4 Ideas to Make Storytelling Easier

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I’ve gotten some questions recently about storytelling, and I thought I wold share some of the discussion with everyone. First, let me clarify what I mean about storytelling.

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Tips for telling your story

To me, storytelling can be anytime you’re telling people something. That could be in the traditional sense like a novel or autobiography, or in a marketing sense like a marketing or social media campaign. Instructional design, script writing and video production as well as content development can all fall under storytelling – you’re trying to share information or persuade someone by telling someone something. I look at all these things as storytelling because it puts you more in the mind of getting your information out in a creative and/or interesting way that is more likely to hold interest and make an impact.

With that out of the way,  let’s look at 4 ideas (and a bonus tip) that will hopefully make storytelling easier for you.

  1. Who cares? I know, everyone should care about what you have to say. Unfortunately, that’s not actually true. So ask yourself, who am I telling this story to? Who is going to care from the first word, and who do I want to make care? Spend a few minutes thinking about the audience the piece is for and what you want them to take away from the story your telling.
    Old photo from New Your Times Newsroom of reporters working, on phone and reading

    These guys might care….

    I know that’s the first step in any kind of writing, but too often I see people trying to tell a story, market something or teach something taking a shotgun approach – spreading the information as thin as you can to try to reach as many people as possible. The majority of the time that only makes the story boring and too diluted to have the impact you want.

  2. Watch your language. It’s no secret that when people write for business they write more formally, it’s what we’ve all been taught. But, that’s not always the best option. You need to look at the audience and the story you’re telling. If you’re talking about profit and loss margins something more formal is probably the best choice. If you’re talking about a client’s theme park or telling people about the time you were having such a run of bad luck that your left shoe fell down a sewer grate and you never saw it again, you probably want to be a little more informal.

    What do I mean by informal? Using contractions for one. A lot of people seem to have issues using contractions in their writing, and that quickly makes everything more formal. Word choice is important too! Using slang can also be a big help in making what you’re writing more approachable. If your writing a young adult (YA) romance novel and say, “Would you like to go spend time at the local shopping complex?” versus, “Do you want to go hang out at the mall?” your reader is going to feel like they’re reading a text book – and chances are if they’re reading a YA romance novel they probably get enough of text books in their daily lives and won’t give your novel the time of day.

  3. Let your Medium guide you. I’m not talking about Madam Elaine, Psychic to the
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    Let your medium Guide you!

    Masses, I’m talking about the medium you’re using to tell the story. Are you telling your story verbally or in writing? Are you doing a slide show presentation or blog post? Consider the length of time or space you have to tell the story. Shorten or expand as necessary.

  4.  Say it out loud! One of the easiest and fastest ways to check on how your story sounds is to read it out loud to yourself. Listen to how it sounds. Does it sound too formal? Not formal enough? Is there a sentence that’s hard to understand when you hear it? Is it something that is easy to understand and hit the notes you’re looking to hit? The answers to questions like these will tell you a lot about the writing style you used for the piece (or your writing style in general) and the how others will hear it – even when they read to themselves most of your audience will be hearing their voice saying the words so in a way they are hearing it out loud.

    Bonus TIP! Reverse it! If you’re worried that your writing style or speaking style is too formal and you want to work on that, start verbally rather than in writing. This especially works well if you’re telling your life stories. Record yourself telling the story verbally before you start to write. Listen to it carefully. What do you notice about how you tell the story? Is your word choice different than when you write? Are your sentences shorter? Do you use a storytelling voice that is warm and approachable? Keep these things in mind when you start to write and see the difference it can make in the final product!

I would love to hear from you! Drop me a note and let me know what you think of the post and what tips or ideas you have to make storytelling easier!

No Stories For You!

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I’ll admit that it isn’t always easy to find the story in the content you producing, whether its video, instruction or marketing materials. Sometimes the content is so straight forward (or some might say dry) that it’s pretty much impossible to find the story in it. I get it, I’ve been there too.

Solid rivets

Not all content is riveting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve done a video on the test a single continuous weld (that was riveting – well it was welding, there were no rivets involved). I’ve worked on regulation and planning documents, there’s not much of a story there. Sometimes in instructional design you have to develop content on a subject that is so simple, or so complicated, or bounces back and forth between the two making it difficult to keep a good hold on the thread of the story.

So what do you do? In some cases you can wrap a story around the information. This works really well in instructional design and for writing things like articles and blog posts. Instead of finding the story in the content, you tell a story that you can put your information into. You can draw from case studies, interviews or real life stories if you have them. If not you can get creative and make one up. Be careful if you go this route, if you’re talking about real life information for adults you’re probably going to want a story that sounds like real life and truly believable.

There are times when circumstances, the information or the product don’t let you do that. It still doesn’t mean that the content has to be boring. Look at the audience, the medium and the delivery mechanism and see what you can do to make the information as interesting and compelling as possible. In these cases language choice, sentence structure, writing style, layout and visuals make a huge difference in making your content interesting and memorable.

Finding a story is still a great way to get your point across. It can be an entertaining, educational, memorable (and sometimes sneaky) way to get content to your audience. It’s just not always possible. When it’s not it doesn’t mean your content has to be boring.

5 Tips for DIY Videos for Your Business

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While looking up some websites for business in our new neighborhood, I stumbled upon some more DIY videos that left a lot to be desired. A. LOT. So I thought I would share a few things I noticed that could make be huge improvements. (In the interest of a good neighbor I’m not going to actually post the bad videos. They tried, they really did, and it’s not nice to make fun of people like that.)Video Camera

  1. Keep It Short and Sweet (or the 1st KISS): Attention spans get shorter and shorter. You love your product/store/event, but even you aren’t going to sit through almost six minutes of what is basically a silent film. Pick a purpose or specific topic for and shoot for the video about 30 seconds long. You can create several videos released over time to help you build your audience and create interest in your business.
  2. Keep It Simple, Stupid (2nd KISS): Keep the topics of the video simple. Think food, people, products, location, fun, history…comparing the philosophical debate between Vulcan and Romulus in a 30 second video for a used book store may be a difficult concept for some people to understand. Video of lots of happy people reading big piles of books, better yet buying big piles of books, is easy to understand. Easy to understand usually goes over better with the audience.
  3. Don’t Be Afraid to Go Slow: People have a tendency to quickly pan across shelves and speed through tilts up and down displays. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want it to look boring. Sometimes people don’t know better or think about it. When you move the camera quickly multiple things happen. First, you could make someone sick. Seriously, it can make people motion sick. Second, it looks unprofessional because the quick movement usually also includes bobbing and bouncing camera work as well. Slow even camera work allows the viewer to actually see what you’re trying to show them, get interested in it, and makes them more likely to want to see it in person.
  4. Don’t Be Afraid to Zoom In or Shoot Close-Ups: Wide shots are great for showing viewers what a place looks like, but if you want them to really like something, if you want them to fall in love with a product, then zoom in on it. Show a close-up of a yummy treat your store sells or the detailed bead-work of a one-of-a-kind necklace will draw your audience in and show them the quality of what you sell.
  5. Make the Audience Fall In Love: Pay attention to the little things like the lighting and the sound. Make sure when you shoot the video that the sun isn’t so bright, or it’s so dark, that you can’t see anything. Make sure that there aren’t any strange/annoying sounds in the background. Make sure that there aren’t any songs or signs in the background that could get you in copyright trouble.
  6. BONUS TIP – Have Fun and Be Creative! Have fun with it and get creative, your audience will have fun too. Even if your business is a Victorian Tea Room, there’s no need for your video to be stuffy or boring.

I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions. What tips do you have?

Going Viral – It’s Not As Easy as Catching a Cold

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Over the last couple of years I’ve seen and heard a lot of people talking about wanting to “go viral” – you know having their video or marketing plan take off and get millions of hits, likes or retweets almost over night. I’ve seen people ask how to get their videos to go viral. I’ve seen people post ads looking for someone who can take their company’s marketing plan and make it go viral. I’ve also seen people try to explain, some of them very eloquently, that it’s not that easy. Here’s my take on it.

Looking through a microscope

Looking for the answers to “viral” content.

Going viral is a lot harder than it looks. It’s not like a cold virus where you know what the cause is and the things you can do to avoid it (or catch it if you’re into that). A virus can spread quickly through an office or a home, so can viral content. The difference is the virus likes everyone, viral  content is dependent on people liking it.

Yes, you can do some research and find similarities between things that go viral, and develop an equation for “viral” but it can’t take into account that certain spark. That something that makes people connect with the content. Viral content is like that person who just has something about them that draws people to them – you can’t put your finger on what it is, you just know it’s there.

Most viral content has something new or fresh about it. It often has an emotional aspect that people can connect with. Or it could be something funny (this is probably the most difficult to define or copy because the harder most people try to be funny the less they are). What goes viral today may not work on any other day, which is why I think some videos are posted for months or even years before it suddenly strikes a chord with people. Viral content depends on the moods, likes, dislikes, wants, needs, loves, hates, strengths, weaknesses and more of millions of people lining up exactly right.

I know there are people out there who are willing to sell you the secret to going viral. They make all kinds of promises. They offer workshops, seminars and emailed advice for an amazing low price.  But if you read the fine print, they don’t guarantee anything. They know there are too many intangibles to viral content to make you a guarantee you’ll go viral. Sure they might have some great ideas, but that doesn’t translate to viral content. It’s just like anything else, if they’re making you promises about viral content that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

So how do you go viral? Honestly, I don’t know. I think you develop content that appeals to you and your audience. Work on your message. Make it fun and interesting or the people you’re trying to communicate with. If you’re lucky you’ll find that magical something that catches hold of people like a new virus sweep the world.

Power of Photos and Video in Storytelling

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Sometimes, like with the horrible attack in Colorado last week, we find ourselves trying to tell the story of what happened. Trying to explain it and to make sense of it. Sometimes words are just not enough. That’s where video and photography come in.

A picture is worth a thousand words. The grief-stricken face of someone who’s life has been changed forever. Hands joined in compassion and prayer. Words can describe what you see, but it’s the images that tell the story of loss.

Video has the power to go that step further. Cellphone footage of people running for their lives. Groups of people huddled together crying for relief that they’re alive, out of a kind of terror most of us will never understand and for the loss of innocence and lives. The power of seeing and hearing a crowd gathered, candles flickering, as they try to make sense of it all and find hope in the words that are spoken, can be overwhelming.

It’s this power that pictures and video have that have always drawn me towards these mediums. The way a single picture can find a way to say the things that words can’t seem to. The way a piece of video can draw you in and make you feel. And to do it well, to me that’s a super power.

But there does need to be responsibility with this power. Since the shootings we’ve seen people hungry to show more without a thought for the story they’re supposed to be telling, or for the people being touched by their work. Everyone wants that one great shot. But in times like these, especially in situations like this, we must not lose site of the real life pain and suffering of the people whose stories we’re trying to tell. As responsible storytellers we should never increase someone’s suffering to tell our story instead of theirs.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.

Video Blessings in Disguise

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A few weeks ago I saw this great story about two Vancouver film students trying to track down Morgan Freeman for their film final. First, it’s just awesome in and of itself. But it also speaks to something else. Video blessings in disguise.

I have lost projects. I’ve had footage turn out to be trash. I’ve had a full day’s worth of interviews pretty much ruined because the back-focus of the camera went out while I was on location and there was very little I could do about it. But, most of the time, things seemed to work out. Mistakes and issues and things seeming to go to hell-in-a-hand-basket can force you to think more creatively. They can steer your project in a direction you never saw. On more than one occasion the replacement piece I did when my masterpiece fell apart turned out to be 100 times better – the storytelling was tighter and the flow was better because I had a better feel for it.
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The same is true for all kinds of things in life and work. So many times the things we’re ripping our hair out over today will turn out to be something that made all the difference in our lives. Sometimes it’s the delays and wrong turns that point us in the right direction.

Oh, there will still be swearing and gnashing of teeth the next time a project goes wrong. But I’ll try to remember the lesson I’ve learned, the lesson those two really cool guys just learned, sometimes a video problem is a blessing in disguise.

Go with Your Gut

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In storytelling, video production, marketing…heck LIFE…there are times you reach a crossroads. times when you need to make a decision. Times when you need to choose a direction. I would take just a moment to offer a little advice. Go with your gut.

That little voice deep inside you telling you what to do, which direction to choose or what option is best. For some reason most of us have a tendency to ignore that voice. We sit and worry and wonder and generally stress out rather than trust ourselves. It just happened to me – I was so worried about what was right and how to do it that I kept out-thinking myself. In the end, I trusted my gut (which told me to trust my experience and training) and things worked out really well.

There are times when you know what’s right. You can feel it. Trust that feeling. It really applies to everything…whether it’s you should go back and re-edit a video or which tagline to use or picking a place to live or whether you should keep dating the person you’re seeing. Your gut, your instinct will rarely steer you wrong.