25 Aug

You’re Wasting Your Story, Part 2

You have a great story. I know you do. And yesterday I told you you’re wasting it by telling the story you want to hear.

But you may be wasting your stories another way—by telling a story that’s already over.

The thing about good stories is you can see yourself in them. You want to see how they end, and you want to feel that, even through silent urging, you can somehow choose your own adventure.

That’s where a lot of of us fail as storytellers. We’re so used to the typical construct of beginning-middle-end that when we construct our stories—brand stories or otherwise—we all too often tell a story that doesn’t have an obvious place for the person we’re talking to:

This is what I did. Here’s what happened to me. Past tense.

The passion, the facts, the importance of your product or service—or cause—mean nothing if the people you’re talking to don’t see how they can benefit (or, in the case of nonprofits, how they can produce benefit).

I learned this lesson quite powerfully working at Harvard Medical School, where I was charged with developing a communication strategy to support the School’s fundraising efforts. In that case, the stories we told were impressive. Even Nobel Prize-winning. But if you tell people what’s already been discovered, without making it clear all that is still unknown, they have no idea how they could effect change, how to make a difference. They may be impressed, but they won’t be motivated to act. For that they have to see how they can either (a) have an effect on or (b) be affected by what you do.

We love success stories, particularly in the form of case studies. But those stories are over. Done. No opportunity for change.

Think about it: how often do we tell stories that start in medias res (quite literally, in the middle of things)? We don’t. But think about the last time a story got you to do (or buy) something. I bet that story had a beginning. And maybe even a middle. But the ending was left up to you.

So pair your success stories with other stories, this time where the ending is unclear. You’ll make it nearly impossible for someone not to want to take part.

Note: this post originally appeared on ‘Round the Square as “The other way you’re wasting your story.”