A million ways to tell our story

Today, we’ve got a million ways to tell our story. We can tell it on video, audio, or write it down. We can publish it on YouTube, LinkedIn, or Instagram. We can record podcasts or chat live on Clubhouse. We can tweet with 240 characters or write long-from blog posts. We can call on the phone, meet in person or give a speech.

Yet, no matter how we choose to tell our story, one thing always comes first: Making a connection with our audience.

This is not about technology, nor about the format. It’s about empathy, clarity, and caring for our cause. It’s about understanding what matters to our audience and finding the words that make them see.

The beauty of it is this: When we get this right, our story becomes independent of the platform, the format, and the technology. When we get the story right, we’ll be able to tell it on any platform, using the format that fits us best with the technology that we have.

The tell-a-friend impulse

How do you scale a magazine from 0 readers to being Europe’s best selling magazine? You need three things:

Great writing.That resonates.And gets passed along.

Interestingly, this list starts at the end. It’s how Henri Nannen, founder of the Stern magazine and its editor-in-chief for more than 30 years, led the Stern to actually become Europe’s bestselling magazine. He demanded from his editors to start their writing at what gets passed along. Unless an editor could clearly state what a reader was supposed to TELL A FRIEND after reading an article, they were not allowed to write the article. Nannen explained the rule by an anecdote about his grandparents:

Suppose grandpa and grandma are going for a walk. Along their way they buy the newest edition of our magazine. Now, when they come home, they do what they always do: Grandma walks into the kitchen to prepare lunch, while grandpa sits down in the living room to read our magazine. Suddenly, after reading one of the articles, he closes the magazine to shout into the kitchen: “Grandma, they’re going to raise taxes again.” It’s the one sentence that felt so important to him that it created the urge to shout it into the kitchen. It’s the same phrase that he’s going to tell his friends when he meets them in the evening. When we don’t decide what that phrase will be, grandpa’s just going to decide for himself.

What’s important to keep in mind is that it’s the same sentence that our audience is going to tell their friends (colleagues, boss, partner, …) when they tell them about the piece they just heard or read from us. It’s the same sentence our audience will reply with when someone asks them: “So, what was the pitch like?” It’s the same sentence that they are reminded of when they make a decision a month or so after we’ve talked to them.

The thing is this: Our audience will always have that sentence. No matter whether we like it or not, our audience will always have an answer when someone asks them: “So, what was it about?” … and they’re not going to ask us for support.

All the things we’re not

Many companies are quite good at explaining what their product is not but not at all good at explaining what it is instead. When you push them they will keep reminding you that “no, this is not quite what we do.”

The problem with this is that we don’t have hooks in our brains for what a thing is not. There just isn’t a place for “not Netflix”, “not a streaming service”, or “not a film producer”.

Often, the effort that’s required to remind us of what you are not and why we got you wrong is better spent at understanding what we know already and what hooks we have already so that you can attach to these hooks.

When we care deeply

When we care deeply, we’ve got a problem. Because often, we find ourselves competing with others who don’t care as much. Or, to be more precise, who do care as much, yet not for the cause but for the deal.

These people have no problem with hyperbole and exaggerations. With promising the blue from the skies. With using sneaky or pushy sales techniques. With saying this while meaning that.

And therefore, these people have no problem with finding clear messages that resonate.

It really can feel like an unfair advantage.

Here’s the thing: It is an unfair advantage. But for you. Precisely because you care. Because the thing that’s at stake is trust. And trust is the basis which any sustainable success is built upon.

In a way, these people who are just in-it-for-the-deal are a little bit like Charlie Brown’s Lucy. Every time they get the deal, they get a devilish fun out of it. But also every time, trust on the customer’s side erodes a little bit. Drip by drip. So, they have to try harder every time. Which they do. It’s what makes competing with them so hard.

But.

Don’t forget that you’ve got an unfair advantage. Because you care.

That’s why you’ve done the work. Your idea, your product, your project is actually great. It’s not just a claim. It’s a fact. You deliver what you promise. You’ve sweated the details.

And that means that when you manage to nail it, it will build trust, not destroy it. Because the results will prove you right. And so, for you, it’s going to get easier each time. Drip by drip. All you need to do is to tell true stories about the things you care deeply about.

Just a minute more

Just a minute more can make all the difference when we reply to a mail or posting.

It can make the difference between a harsh answer and a polite one.

It can make the difference between a wording that’s super-misleading and one that’s super-clear.

It can make the difference between an answer that’s selfish and one that’s generous.

All it sometimes takes is to read our reply just once before we hit reply. Or to take a deep breath before we start typing. Or to fact check our claim.

Just a minute more can make a huge difference.
(Now imagine what a difference five minutes – or even an hour – can make.)

Thoughts on outlines

In the corporate world, outlines are still pretty much mandatory at the start of a presentation. Also, they are pretty much wasted time.

Outlines have a very simple purpose: to provide peace of mind. That’s what any audience is looking for at the start of a presentation. They want to be sure that it’s safe to follow you on your journey. Or at least that it’s worthwhile. That their time is invested well listening to you.

“What is it exactly that she is going to tell us?”, i.e. an outline, is one way of providing that peace of mind. But not the only one. Another way would be to have a strong opening that makes it totally obvious: “Where is she going with this?”.

But there are others.

What’s actually more important than how you provide that peace of mind is to make sure that i) your audience trusts you that you know where you’re going with this and ii) you’ve made it obvious to them that it’s ok to trust you, i.e. that you’re leading them to some place they actually want to arrive at.

Whether that actual place is obvious from the start is secondary. Whether you mark it using an outline or other means is secondary.

What’s primary is that you need the trust that it’s worthwhile to follow you there.

The problem with meetings

is not that we meet but how we meet. And that starts with why we meet.

Many meetings feel like a waste of time because they are.

When we meet e.g. to listen to info that could just as easily have been delivered as a memo, there’s no use for making the effort of putting everyone into the same room at the same time.

On the other hand, if we meet because there’s something that can’t be easily put in a mail. Or because the live interaction enables insights that would remain hidden otherwise. Or because we specifically make it about the human connections rather than the info …

So, if we meet because we actually make good use of the fact that humans are present in the same room at the same time, then this is a great reason to have a meeting.

And it shifts the “how” from a mere delivery of facts to actually making an effort to encourage and improve the human interactions. When the interactions are the reason why we meet, then the how becomes about the interaction.

Great communicators make you feel smarter

They are happy to rise your status by helping you see things for yourself that now you are proud of having uncovered. They are happy when you take that knowledge and spread it. They are happy when you do great things based on that new knowledge.

Their biggest win is when that knowledge helps you to come up with extraordinary things that they themselves would never have thought of.

That’s a big difference to mediocre communicators whose biggest concern is to show up as the smartest guy in the room. They work hard to make us see how smart they are. Their biggest triumph is when their audience recognises just how much smarter they are than us – up to the point where they don’t even care when they makes the audience feel dumb.

Which is not what anyone likes to feel. And so they don’t get the appreciation they think they deserve.

Life as a communicator gets so much easier when we leave our ego at home. When we consider our communication as an opportunity to boost our audience’s ego rather than our own.

False promises

Getting attention is easy. Make it bigger, faster, louder, or crazier. And if in doubt, throw money at the problem of making it even more so.

In the past, it was the guiding principle of commercial TV and today, it is the guiding principle in wide parts of the Internet. Look here. No, no, no, don’t switch off … something exciting is about to come. The next post is going to be AWESOME. Stay a little longer, or you’ll miss this. Come on, just one more clip. Look here. STAY HERE!

That may grab your attention, it may not be boring, but it’s still a waste of time.

It’s promise after promise after promise … with the sole purpose of getting your attention. It isn’t even about keeping any of these promises. Because these people will happily promise something greater before they even come to keeping any of the promises.

Until, of course, the next guy comes along who makes an even greater noise with an even greater promise: Come here: This. Is. Going. TO BE AWESOME!!!!!

The better question to ask is: once you have the attention what do you do with it? What promises can you make that you can actually keep?

Because when you keep a promise, it builds trust. And from continuous trust follows loyalty. Which means that I don’t even have to make a noise. People will want to hear from you. People will come back. Because they are going to be tired of all the broken promises.

That’s better!

But better than what? What does better even mean?

Is it faster? Or is it more reliable? Cheaper? More pleasant to look at?

“It’s better” is the lazy way of selling.

Of course, it’s better. Why would you even bother telling us if it wasn’t?

Let us understand what better means! So that we can see it.

You can’t see better. But you can see faster, larger, or cheaper.

Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz

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