four box model’ here that illustrates the story sweet spot and some pitfalls to avoid based on Ira’s comments.

A four box model showing story types against anecdotes and moments of reflection.

Four box model showing story types against anecdotes and moments of reflection.

Stories aren’t like a long joke that ends with a punch line, they’re not a shopping list of activities, they have action sequences and moments of reflection multiple times through the story that deliver a memorable conclusion for the reader. And with corporate stories, there’s usually a conclusion we want the reader to remember.

My take outs:

  1. Structure is great, but avoid the fact-sheet approach where the reader feels they’re on a predictable path towards an obvious outcome.
  2. Stories need drama, and drama comes from people – try to involve more than one character in your story.
  3. No one wants to drive on a motorway continually, give your reader an interesting journey that will help them remember the destination when they get there.
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