Posts in Storytelling
Start right before you get eaten by the bear: Why you should cut out backstory

I’ve been in 30 minute meetings where 25 minutes was spent on backstory. Long, winding explanation--all in the name of "giving context." I've been guilty of it myself.

This is a losing situation for both sides: If you’re giving so much backstory, it’s less time for you to get advice or feedback. If you’re listening to the backstory, you probably already zoned out.

Cut back on as much backstory as possible. You’d be surprised how little you need to dive into a conversation.

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Technical leaders make these 3 common storytelling mistakes

I recently had the privilege of giving a talk for Backstage Capital and their amazing early-stage portfolio companies. My talk was called “Storytelling for Technical Founders” and I shared how technical leaders can tell better stories.

Here are a few common mistakes and takeaways:

1. Over-reliance on technical details

Real-life is non-linear, but stories are linear. Therefore, stories are always a simplification.

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Why the best technology doesn't always win [Future Tech podcast]

I meet so many smart, talented non-marketers who still believe their idea should sell itself. I'll break it to you now: no idea ever sells itself. You just don't see the leader behind-the-scenes working hard to make their idea seem to spread "organically."

The host of the Future Tech podcast, Richard Jacobs, interviewed me about why the best innovation doesn't always win. We discussed why technical leaders–scientists, engineers, researchers, innovators–need to embrace storytelling.

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Assume your reader will skim, not read

If you are pitching ANYTHING–getting funding, getting a meeting with a decision maker, getting picked to win an RFP…

You should assume that your audience is skimming your note. When your memo arrives, most people are busy doing something else.

They are feeling dull, distracted, or cranky. They are scrolling through their phone. They have 15 browser tabs open and running late.

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Comparisons heighten drama

Before-and-after comparisons tend to catch my eye in magazines or ads. I’ve been thinking recently, why are before-and-afters so alluring? What draws the viewer in? Why do brands use feature these photos?

In general, comparisons heighten drama, because they make the difference between two objects more apparent. Your mind skips over the part where the two items are similar, and will naturally focus on the point of difference. Comparisons direct your attention in an intentional way.

Before-and-afters are a specific type of comparisons, because it shows the same person/object over time.

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Using affirmative phrases: "Do this" versus "Don't do that"

Clarity of language and intent is important. It is to your benefit to be as clear as possible when you speak or write, because clear communication helps you get what you need. Whether you want to change someone's behavior via feedback, or you want them to agree to your suggestion, it helps to understand how words shape the person who's listening.

One way to do this is to speak in the affirmative, rather than the negative.

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Farmer's market vs Safeway

At Safeway, there are pricing signs everywhere that allow you to compare exactly how much something costs. Milano cookies are 2/$5, or a package that's $7 is actually 23.5 dollars per ounce if you break it down. 

There are coupon inserts in the front of the store. There are bright yellow signs saying peaches are $1.99 per pound this week, hanging over the sign that says that they're normally $2.49.

If you go to a farmer's market, GOOD LUCK trying to find how much that organic kale costs. There's typically little mention of price anywhere.

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