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5 Tips for Telling a Story Worth Listening To

My dad had all sorts of great one-liners. They seemed to come out of his mind and mouth quickly and appropriately for any occasion. For a skinned knee, he would always say, “It’ll feel better when it quits hurting.” When it came to love, he often reminded me, with a wink, “It’s just as easy to marry for money as it is for love.” (I married for love, in case you’re wondering.) And when it came to my career, he encouraged me to aim high, explaining, “It’s better to aim high and miss just a little than to aim low and be right on the bull’s eye.”

Columnist Regina Brett from The Plain Dealer of Cleveland shared that same tip with participants recently in a Content Marketing World breakout session on emotion and storytelling. Brett encouraged those of us in the room — whether we’re writing for a newspaper, a personal blog or a corporate website — to pick a bull’s eye and go for it. To aim high or not even bother.

While I walked away with a full page of notes from her session and probably 20 tips for telling a great story, 5 from my list are definitely favorites:

  1. “Put a face on it.” Say you run a hospital with the highest birth rate in the state. Instead of spouting off numbers and statistics in your writing, talk about specific babies or the doctors and nurses who give them such exceptional care.
  2. “Circle the wagons.” If your manufacturing plant runs on the sweat of employees who have been there for 20 or 30 years, instead of writing from the corporate viewpoint, share the point of view of one of those employees. Brett called it “hearing the story through different ears” and seeing it through a different set of eyes.
  3. “Show me, don’t tell me.” Do the words alone do your story, blog post or article justice? Would a picture make a positive impact? What about an infographic?
  4. “Tell a big story small.” There was a huge music festival in Austin this weekend — Austin City Limits. It brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city and puts millions of dollars into the economy. Our local newspaper ran many stories on the festival, one of which focused on a 9-year-old boy who had been to the festival every year since it started when he was only 10 months old. Telling the story from his viewpoint makes a big story small.
  5. “Edit.” It just takes a couple of minutes. Read it out loud. Email it to yourself and read it in a different font. Go eat lunch and come back to read it again. Just make sure you give every piece a good once (or twice) over.
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