5 Storytelling Guidelines
So, let's go through five storytelling guidelines, that will have people binge-reading your copy, like their favorite TV show. Now, "Storytelling is the most powerful way "to put your ideas into the world." This is from Robert McKee. He is an amazing screenwriting coach, and I love this quote! Alright, so let's go through our first guideline. Don't try to be perfect! I can't tell you how many stories, particularly ones for business, have us sounding like we're this perfect specimen, like a prince in a Disney fairytale, right? And there's nothing, there's no journey there. There's nothing interesting! If you want people to fall in love with you, share a story about a time when you made a painful mistake. Maybe, when you succumbed to peer pressure, in some way, or you learned a big lesson, because these types of stories are what people connect with. They're so much more interesting than the perfection stories. And if you say, I have the most wonderful life ever, with no problems at all, ...
(chuckles) no one wants to work with that person, right? They all wanna know, that... We've been where they are. So, you all help people, with something. With a struggle... Something in their lives, that they need help with, or something in their business. Now, more than likely, you don't struggle with that same thing. Because, you're an expert in it, or you've done it for a numerous amount of years. So, you're not struggling with that. So, you don't wanna come to the gate, and be like, I am, I have all of this expertise, and everything is so wonderful, because that's not going to connect. In fact, you wanna show them a bit of the journey. So, when was a time, that that didn't work out for you? And when was a time, that it did? So, let's say, if you are someone, that does leadership coaching... You have to show, that there is some place in your life, it doesn't have to be current, it could be a past story, that you had a problem, leading. And then, how did you overcome that problem? Like, where did you go, from A to B? There had to be, for me, I'm a marketing coach, writing coach. And so, I have to talk about times, when things weren't so good. I have to talk about times, when my marketing failed, and I do this a lot, through content, and even in copy. I talk about how I built a business, initially, that was very profitable, but I was completely burnt out, working 16 to 18 hour days. I was sobbing, in my office, constantly. I was just a complete emotional wreck. Like I said earlier, I was waving the flag, like, anyone that wants to give me money, and I didn't have any... (laughs) Any kind of conscious decision-making abilities, to really even know who my ideal client was, and I definitely wasn't doing anything, to make sure that was welcoming that person in, and turning off the people that weren't. It just was a free-for-all. So, that was very sad Melissa, (laughs) at the time! And then, I started slowly realizing, the things, of the error of my ways, and I started turning things around. So, that's a larger story. A lotta times, I will chop that down, into bits and pieces, or something that I did this past year, that was really popular, and might be helpful for all of you is... I did a six-part story. So, I treated it like a six-episode miniseries, of my business journey. And I started all the way, from the beginning, of sad Melissa, (laughs) and then morphed all the way, into Melissa today, but there were lots of ups and downs, and bumps along the road. So, just because I was sad Melissa, 15 years ago, doesn't mean I was like, yay, happy Melissa today, and it went in this very linear way. That's a super boring story. You all know, if you think of any movies, or TV shows that you like, it doesn't go, from here we are, sad and despondent, and then here we are, happy and joyous! There's all of these waves, because otherwise, we would check out. So, there's always gonna be things thrown into the mix, and curve balls, and like, oh no, all is lost, oh wait, I'm great again! And that's the twist and turns, that are exciting, and we all have them in our lives. We just don't actively think about them. So, doing these kinds of exercises, where you stem through your life, or think about past experiences, and say, what were the bumps? What were the twists and turns? What were the ups and downs? And all of those things are so valuable, for your audience. So, you can share them, and we'll talk about this more, sharing them in your copy, you can write content about them, you can do like what I did, where it's like this serialized version, like a TV show, and you share your whole, wide business journey. Some people do that in a book! It's totally up to you. That's the cool thing, as business owners, we can do whatever we want, 'cause we get to make the decisions. But, don't try to be perfect, is really a great guideline, and it spurns so many ideas for stories, because we all have these bumps, (clears throat) and ups and downs, and... Shoot, being an entrepreneur is like a rollercoaster. Alright! Then, think about how you want people to feel! So, share stories, they can be stories about yourself, stories about your work, stories about your clients, and customers, that bring a particular emotion into your reader's heart. So, this is gonna be different, for all of our businesses. Not everyone wants people to feel the same way. On first glance, we might say, well yeah, we want everybody to feel like, excited to buy! (chuckles) And that would be a valid feeling! If that is what you want people to feel, fine, but some of us want people to feel a different way, when they step into their business, or they encounter you in any way. So, even if they accidentally stumble on your homepage, let's say, on your homepage of your website, how do you want them to feel? Do you want them to feel, like there's endless possibility? Is that what you wanna invoke? Do you want them to feel like they're completely frazzled, and stressed out, and you want them to feel instant calm? So, there's so many different ways, that we can feel, like endless, endless emotions. There's also a book, by the way, called The Emotion Thesaurus. We use it all the time, in screenwriting. But, if you struggle a little bit, about like, I don't know how I want people to feel, then that's kind of a fun place to play, so that you're not always relying on the emotion of, I want people to be happy, or excited! Again, they're all valid emotions, but maybe there is something a little different, something a little bit more visual, and vivid, and exciting. A way, that you can describe to people. And again, this could be externally, that you actually say, like when people come into my world, I want them to feel this way. That's fine, to say that, in your copy. Or, you just keep it on the back end, and everything that you craft, everything that you do, in your business, from your offers, your products, your services, your copy, any way that you show up, can just have that feeling. You can use it like a benchmark. A little marker, for yourself. Okay. Who are you talking to? So, not every story is right for every audience. And it's important, to consider who you're talking to, and what your intention is, with that person. So, as we say, in the entertainment business, always know your audience. So, think about their reality. So, the people that you really wanna work with, and we're not talking about sad Melissa, who was like, anybody that'll give me money! We're talking about your business, and who your ideal client is. Some of you probably have a favorite client, and so I like to use a favorite client as the ideal client. They can be your little model of that person. If you don't have that, because you're just starting out, then you have to play a little imagination game, and think about who you wanna work with, and you will refine it, over time. You will get to know that better, and that's okay. Business is always evolving. Don't worry about it, if you don't get it exactly right on the first try. But, really think about who you are talking to. This is often a place, in copy, where there's a huge disconnect, because we're not meeting people where they are. We're expecting them to be where we are, but they're usually not, because they're coming to us, to get to that place. So, it's a really big distinction, and a very important distinction, to look at. So, I'll give you a couple of examples. And... So, let's say you're someone, that helps people with their finances. Okay, this is what you do, and you not only help them get their finances under control, but you're also empowering them, to say, you can reach all of these amazing financial goals. It's possible for you. So, there's a lot of this endless possibility theme, running through your business. It's the feeling, that you want people to have. A lot of abundance. However, your ideal client, let's say, is someone who is maybe in bankruptcy, and they're in a financial situation, that they feel like they can't dig out of. They have a lot of debt, whatever it is. They're not making the income that they want. So, their mindset right now, is in this situation, that I just feel like I'm worried, and I'm never gonna get out of. So, while your message is amazing, I love that somebody would be all about abundance, and possibility, and getting to that next level. That may be too much of a disconnect, for your ideal client, because they're feeling like they're buried. They can't even see, or imagine a place, where they have no credit card debt. They can't even see that. So now, if you're talking about abundance, and making endless amounts of cash, and taking luxury vacations, or whatever, then they're like whoa! (laughs) Way too fast! I just want to not have credit card debt. So, those are the kinds of things I see, a lot, in client and student copy, is that they're imagining this big, beautiful world, which I love, and I think it's totally valid and awesome, but at the same time, you have to scale it, in your copy, to meet your clients, where they are. That doesn't mean, you can't take them, to this abundant, magical place, it just means to be mindful, and sensitive, of where they are right now. So, it's a really good distinction, a really great place to think about. Another place, that this ends up sometimes going wrong, is using too much industry jargon, and this is really common, when we spend a lot of our time with our peers, and not enough time with our clients. And I'm not against peer groups, or networking with peers, or masterminds. I do this as well. But realize, when you spend a large amount of your time, both with your peers, or reading peer-based work, so maybe you're listening to podcasts in your industry, or reading... Articles, from your industry. That everything you're soaking in, is essentially from you, and your peers, and you're all speaking this very specific language. And then, your clients, again, remember, they're at a different space. They're coming to you, to get to whatever space you're in, or whatever space you're promising, and then there's this huge disconnect in the middle. So, you're speaking a language, because you speak it everyday, not realizing that your client's like, I don't even know what that means. They may not even know what the word, or phrase means, or they may interpret it in a different way. So, I like to just be mindful, in business, to flip the script, on how much time you're spending with your peers, verse how much time you're spending, hanging around, with your clients, or observing clients. So, if your clients converge in a Facebook group online, or they're really active on some social network, mark that in your calendar, to go, and just be an observer. You don't even need to join the conversation. You can just see what they're saying, see what they're talking about. Then go, oh! What I would say, is this. They're actually calling this. This happened to me, years ago. It was the strangest thing. I used to be in public relations. That's what we call it, it's the official name. And so, I always was like, I'm a public relations practitioner! That was literally my job title! Well, no one knew what the heck that was! None of my clients knew, but all my peers knew, and we had a peer group. I mean, there's a big, national, international organization, for public relations practitioners. So, I'm like, what? This makes no sense! How does people not know this? And I just remember feeling so confused! And then, I just listened to my clients, and not only were they not using, they didn't know what public relations was, at all. They were like, what? Not only that, they didn't even really know what the word publicity was, the word marketing was, the word media relations was. All they would say, is they're like, "I wanna be on Oprah." Literally, that's what everyone would say! So, I realized, that when I'm talking to them, I had to use that phrase! Now, I can't promise, or I couldn't at the time, 'cause Oprah doesn't have that show anymore. But, the time she had her awesome daytime talk show, and everybody wanted to be on it! And of course, I couldn't promise my clients, that I could get every one of them a slot on Oprah. But, what I could say is, I get people on TV, and in magazines, or I get people on TV, like Oprah. So, I can give them that example, so then they're like, "I wanna be on TV! "I wanna be in a magazine!" That connected so much more, and it was just that simple change, of just referring to my work as, I get people on TV, as opposed to, I'm a public relations practitioner! So, again, I know that probably sounds so silly, and not even this huge jump, but it was just that little fine line, of changing how I spoke to my clients, that really, really made the difference. And then, all of a sudden, people were coming in droves, and it was really interesting to see that distinction. So, just know who you're talking to, and constantly check back in, with your audience, either observing them, or talking to them directly. Alright. Then, you wanna sprinkle in sensory details. I love this! When you write stories, for your business audience, I want you to think about how things look, and feel, and smell, and sound, and taste. These are all the senses. So, you don't have to turn every single sentence of your copy, into this sensory experience, because you'll drive yourself crazy. It'll be like this 600 page novel, by the time you're done! Like, the dewy grass! You don't need all that. Too much! But, just go through, and think about how can you describe something more visually, so that it comes alive? So, an example might be, let's say you want to speak in your copy, about people feeling nervous. So, you could just say, you feel nervous, (chuckles) or I know you're nervous. Which is fine! But, there could be a better way, to say that. Maybe, this is where you sprinkle in a sensory detail. So, you might say your palms get sweaty. The heat rises. Just like those little details, about how it feels. And that book I mentioned earlier, The Emotion Thesaurus, that actually has that in there, where it'll have an emotion, and it's like here are common phrases, or physical things that happen to you, when you feel this emotion. So, it'll say how your skin feels, what things smell like, what things look like, when you're viewing through this emotion. I think that's so fascinating, 'cause we do that as humans! But, you can use that simple exercise, and just make copy pop off the page. So, instead of nervous, adding in one of those things, just make the copy come, 'cause then, they feel! Instead of just reading, you are nervous, okay, then that's just gonna go by. But, if we read a copy about our palms being sweaty, you automatically get that feeling. It's this weird, this little psychological thing that happens. And that's why novels are awesome. And so, that's what we want everyone to feel, when they read our copy. So again, just pick, I would say, for every piece of copy you write, maybe just think about two or three sensory details. Just do a little comb through, and say, alright, how can I change that word? So, don't go crazy! Also, I know that will take you way too long, for editing. And at the end of the day, we just need the copy on the page. (laughs) So, we don't wanna go too crazy! Alright, oh my goodness! This is a big one! Don't start at the beginning! So, skip the boring backstory, and jump right into the action. So... It's interesting, because... I had this happen recently, where I met a friend at, or I ran into a friend, I didn't meet them there, but ran into a friend, at a grocery store, and she was like, "I have the most crazy story!" And I'm like, really, what is it? And then, she literally started! She's like, "Well, I woke up, and then I went downstairs, "and then I had coffee, and I tripped over my dog, "and then my husband was late," and it was all these things, and I'm like, yeah? And I'm waiting! And I'm waiting for the story. And the story actually didn't take place, until she was wheeling her cart into the store, which had nothing to do with all the previous details about tripping over the dog, and doing that! And I was like, so, it was a half-hour story, and then it wasn't interesting, at the end. I'm not even sure, to be honest! I think I just glazed over, and I'm not even sure what the crazy part was, because I kept waiting, for the punchline! (laughs) And nothing ever came! Or, maybe it did, but I was so bored by that point, that I was just looking for an excuse to get out of it. So... When you're writing your copy, I actually see that a lot. That's an extreme example, but I do see this a lot, in copy, where we go to tell a story, and we wanna start all the way from the beginning, 'cause we're afraid they're gonna miss an important, crucial detail! We're like, if we don't share that, then they won't emotionally understand how we got to this! This is also very common, by the way, in screenwriting. We all do this! And every time you submit a script, and then all the executives take it, and they slash at it, and give you a million notes, this is always the thing they do. They just chop out all kinds of things. So, you write a three-page scene, you get it back, it's one page. It's constant! So, I want you to go into your copy, with that same kind of red pen edit, and really realize, is this helping move the story along? Do I really need this detail? And it's just a, it's actually a fairly quick edit, in that after you write it, and I would say, when you sit down, to write your copy, don't worry about this, necessarily, at the beginning, because sometimes, we need to star all the way at the beginning, to get to the good story. Just, mentally, we need to do it. I don't necessarily need to do it, because this is what I do for a living. But, for those of us, that are not professional writers, in a narrative sense, you may need to do this exercise, be like, no, those details are crucial! And then, you can go back, in the next round, and just go, you know what, they really weren't that crucial. But, it help me write it. It got it on the page. So, you do you, whatever works best, but just know, that the story's gonna be better, without all the extra fluff, at the end of the day. So, you either chop, in the beginning, if you feel comfortable, or write it all out, in a big, flowery, six page saga, and then you can start to chop, after that.