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best practices

best practices

Books that made me better at storytelling and communications

The other day someone asked me about my favorite books as a professional. Here is a short list of my favorites of the moment. I would love to know yours! On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King Writing is hard. Write for one person. Adverbs are lame. Edit your butt off. Part memoir, part manifesto. If you need a reminder that even the best of the best struggle, give this book a whirl. He really is the…

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best practices

Keep your story from being a kitchen sink

What’s the saying…even bad pizza is good? Like publicity? What if I told you about a pizza that had, instead of a boring traditional cornicione (can you believe I learned the word for the rim around a pizza on the very day I was writing this?!), a “crown” of hamburgers. The commercial aired in the Middle East, selling the unbridled awesomeness of capitalism and heart plaque. It bummed me out about America. Keep the point in mind the whole time. I remembered this pizzatrocity while…

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best practices data stories

How to know when a story should be kept quiet

Sometimes, silence is golden. A week ago, I was lucky enough to work with an organization changing the game for young people through mentorship. I taught a workshop for a dozen of its advocates and every story they created was genuine and impressive. Some stories were worth shouting from the rooftops but some they shouldn’t even whisper. Why not? Story, vision, and data are besties who should never fight. It’s so simple you might take it for granted. Every story you tell about…

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best practices self-advocacy

Until you make a decision, you have nothing at all

For goodness sakes just pick something. And stir up some trouble, wouldya? Most of the stories we write for work are about true events that already happened. But sometimes we have to write about something yet to pass, like a vision. Or we’re sharing a hypothetical to explain a possibility. That’s when we have to decide what the protagonist will do. Oh so many options. Oh so much analysis paralysis. Stop worrying about the right choice and just make one, preferably something that causes a rumble. Read this pep talk from…

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best practices character selection self-advocacy

You’re not the boss of me

The other night, I gave a guest lecture to a public relations class of working professionals. The students had lots of stories and even more questions, including one that stuck with me. A major l’esprit de l’escalier situation. Too bad you can’t retrofit emotion. A student was tinkering with a story about an engineer (protagonist) who worked on a tricky project (full of obstacles) in order to save his company money (objective). She was stumped because she had the first layer of parts to start but couldn’t pinpoint…

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best practices brand stories persuasion

Objective versus impact. Don’t get ’em twisted

Every protagonist needs an objective that is to scale. I recently worked with a fabulous university communications team that ran into a very common problem with storytelling. They started their stories with wonderful protagonists (often faculty or students doing impressive work) but by the time they drafted the objectives of those stories (what the protagonist could humanly achieve) they were thinking too big for the story. They were conflating the objective with impact. Objective and impact are different. If you…

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best practices

Story and history are not the same (for my lawyer friends)

A friend of mine, a county prosecutor, invited me to do a presentation with him about storytelling to an audience of attorneys. I learned a lot about the attorney frame of mind from him as we prepared. My big takeaway was that while they can be more skeptical than my usual nonprofit audiences, many attorneys face the same challenge—that good ol’, “I gotta tell ’em everything right from the beginning or they won’t get it!” myth. Comprehensive = Cluttered Telling…

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best practices

Sounds Good Man

Andy Goodman, nonprofit storytelling guru and author of free-range thinking published an insightful article called Sound Advice for Telling Stories about audio storytelling. It was a thoughtful reminder that the audience can still “see” your story without visuals. “A human story, well-told, is enough to capture an audience’s attention…People don’t need to see something to engage.” Moreover, crappy visuals can’t compensate for lack of a good story. Visit the Goodman Center site for other rich storytelling resources.…

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best practices character selection

You Say Community, I Say Crowd

Just a tiny word of caution about telling stories starring “the community.” Substitute the word “crowd” for “community” and see how it feels. For example, “Solutions to strengthen the local crowd.” The term is broad and ultimately yields a faceless mob. Be descriptive. Do your listener a favor and add descriptors (e.g., the Latinas over age 80 community). Once you have a descriptor in place, your listener will have a group he can picture. Truth is, once you have those…

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best practices

Love that Big Ol’ But

Check out this interview with Dr. Howard Suber, of the UCLA Producers Program. One part that stood out to me was his answer to the question, “What do all great stories have in common?” Dr Suber responds: The word “but.” Which is to say inexperienced or poor storytellers structure their material with the words “and” or “then.” So “They did this, and then they did that, and then they did this, and then they did that,” which produces an episodic…

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