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So What’s Your Story?

Last week’s post was about living a thrilling and storyworthy life, which involved looking for the headline, or bigger story, among the choices that are presented to us.

Today’s topic is using headlines to become better storytellers. So that every time you’re called on to make dazzling first impression – whether you’re on an interview, audition, new business pitch, etc. – you deliver your story in the most riveting and relevant way.

What are the characteristics of a great story?

There’s the hook (“You had me at hello”), energy or flashiness, cadence… these things help us decide in an instant if we’re interested in listening or if it’s time to nap with our eyes open. You know exactly what I’m talking about because we solve this problem for our clients all the time in advertising. What’s the headline that’s going to sell the product? What’s the unmet need we must answer?

Bleary-eyed brand managers come to us, suffering under the burden of extreme product knowledge and regurgitate features. It’s our job to prioritize – to conceive of the hook, flashiness and cadence that make something irresistible.

When you start to list details and events, you become the bleary-eyed brand manager. Don’t beat yourself up. People don’t instinctively think of their lives as a narrative so they default to describing events as they occurred. “The villain of getting ideas across is the curse of knowledge,” says Chip Heath, who wrote the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. “When you know something well, like every detail of your life, it’s difficult to figure out how to tell someone who doesn’t know.”

The trick is to sell instead of tell.

Repackage the facts and details in a way that’s entertaining, relatable, meaningful and memorable. You’re making a movie, not a documentary. It’s starting blocks on race day, Lolo, not jogging around the neighborhood in sweats.

Begin with your resume, or with the interview question “Tell me about yourself.” Who’s asking? What do they want to know? What are the five ideas that you absolutely, positively have to get across to win the job? What’s the outcome you want and how do you achieve it?

A narrative begins to emerge. An outline. Now just fill in the blanks in creative way, like Mad Libs. Go for hyperbole.

  1. Start with a showstopping headline. Make sure you’ve their attention.
  2. Describe something they can relate to. This gives you credibility/likeability.
  3. Give them an insight about you. Say something funny, perceptive, smart, vivid that will stick in their minds.
  4. Tell your story as if you’re asking a question to the President. Keep it concise and precise. Pick up your cadence if you’re losing them.
  5. Sum it up. Deliver the punchline. Tell them the moral of the story.

Finally: Ever notice how stories get better each time you tell them? You’re editing, refining, adding flourishes. You probably shouldn’t write out the whole thing verbatim. That can sound rehearsed and come off as insincere. But you should be prepared to navigate from headline to key selling points to outcome without getting lost.

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