10 Tips on How To Tell a Good Story
May 31, 2014
This past week I had the pleasure of attending a conference for pet health insurance groups. It was illuminating in so many ways! Did you know that pet health insurance only reaches 1.5% of the American public with pets? I was pretty surprised by that stat. Surely, I thought, prior to attending the event, EVERYONE knows about pet health insurance! Sad to discover I am wrong in a big way - too many pet parents out there are either woefully ignorant of this option for the health and well-being of their pets, or... they misunderstand it.
I spoke at the conference. My presentation was on voice. How to use your voice in social media, with purpose, to be exact. The main point was to tell a story. Here are some thoughts I've had since the conference, on how to tell a story. It's not as simple as some folks think, and it's not as hard as other folks think.
1. Be yourself.
It has to be your story. Something you've done, dreamed of, experienced, or contributed to in real life, that is relevant to your audience. This means you must know your audience. Who are they? How do they use social media? What's their purpose in visiting your website or blog? Your story is important to them because everyone loves a good story.
2. Leave the boasting at home.
It's okay to talk about something you've done successfully. Just don't boast. You show success by telling a story about the project or campaign. In this case, for pet health insurance, you might share a claim (without invading the pet's or the pet parent's privacy)... and even show pictures. Ask for permission if you use pictures. It's seldom that folks will not allow you to use a picture, as long as you provide proper citation.
3. Feature stupendous pictures.
Pictures and video are not only entertaining, they're engaging. People prefer a video or a picture to just words. As a wordsmith, I love writing and I challenge myself to use the right word, in the right way, every day. But, I also acknowledge the high power of pictures and video. Short and to the point works best. If your video is over 2.5 minutes, think about breaking it into a series of videos. If your picture has too much in it, if it's too 'busy', think about ways to convey the meaning using just part of the picture.
4. Study writers.
This is imperative to good writing. I write all the time, daily, and yet, I still read books on how to do it better. I am all about good writing. Don't think you have to be Stephen King or Nora Lofts or a Huffington Post reporter, to be a good writer. Be natural and authentic and check your spelling and grammar. Study how other writers do what they do.
5. Challenge Yourself to Write daily.
Even if it's a letter to your mother. Write about your day. Keep a journal. Talk to yourself, with your pen. Re-read everything you write and take time to say it out loud. You'll discover a myriad of 'issues' when you read your writing out loud. Some will be blatant confusion..."Did I write that? I don't even know what it means!" Some will be spelling and grammar problems. Others will just inspire you to edit your work and make it better!
6. Don't agonize over the content.
This may seem to go against much of the previous advice but it doesn't. Here's what I mean: write your story, review it, edit it if necessary, and let it go. Like a child that's grown and ready to meet the world, your story must go out on the web and stand on its own merit. If you've taken the time, if you've let it set and reviewed it carefully, if you've added the right pictures and supporting facts, it's ready to go. Waiting too long makes it irrelevant. Some of us can go back and redo a story a hundred times, and still not be satisfied. Don't be that someone. Give it one or two edits, no more. If it needs more than that, it's not a story for you or your audience. Set it aside and revisit it in a week or two. Then, write a new story.
7. Use verbs. Not adverbs.
Greater minds than mine will tell you to review your story and remove these words, if you've used them: Very... few things are 'very' anything - they either are what they are or they are not; That - try it, remove the word 'that' and see if your story is better off. Most words that end in "ly"... adverbs are crutches, for the most part. Give your story a chance to stand on its own ...merit. If you've used the correct verbs, you will find adverbs unnecessary.
8. Craft a great title!
Titles are your first introduction. Many people will not click on a story if the title is boring. Copyblogger says to "create a benefit:, "ask a question"; "create a debate", along with several other suggestions. Titles should also be SEO supported. Use power words - strong verbs work best. Here's a link to a list of fantastic power words! Use them wisely! (the greatest thing about power words is that you can write your story and then GO BACK and add the power words you forgot to use!) w00t!
9. Offer solid information or advice.
A story is not much use if the reader can't learn something. Every bit of information we share, whether in a group setting, one to one, or privately, on the phone, is shared to convey information for the listener's use. Think about that. If all we do is blah blah blah, like a Charlie Brown cartoon character, what use is the story we're telling? As your listener, or reader, I need to receive value from you. I need to walk away with information that helps me get through the rest of the day, helps me talk to my boss or co-workers, adds to my knowledge of a particular topic I'm passionate about, or gives me resources to tap into. In literature, the moral is always inherent - it links to illuminating the human condition and how we can be better humans if we but... do whatever the hero/heroine did.
10. Always, always, always understand this one important tip: non-fiction is story-telling every bit as much as fiction is story-telling.
Human beings thrive on story-telling. Who doesn't love a good story? Your experience working with kids in your volunteer group is a story the world wants to hear. Your days spent in fifth grade, saving the kid in the desk next to you from bullies, is a story the world will flock to. Your last meeting at work, where three people collaborated on a campaign that was troubling from day one, and figured out the solution, is a great story for sharing online. Story-telling involves sharing. That's why social media is so popular. Even the banal stories are appealing to someone.
As seen on Facebook. Wish I knew who made this image. If you know, share so I can give proper credit. If it's you, let me know so I can credit you. GREAT image, regardless.
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