The Write Stuff
By Alan Crawford,
“This is a story about mail and packages. And it’s also a story about people.”
So begins a recent U.S. Postal Service commercial, except it’s not a story at all. There is no beginning, middle or end. There’s no conflict and resolution. There’s no plot — just that flat assertion at the opening, written, one has to assume, by an ad agency that has learned how important stories are.
As the old Geico ads say, “Everybody knows that.” Everybody has been told how a compelling narrative is vastly more persuasive than a barrage of data and argument. And one result, as Rob Biesenbach explains in PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics, is that we try too hard and “make storytelling too complicated.” We also expect too much.
“TED Talks have psyched us out,” says Biesenbach, the Second City-trained actor and consultant who helps business leaders escape “death by PowerPoint.” We watch expert speakers “and feel pressured to tell stories that send people into gales of laughter or rivers of tears. But not every story has to have a huge, dramatic moment.”
It might in fact behoove us to stop thinking in terms of stories per se. For starters, don’t tell your audience you are going to tell them a story. Just tell them the story, and if you’re afraid it might feel weak — compared with War and Peace, they all do — “maybe don’t use the word ‘story’ if you think it’s going to trigger them,” Biesenbach writes. “Call it an example or anecdote or experience.”
But by all means, do not tell them you are going to tell them a story and then not follow through. Do that, and the next story you hear will be about your being run out of the ballroom on a rail.
ANNOYING WORD OF THE MONTH: Unceremoniously. No one these days is simply fired, let go, laid off, forced to take an early retirement, given an offer they can’t refuse or dismissed. If they’re in the public eye at all, they are “unceremoniously” dumped.
Having suffered this indignity in my own life — being informed that my services would no longer be required — I am as sensitive to reductions-in-force as the next person in the soup line.
But I still cringe whenever I read that someone else has been “unceremoniously” sent packing. That’s because I can’t help but wonder what a “ceremonious” sacking might look like. Instead of building security escorting you out the door, what would you expect? Something like a coronation, with “ruffles and flourishes”? An open carriage like the one that transported Kate and William on their wedding day, except this one takes you quickly and directly to the nearest exit? Please tell me.