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Storytelling Tip: The Goldilocks Rule

Storytelling Tip: The Goldilocks Rule

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

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?

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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@ JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing Tip: Design your words

 

Writing Tip: Design your words

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Writing Tip: Design your worYou probably recognize good graphic design when you see it – even if you can’t explain it. Good design isn’t limited to images. It applies to writing, too. The way you arrange the words you write is important.

Good design is about aesthetics. It’s also about communication. Good graphic design helps tell a story. If it doesn’t do that, it hasn’t done its job – even if it’s aesthetically pleasing.

Words tell stories, too. And the way you arrange them on the page matters because good text layout helps your words tell your story more effectively.

The rules of typography are detailed and complex for those interested in exploring them in depth. But there are a few simple things you can do to help your words tell your story. Here are some of them:

  • White space is important. It keeps the text on the page from feeling too dense or heavy. Cramming too many words on a page makes your writing less readable. How much white space do you need? There are too many variables to cover here. But on a standard page, I like to leave margins of at least an inch on all sides. And leave a blank line between single-spaced paragraphs (bulleted lists are an exception).
  • Limit the fonts you use. Avoid the temptation to use all those fancy and unusual fonts available on your computer. Properly used, they can add zip to a document. Most of the time they just get in the way. A good rule of thumb: Limit yourself to one or two common fonts per document. If using two fonts, be consistent in how you use them: Sans serif font (like Arial) for headings, serif font (like Times New Roman) for body type, for example. If you want to use one of those unusual fonts, pick one that fits the message or mood you’re trying to convey.
  • Be consistent. Headings, subheads and other type elements should be consistent. They should help your readers understand what’s important, what goes together, how your story flows. Don’t use 14-point italics for one subhead and 12-point bold for another, for example.
  •  Limit the use of underlined, bold and italicized text. Underliningbold and italics are useful ways to emphasize certain words or phrases. They can’t do their job if you overuse them. Ditto for using different colors of type for emphasis.
  • Eliminate widows and orphans. In the world of typography, widows and orphans are lines and words stranded by themselves at the top or bottom of a page or a line at the end of a paragraph. Whenever possible, avoid leaving a single word by itself on a line at the end of a paragraph. And avoid stranding the first or last line of a paragraph by itself at the top or bottom of a page. Not always possible in electronic documents because line lengths and page breaks often aren’t under your control.

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

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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@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling Tip: Break it up

 

Storytelling Tip: Break it up

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling Tip: Breaking up can help your storyBreaking up is hard to do. But it can make your story stronger.

I’m not suggesting you break up with your spouse or lover. I am suggesting you break your story up — especially if it’s packed with a lot of information.

Don’t overwhelm your audience by trying to say too much all at once.

If you do many PowerPoint presentations, you’ve probably heard the suggestion that breaking one information-loaded slide into two or three slides can make your presentation stronger — and easier for your audience to understand.

It’s no different when telling your story in writing. Or with videos.

I’m working on a video project for a client. The original plan was to produce a single video.

We could have put all his messages into one video. But it would have been too long. We’ll end up instead with four one-minute videos, each making a single point. The four parts are much stronger broken apart than they would have been lumped together.

When you’re getting to know someone, you generally share information back and forth in increments — not in one overwhelming data dump.

You’re telling your story to help your audience get to know you or something about your business. Doing that in bite-sized pieces usually is more effective than trying to say it all at once.

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

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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@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling Tip: No Sales Pitch

 

Storytelling Tip: No Sales Pitch

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling Tip: No Sales PitchSometimes the best sales pitch is no sales pitch.

We’ve all been subjected to the pressure tactics of a hard sales pitch at some time or another. Most of us have given in at least a time or two and bought what the arm twister was selling. And then regretted our decision.

But most of us are pretty good at turning away high-pressure salespeople. We turn them away because they turn us off.

As someone in the business world, you usually tell your story in hopes the rest of us will buy what you’re selling. Nothing wrong with that. If I’m in the market for what you sell, I want to hear what you have to say — as long as you don’t try too hard to “sell” me.

Several years ago, I was in the market for a new car. I started shopping early, several months before I planned to buy. And I made that clear right up front to all the salespeople I met with.

All but one of them heard me. They told me about the cars they had to offer. Let me test drive them. And said they’d love to hear from me when I was ready to buy. No arm twisting. No pressure. No “sales” pitch. But one guy wouldn’t let go. He made it sound like there wouldn’t be any cars left if I didn’t buy one today. And today’s deal wouldn’t be around if I didn’t drive home today in one of the cars on his lot. I had to make a decision today. Sell. Sell. Sell.

He did get me to make a decision that day: To eliminate him and his dealership from further consideration.

Tell your story. Make it relevant to your audience by telling us what you can do for us, why you have something interesting to say to us.

You want us to buy what you’re selling. That’s okay. Perfectly normal. Sometimes the best way to get us to do that is to skip the sales pitch.

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

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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@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing Tip: 5 Ways to Improve Your Message

 

Writing Tip: 5 Ways to Improve Your Message

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Writing Tip: 5 Ways to Improve Your MessageWe all have stories to tell. The challenge is to get them heard, understood and remembered.

Here are some tips for improving your chances of successfully meeting that challenge.

Writing Tip #1: Tell me a story. We’re all natural story tellers. It’s how we communicate. In fact, some scientists say it’s the fundamental instrument of thought. We think in story form. So, why have I included it in these tips? As a reminder not to let the facts get in the way of your story. I’m not suggesting you play fast and loose with the truth. I’m suggesting you avoid loading your story down with so many facts that you and your audience lose sight of your story — the narrative that will help us understand and remember your message.

Writing Tip #2: Make your story about me. Make your story relevant to your audience. We want to know if you’re the person or company we want to do business with. But what we really want to know is how you’re going to help us. The more your story focuses on you, the less interested the rest of us will be. So make your story about your audience. Not about you.

Writing Tip #3: Surprise me. We’re hardwired to notice things that surprise or startle us. It’s a survival mechanism. Sometimes people think they’re supposed to use some kind of template for their news releases, blogs or other things they write. That’s a formula for making what you say blend into the background. You want your story to stand out. Get noticed. Tell us something we don’t know. Give us a new perspective on something we do know. Tell us why something we think we know is wrong and what the real facts are. Surprise us with your opening to get our attention. And tell us something that makes us say (or think) “I didn’t know that.” If you can do that, we’re more likely to remember what you said.

Writing Tip #4: Make one less point. Do you ever find yourself thinking you just need to make one more point to convince us you’re right? That’s a good way to let the facts get in the way of your story. Most of the time you’ll be better off making one less point. It’s called editing. Take a look at what you’ve written. What can you take out? Keep your story simple. It’ll be easier to understand. And easier to remember.

Writing Tip #5: See Tip #4.

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

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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@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing Tip: Do You Know Too Much?

 

Writing Tip: Do You Know Too Much?

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Writing Tip: Do You Know Too Much?When it comes to telling your story, sometimes you know too much for your own good.

What’s the problem? When you know a lot, you may be tempted to include too much information in your story — to the point that the rest of us have trouble understanding what your story is. We can’t see your forest because of all the trees you’ve put in front of us.

I frequently warn clients not to let the facts get in the way of their story. I’m not suggesting they play fast and loose with the truth. I’m suggesting they avoid sharing so many facts that they forget to tell the rest of us a story we can understand and remember.

It’s easy to take something that’s simple and make it complicated. People do that all the time. And it’s really tempting to make your story complicated when you know too much. The temptation is to add all the exceptions and caveats to your generalizations. And to make just one more point in an effort to persuade us to buy what you’re selling.

It’s much harder to take something that’s complicated make it simple. And some people resist doing it. They equate simplifying your story with dumbing it down.

I’m not suggesting you dumb down your story. I am suggesting you simplify it.

Pare your message down to its essence. And craft it in a way that will attract our interest. Make sure we can see your “forest,” not just a collection of “trees.”

All those facts you want to share with us? Save them to share over time, once you know what part of your story we’re interested in exploring.

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

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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@JerryBrownPR.com.

Writing tip: Write around it

 

Writing tip: Write around it

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling tip: Write around itWrite around it. It’s a useful concept I learned as a young reporter.

You find yourself on deadline. Have to turn in your story. And there’s a hole in it: A question you don’t know the answer to.

Do you guess? Not a good idea. You might guess wrong. And end up having to do a correction the next day. Doing that too often isn’t good for job security in a newsroom.

Whether you work in a newsroom or not, deadlines are a fact of life for most of us. And sometimes those deadlines come before we’re 100 percent ready to tell the story we’re telling that day.

Do you make something up? Guess? Fill the page with empty words designed to make it look like you have something worth saying when you don’t (remember those essay questions and term papers in school)? Lie?

Those are all bad alternatives. Sometimes the best you can do is write around it. Say what you have to stay while steering clear of something you don’t know or don’t want to discuss.

Let’s face it. Writing around an issue usually isn’t a great thing to do. And it isn’t something you want to do a lot. But, given the alternatives, it sometimes is the best choice you have.

So, do it when you have to. But don’t overdo it if you want to keep your credibility intact.

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

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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@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling tip: Sentence fragments are okay

 

Storytelling tip: Sentence fragments are okay

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling tip: Sentence fragments okaySentence fragments. They’re okay. Occasionally. Just don’t overdo them.

We learned some things in school worth ignoring at times in the real world.

For example, we learned not to use sentence fragments. Good advice. Most of the time.

But short sentences and small words make your writing more readable. Easier to understand. And easier to remember. An occasional fragment can help, too.

We usually write in sentences. More likely to use fragments when we talk. Most of us are able to say what we mean when we talk. And make ourselves understood. But we clutter things up with bigger words and longer sentences when we write.

Formal language is important in some writing. Academic papers, for example.

But it’s usually not necessary when writing about your business. Talk on paper. The goal is to communicate. To make it as easy as possible for your audience to understand what you’re saying. And, you hope, buy what you’re selling.

Misspelled words and grammatical errors can kill your credibility. But you can ignore the rules of grammar. Sometimes. In fact, you should.

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

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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@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling tip: Make it visual

 

Storytelling tip: Make it visual

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling tip: Make it visualWe’ve all heard the cliche: A picture is worth a thousand words.

But that’s only part of the story. Because it implies pictures are substitutes for words. Good images can do more than that. They can also add impact to your words.

I spent the first 20 years of my career as a print journalist. It was all about words. Most of the stories I wrote ran without pictures. Newspapers ran some pictures, but most of their stories were limited to text and a headline. The headline’s job was to grab your attention so you would read the words.

Today’s digital word is far more visual. Facebook, blogs, websites all lend themselves to images. Newspapers, what’s left of them, use far more pictures.

The rest of us should follow their example. I include an image with every blog post I write. I try to include an image with every Facebook post. PowerPoint presentations use as many images and few words as possible. I’m always looking for images to include with what I write.

We can take pictures with our phones. Buy professional photography dirt cheap from stock-photo services. And add them to what we write with a mouse click or two.

So, tell me a story. Make it about me. Keep it simple. And make it visual.

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

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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@JerryBrownPR.com.

Storytelling tip: Put your writing on a diet

 

Storytelling tip: Put your writing on a diet

By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Consultant
www.JerryBrownPR.com

Storytelling tip: Put your writing on a dietJust as too many pounds will make you flabby, too many words will make your writing flabby. So, put your writing on a diet. Slim it down. Make it fitter. And, just as taking off extra pounds is good for your health, taking out extra words is good for your writing.

Start with a goal. Losing weight often starts with stepping on a scale and deciding you need to lose (fill in your number) pounds. You can do the same thing to eliminate flab from your writing. Start with your current word count and decide to eliminate (fill in your number) words. If you get to the new number easily, do it again with a lower number. Keep doing it until you can’t take anything else out and still tell the story you want to tell.

One way to trim off extra pounds is to eliminate empty calories that don’t have nutritional value. One way to trim down your writing is to eliminate empty words that don’t add value to your story. Two words I target for possible elimination: “very” and “that.” For example, “happy” usually works as well as “very happy.” If not, try “ecstatic.” Look for the word “that. “Sometimes you need it. Often you don’t. Delete the ones (that) you don’t need.

Eliminate unnecessary modifiers. Redundant pairs, for example: final outcome, past history, future plans.

Become more active. Being more active is a good way to lose weight. Being more active is a good way to improve your writing, too. Eliminate the passive voice (mistakes were made) with active voice (I goofed) whenever possible.

Being fit isn’t just about how many pounds you weigh. It’s also about muscle tone. You can tone up your writing, too. Using shorter sentences makes your writing easier to understand and remember. One way to do that is to look for opportunities to change commas into periods — changing one long sentence into two shorter ones.

Looking for other ways to trim down your writing? Check out this article. And this one.

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

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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@JerryBrownPR.com.

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