It’s a Great Story, but Does It Achieve Your Objective?

February 4, 2019

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When I was 3 years old, I had a near-fatal asthma attack. My doctor looked my mother in the eye and said, “You need to take him to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Go home, pack a bag quickly and get him there.”
 
She followed his instructions. The hospital staff did not expect me to make it through the first night. But thanks to its dedicated professionals, some luck, and whatever you choose to believe in, decades later I’m still around to submit articles to PR publications.

You may wonder what this story has to do with my topic. Nothing. There is no reason for me to start this piece with that story. So why did I do it? To illustrate the point that many communicators make the mistake of starting articles or speeches with catchy stories that end up being irrelevant to the larger messages they wish to convey.

How often have you sat through a speech that began with a joke about a duck, or a quote by a great person from history, or a video that cracked you up? Frequently, I’m sure. And how many times did you walk away from that speech only remembering the joke, quote, or video, and not the points the speaker wanted to make? Way too many.

Stories that match objectives

As communicators, we spend our careers creating great stories for our clients and ourselves. And, all too often, we fall in love with our own work. But, when we become enamored with a story at the expense of our message, we fail as communicators.

The best way to tell whether a story is right for a particular speech, or interview, is to ask a simple question: Does it help achieve my objective for this communication?

Every speech, interview, talk, one-on-one meeting, and public interaction that you or your client/boss has should follow a strategic objective. Think about the points you’ll need to make to engender the desired reaction in your audience, and the barriers to that objective you’ll have to overcome in the talk or interview.

The most important line in any talk is the one that immediately follows the opener. You wrote a great beginning and have the attention of the audience. Now you have to turn their attention to what you want them to take away. In my opening anecdote about the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia saving me from a potentially deadly asthma attack, the take-away is easy if my objective is to convince the audience to donate to the institution. But if the theme of my speech is economic reform, that anecdote would not suit my objective.

A story that doesn’t seem to match the larger topic can still work with the right segue, however. If you start with a joke about a hunter shooting a duck, once it ends you might segue into: “I tell you this story because as much as we want to be the hunter, we’re the duck. And duck season is right around the corner. Here’s how we can survive it.”

Stories are the most effective tool communicators have to sway their audiences. The trick is to make sure your stories work for you, and not the other way around.

Ken Scudder

Ken Scudder has provided media training, presentation training, crisis communications training and consulting, as well as writing and editing, to business leaders, celebrities and politicians for more than 20 years. Contact him at mail@kenscudder.com, kenscudder.com, or follow @kenscudder on Twitter.

Comments

Shyra Arrington says:

I enjoyed reading this article.

Feb. 23, 2019

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