Storytelling Tip: Start by making us want to know more
Today’s tip from JerryBrownPR’s Tips for Telling Your Story on the Experience Pros Radio Show
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By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
That’s the job of your lead — that all-important beginning of your story.
It’s a bit of showoff or even a tease. But your lead only has one job: Grabbing our attention long enough to get us to pay attention to what you have to say.
If it does that, be grateful for a job well done and move on down the road. Don’t ask it to do more or it may fail to do its job.
Your story — and the message it includes — is competing with a lot of other stories for attention. Meanwhile, the rest of us are fending off most of the messages bombarding us because we’re overwhelmed.
Your lead’s job is to cut through all that clutter to convince us your story’s worth picking out of the crowd for a closer look.
There are any number of ways to do that. But here are four approaches to writing a good lead that generally work well:
The Sgt. Friday Approach: Just the facts, m’am, just the facts. Back in the days when people relied on newspapers for most of their news, leads laying out the basic facts of the story were by far the most common. That’s the way things were back in my days as a reporter. We relied on the facts of the story being interesting enough to keep you reading. It was the man-bites-dog approach to news. An example: “After years of searching, scientists have discovered life on Mars.” You don’t have dress that lead up. If and when the day comes to tell that story, the fact that it happened will be enough to get the story heard.
The Human Interest Approach: Sometimes just the facts aren’t enough to make your story interesting. Then you need to dress it up a bit. The human-interest approach is one way to do that. Draw us into your story by telling about someone we’d like to get to know better. For example: “Joan Doe has spent the last 43 years helping others. On Tuesday, several dozen of them will be on hand for her final day at work to say thank you and tell her how she changed their lives forever.” Joan sounds like a special person. Wouldn’t you like to know more about her? I would.
The Ask-a-Question Approach: I remember a time in the newsroom when turning in a story that opened with a question was forbidden. Why? I have no idea. Open with an intriguing question and a lot of us will stick around to hear the answer. For example: “Why are local bird watchers putting down their binoculars and picking up protest signs?” I’d like to know the answer to that question. Wouldn’t you?
The First-Person Approach: Writing instructors often say you should write about what you know best. And what we all know best are our own personal experiences. Be careful, though. Making yourself the hero or heroine of your story may not be as interesting to the rest of us as it is to you. But a really good first-person story about an interesting experience of yours can be hard to resist. For example: “The bear stared at me. I stared back. What I did next probably saved my life. And it could save yours.” Don’t you want to know what happened next? I do.
That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?
Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist. He specializes in helping clients develop the content they need to tell their stories. He also helps them develop strategies for getting their stories heard, understood and remembered. And he provides media training and presentation coaching for clients who need to tell their stories to reporters or in front of an audience. 303-594-8016 | jerry@JerryBrownPR.com.
Listen to Jerry’s Tips for Telling Your Story every Tuesday at 11:05 a.m., Mountain Time, on the Experience Pros Radio Show on KLZ 560AM in Denver or at www.560thesource.com on the Internet. Missed it on the air? Listen to the archived tips.