Storytelling Tip: The Goldilocks Rule

Storytelling Tip: The Goldilocks Rule

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel

Storytelling Tip: The Goldilocks RuleTwo common mistakes people make when telling their story: They say too much. Or they say too little. And sometimes they do both simultaneously. How can that be? Let me explain.

Saying too much

Tell us a story. You know how to do that. People are natural storytellers. In fact, scientists say narrative imagining – story – is the fundamental instrument of thought. We think in story form.

But many of us have a tendency to load our stories down with too many details. We believe making just one more point will provide the tipping point that makes everyone believe us and do what we want.

Most of the time, you’ll be better off making one less point.

If you’re like me, you’ve had the experience of staying up past your bedtime to finish a real page turner of a book. It’s too engrossing to put down and go to sleep. Chances are you’ve never done that with a phone book (remember phone books?). Or one of those fact-filled legal notices we’re told we should read and understand.

Stories are just a way of delivering a message you want us to hear, understand and remember. Too many facts get in the way of your message.

You need to include enough facts to be credible. But too many facts bog your story down. Your audience will lose interest and there’s a good chance they’ll miss your message.

Tell the truth. Don’t mislead us. But don’t let (too many) facts get in the way of your story.

Saying too little

Another common mistake is assuming we hear and remember what you say.

But you can’t tell your story once and quit. You have to keep repeating it. And repeating it. And repeating it. Until you’re tired of hearing yourself say it. That’s when the rest of us are beginning to notice. Telling your story once and assuming we heard you is a common mistake. You’ve probably said too little because you haven’t repeated yourself.

Or you may be one of those who say too little because they don’t say anything. They assume no one will care. So they don’t tell their story. If you don’t tell your story, no one will hear it. Because we can’t tell it for you.

Saying it just right

So how do you know when you’ve done it just right? It’s a judgment call.

Start by identifying your message. The one thing you want us to hear, understand and remember. Put it into a single sentence. And be able to say it in 15 seconds or less. Build your story around that single idea.

Once you’ve written your story, start editing. Delete everything that doesn’t help the rest of us understand your single 15-second message and persuade us to do what you want us to do.

When you’re done editing, ask yourself if there’s one less point you can make and still deliver your message. Once you get to a point where you can’t take anything else out and still tell a story that delivers your message effectively, then you’re done editing.

Then tell your story. And keep repeating it.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?


Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist who helps clients get their stories heard, understood and remembered. Need help telling your story? You can reach Jerry at 303-594-8016 | jerry@

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