|Should stories be dramatic? Incredibly, the answer is NO. Drama comes from the 90% principle.
And this means that your audience needs to know 90% of your story in advance. And that's one of the elements that make storytelling incredibly powerful.
This is Sean D'Souza from Psychotactics.com.
And I'm his evil twin.
You're listening to the Three-Month Vacation podcast. This podcast isn't some magic trick about working less. Instead, it's about how to really enjoy your work and enjoy your vacation time.
What are we going to cover in this episode? Well, we're going to cover five things. The first is the power of the ordinary story. You might think that your story's really ordinary. Well, no. It's the ordinary stories that are really powerful.
The second thing is, how short should your story be? Are you writing a book? Are you doing a presentation? Are you doing a podcast? The length of your story is going to depend on your final output.
Then we move on to what makes a story unmemorable. On Psychotactics we have some of these, very few, but they're there. What makes it unmemorable? How do you turn it around to make it memorable?
We'll also cover this whole issue of personal stories. Not a lot of us like personal stories. Some of us do, and you get used to it, but at first you're not so happy about personal stories. How do you turn that around? How do you use that to your advantage?
Finally, what if you get stuck? What if you get stuck and you want to get a story across but you don't know how to do it? What is the method to get out of that stuckedness, as it were, and get into the story?
Let's start off with the first one which is the power of the ordinary story.
Part 1: The Power of the Ordinary Story
Ordinary story? Why would he have an ordinary story? You have to have a great story.
No, you don't. An ordinary story will do just fine.
One of the things that you'll figure out is how ordinary your stories can be. Now, whenever you're writing stories, you always get this feeling that you have to come up with something that's fancy, something that's unusual, something that people may have not heard before. In fact, the opposite is true.
In fact, the ordinary story is what people can relate to. It's almost like Frank Sinatra singing a song and people wanted him to sing, “New York, New York.” It didn't matter what else he sang, they still wanted the familiar. That's what a signature story really embodies. It really embodies this factor of the familiar.
What you're really doing with a signature story is you're putting in 70, 80, 90 percent of the story as the person has experienced it before. Then you're tweaking that 10 percent, and it is that 10 percent that makes it a signature story. Remember that 90 percent of it still needs to be there in place.
This is what makes the Brain Audit story so memorable. This is what makes the seven red bags story so memorable. You have been at that airport. You have removed those bags. You have done all those activities. When you're thinking about what's different in that story, there's not a lot different. It's just the seven red bags part and maybe a few things here or there. It's seven, it's red bags, pretty much that's it. Everything else stays exactly the same as you're run it before.
This makes for great stories because now I don't have to think of it. When I'm sitting in the audience, I have run through 90 percent of it before. It's just a few things that are missing that I have to fill in, and then I can pass it on. This is the power of the story. It's not just to tell the story, but the ability to pass it on to someone else, who then passes it on to someone else.
If you have all these new things happening and floating around in the story, well, I'm going to forget it. If you're going to tell a story, choose something that people already know, then put in a bit of your stuff and you will find that the stories are very powerful. You don't have to write fancy stories.
Think of the Charles Atlas story. Charles Atlas were these ads that were running a while ago. They had this guy who was a skinny runt and someone kicked sand in his face. We all have that feeling where we're at the beach. We're growing up. We're skinny. We want to get some muscle on us … this is the guys, of course. That was who it was targeted towards. It was that feeling of being second class just because you're not all muscular and the girls aren't looking at you and then everyone's looking down on you. The whole story was already in place in our heads. The only difference were a few tweaks and that's it. That's what made that ad so amazing.
Look at the ad like, “I sat down at the piano, but people were laughing at me. Then I started to play.” Again, the story is already in our heads. We sat down or we sit down with a piece of paper and start to draw and we think people are looking at us. Or we go to cook and people are looking at us, and we have this fear. The moment you turn out that dish, the moment you turn out that drawing, wow. What you have to remember is that some of the greatest stories have already existed. You're just making a little tweak. That's it.
A good question is always the length of a story. How long should a story be? If you read some books like, say, you read Malcolm Gladwell, you will find that a story can extend for several pages, maybe three, four, five pages. The point is that when you're writing an article or when you're using it in a sales letter, you don't have that kind of luxury. You have to get to the point very quickly.
Remember that the goal of the story is not the story itself. The goal of the story is to either make the product clearer to the audience or to make the idea clearer to the audience. When the product is a “me too” product, or seemingly a “me too” product … you're selling just the Brain Audit among hundreds or thousands of other marketing books. Well, what makes it different is the story.
You're selling a disk drive. What makes it different is the story of how you took that disk drive to the gun range and started firing at it and nothing happens. You take a road roller and run it over that disk drive and nothing happens. You douse it in water and nothing happens. Then you get the story of indestructible. The point is that the story doesn't have to be very long. It just needs to do its job and get out of there.
Now, when you're writing a book, you have 200 pages and you possibly have maybe 100 pages. The point is that you've got more space. Does that mean that you're going to write a story that goes over three pages? Well, if you like, but it's not needed. A story can come in quickly, do its job and go away, and then show up later.
That's the power of the connect. We're not talking about that right now, but you get that story and then it goes away. Something else comes in its place and then it comes back again. That's how you start to tweak the story. Your length of your story has to be probably a paragraph, two paragraphs at best, and then you're straight into whatever you want to say, whether it's selling the product or you're talking about something like a concept, like consumption or conversion.
The story's there to get me in as the reader and to keep me there for a couple of paragraphs, and then we're straight into the main show, whatever that main show might be. Keep your stories compact, keep them manageable, a couple of paragraphs at best, and then it's time to move to the main bit.
What makes an unmemorable story? If you look on our website at Psychotactics.com, you will find that there is a story about Santa Claus. Now, that story or analogy was about how Santa can be ethical and yet he starts to grow his business year after year, and how you can be ethical.
Most people don't remember that story. Even I don't remember that story. I had to go back and look for it because someone mentioned it and said, “Is this a good story?” It's a bad story, because what it has is it has nothing special. It has no ups and downs. It has no branding. Is it a short Santa, fat Santa, thin Santa, Santa in shorts? What kind of Santa is it, what kind of 10 percent are we tweaking that story?
When you look at your story, you have to have some points of difference, that 10 percent that we've been talking about. You have to have those points of difference. Also, you have to have certain ups and downs, certain something in it, whereas if you just run a story as is, then you don't get those ups and downs. At story that just talks about Santa and how ethical he is, is not as powerful as a story that has that specific branding, that has a sequence, that has the bounce, that has a rollercoaster.
If you don't get those elements in, the story becomes very unmemorable. You may write it, people may read it, they might still buy your product, they may still read your article, but it's something that you have to work on. It's not something that's easy to pass on, not something that's memorable. You want to ditch that story and get better at your story writing.
Part 2: Personal Stories
One of the biggest problems that people have is when they have to tell personal stories. Personal stories somehow seem very personal. I know that's the obvious, but you don't necessarily want to tell a story that involves you. The way to change that is very simple. You can always turn a personal story into an analogy. The way to do that is just imagine the seven red bags story that you've heard so much about. Well, you can say instead of, “I was standing at the airport waiting for the seven red bags to come off the plane.” You could say, “Imagine you were waiting at the airport and waiting for your seven red bags to come out.” That's it.
That's everything that you need to turn a personal story into somebody else's story or even an analogy. Whether we call it an analogy or metaphor, it doesn't matter what the terminology is here, it's just that you're taking your personal story and you're putting in the “you,” writing it from the “you” point of view. You say, “I was walking down the street going to the supermarket.” You turn it into, “Imaging you were walking down the street and going to the supermarket.” That's it. All you have to do to make a personal story into someone else's story is make the “you” come to the fore, and that's it.
The reason why you would use personal stories is because you have all of that information behind a personal story. Your information might seem mundane to you, but it's not mundane to everyone else, because they've lived through that, and now you're going to tweak it just a little bit. Let's say you've gone to the supermarket to buy something. Well, that's mundane, but what happened that's different in your personal story?
You've gone to the store to buy some Christmas presents at the last minute … and we've all done this. What's different about your personal story? You tried to boot up your computer today and something happened. It failed and something went wrong. It's all happened to us. What's the difference between your personal story and just a mundane story?
That's why we go into personal stories. We go into personal stories because there is that little 10 percent twist that makes it so memorable. That's what we're aiming for all the time, that 10 percent twist that makes it so powerful. However, as we know, we don't have to tell it as, “I did this.” It's just, “Imagine you did that.” In one second, you have changed a very interesting personal story into an analogy. Then you can use that into your article or your sales copy or wherever you choose to do so, but there's the magic. Turn it into “you.”
Part 3: What if You Get Stuck?
We've covered all of these topics about storytelling, but there are times when you think, “Well, I cannot think up a story. I cannot think up a great story.” One of the reasons why we do this is because we think our stories are boring and they're not. Remember, 90 percent of the story has to be boring, and 10 percent of the story is what makes it interesting. It's the embellishment of that makes it interesting.
Let's say you're stuck anyway. At this point in time, you reach back to that one word that we covered in an earlier audio, you figure out what am I trying to say here? I'm trying to say that I want to hesitate, so your one word becomes hesitate. It could be a term which is, “I can't get through this barrier.” Could be a term like that, it doesn’t have to be a single word, but it transposes one thought across.
Then you can go anywhere. You can go on Facebook, you can go on forums, you can go down to the café, meet someone and just bring up your problem and don't say anything else. Say, “Do you have any case studies, any incidents that relate to this situation?”
Now, you're not trying to get them to tell the story themselves, because that's where they will freeze, just like you. You're just bringing up the situation and they are having a conversation with you. In most cases, that will unfreeze you. That will set you off because they will start to tell your story and then you go, “Well, I had a story just like that.” This is what happens with conversations. This is how we have normal conversations. We're talking about, “I went to Dubai for a trip,” and you start to go, “Well, I went to Singapore.” Then they go, “Here's where we got stuck in customs,” and you go, “Oh, here's where we ran into trouble with customs.”
What happens is one story ignites another story. You're not always looking to get the story from them … if you do, that's great. They might be very good at case studies, they might be very good at analogies. They might be very good at stories, but it's very unlikely that the average person does this on a regular basis. For them to pull it up is not easy. However, you want to use them as a springboard for your own story.
You will find that you use this on a regular basis whenever you're stuck, and it will ignite your story. Always use the power of someone else to get that story going. You will find you will never be stuck again. With that, we come to the end of this storytelling series.
Let's go to the summary and find out what we've learned.
The first thing that we learned was the power of the ordinary story and how it's the ordinary story that makes it interesting, that makes it memorable. When you have ordinary, people can remember 90 percent of the story and you have to put in your 10 percent to tweak it. That's the first thing.
The second thing we learned was how short should your story be. Usually when you're writing an article, or even when you're writing a book, you don't need more than a couple of paragraphs. Sure, some writers take two, three pages to write the story, but you don't always need to do that.
The third thing is what makes memorable stories. The memorable stories come from this whole factor of sequence and drama and all of that thrown in. If there is no color to the story, it's simply not memorable. The Santa Claus story was just a story about Santa Claus. It didn't have any character or anything to it so you forget it.
That takes us to the third thing which is how do we turn personal stories into analogies. We just do that with a “you.” You talk about your story and turn it into, “Imagine you were doing this,” and it turns into an analogy.
Finally, what if you get stuck? Always think of that word, the one term, then go online and ask others. They will come up with stuff and that'll set off a trigger in your head, or they will come up with stuff by themselves and you won't have to do so much hard work.
This brings us to the end of the storytelling series. If you haven't already got yourself a copy of the storytelling series on our site, which is at Psychotactics.com, well, go and get it. It's really good, it'll help you formulate all of this stuff, put it together. If you have, well, share it anyway with your friends. Send them this audio, send them a link to this audio. Let them partake as well in this storytelling series.