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Cliffhangers s*ck.

You wanna know so badly what happens next but the show just won’t tell you. You’ll have to come back for the next episode. Which you’ll do.

Is there a moment in your communication where you could do the same? Where you could stop and your audience would be super excited and super frustrated at the same time because they need to know badly how the story unfolds?

If you stopped there, would they come back for the next episode?

If not then what could be a piece of information that does the job?

You don’t actually stop, of course, but you’ll have your audience glued to your lips.

Top speakers

Top speakers excel at speaking thanks to repetition.

They deliver (basically) the same speech hundreds of times. If you listen to them multiple times in a short period of time, you’ll notice two things:

  1. Most stories, jokes, and punchlines are the same.
  2. They are not exactly the same.

Great communicators tweak their communication and refine it. They don’t try to come up with ever new ideas and ever new ways of saying the same things.

They try to find the best way of saying that thing. If a story works, they’ll refine it until it’s the best version of that story to make that particular point (and, of course, if a story doesn’t work they’ll look for better ones).

The best speakers speak so often that they have many opportunities to test this.

How can you create situations to test your stories and refine them?

Backwards stories

Some of the best crime stories work backwards. We witness the murder and know who’s the murderer right from the start. And then we want to find out why they did it. Or if (and how) they can get away with it.

Traditional crime stories work the other way around: We don’t know who the murderer is but want to find out. Great movies exist for both approaches. That’s because none of the approaches is inherently better than the other.

It depends.

Great storytellers know that and will consider both directions before settling with how they tell their story. (In fact, they will explore even more ways to unfold the story than just these two.)

How about your story? What would happen if you turned it upside down? If you started with the big reveal and then used your audience’s curiosity to find out how that’s even possible and use that curiosity to craft a compelling storyline that leads them ever deeper into the fascinating details?

There are a million ways to tell a story.

Better than the truth

If your customers knew everything you know, would they still buy?

Well, of course they are never going to know everything, so the real question here is this:

Is the story you are crafting about your offering a truthful representation of what you do (and how you do it)?

Selfish marketers don’t really care. They will happily bend the truth, tweak a few things here and there, and leave anything out that would make the story sound less favorable. Selfish marketers look for ways to tell their story that makes it sound better than the truth.

An early client of mine, some 15 years back, was obsessed with giving their “effectiveness charts” more bang – the problem being that the underlying data had no bang at all. But rather than to optimize the product, they invested heavily in graphic design to make it look like it had bang.

Selfish marketers can’t trust the customer with the decision to buy because they don’t trust in their product, either.

The best brands are different. They start by building great products – products which are actually effective and which really do serve (real) people’s needs and desires in a delightful way.

And so these brands dare to tell true stories about their product and the experiences that their customers have.

The best part is this: For the customer, it will still sound better than the truth – their current truth. And if it’s a truly great product, it will even exceed these expectation. These products delight because the marketer was telling the truth.

Do you trust your product in delivering that experience? Do you dare to tell a true story about it?

“How long?”

“How long?”, she asks the doctor.
Immediately, we’re right in the middle of a story.

Which is typical for modern movies. It’s one of the aspects in which storytelling in movies has changed significantly over the past few decades.

The average early 90s movie is hard to bear for many teenagers because they started soooo sloooowww. Part of the reason was that filmmakers back then felt the need to start as early as possible so we would have the back story to understand what was going to happen later.

Today’s movies (and TV shows) are very different. They will start as late as possible, ideally right in the middle of the action … at the most captivating event.

And they will give us only exactly the pieces that we absolutely need to understand the action. They make us care first, before they inform us. If, at some point, we would need backstory to understand what’s happening, modern movies will give it to us at that point, a point where we absolutely need that piece of information to be able to follow along.

This makes for a much more tense story.

Actually, today’s most brilliant filmmakers push that principle even further. They will make sure that we want a piece of information, before they finally give it to us. They make us curious for the backstory.

In contrast, yesterday’s filmmakers considered backstory as pure information. Often, they would give us the information before we wanted it, just to make sure that we had it when we needed it.

How about your own communication? How do you treat background information? Are you starting your presentation with it? If so, can you re-structure your storytelling in a way that you’re giving the backstory at a point when your audience is dying to learn it?

How to charge 8x the price

This Moleskine notebook costs €13.

At your local grocery store, you can get a double pack of similarly looking, similarly equipped notebooks for €3.

Why would anyone pay 8 times the price for a Moleskine?

Because it’s not the notebook that they buy but this story that Moleskines come with:

“Moleskine is the legendary notebook used by European artists and thinkers for the past two centuries, from Van Gogh to Picasso, from Ernest Hemingway to Bruce Chatwin. This trusty, pocket-size travel companion held sketches, tones, stories and ideas before they were turned into famous images or pages of beloved books.”

A notebook is a simple tool. Yet, there’s a lot to say about it. We can speak about the size, the build quality, the material, the features, the variety, the price, and many more aspects …

Moleskine, the maker of that notebook, chose not to speak about any of those. Instead they told a story.

A story that turned a small Milanese publisher called “Modo e Modo” into a beloved worldwide brand. What started as a small independent book publisher now is exclusively devoted to making notebooks. The initial production was 5,000 copies of their notebooks. Today, the company has changed their name to “Moleskine” and runs signature stores in all major cities of the world. They sell millions of their notebooks each year.

For €13!

As I said, you can get a double pack of similar looking notebooks of similar build quality in our local grocery store for 3€. Again: Why on Earth would anyone pay 8x the price for a notebook? Isn’t it just a bundle of blank paper?

No, it’s not. 

Because it’s not just any notebook. It’s the same kind of notebook that creative geniuses like Picasso and Ernest Hemingway used to scribble down their ideas. At least that’s what the story suggests. And just think about what became of them … 

What Moleskine has achieved with this story is that this is not just a notebook, anymore. It’s a notebook for creative people. And if you are creative, too, then you need a notebook for creative people, right? It’s what all the great creatives used. Creatives can’t just buy a notebook from the supermarket. They must buy a notebook for creative people.

This is a real masterpiece in communication that achieves two things:

  1. Moleskine didn’t change what people wanted. They didn’t make customers want a more expensive notebook. They made customers see that they are creative. And so, essentially, if you are creative, you don’t even have a choice. You can only buy their notebook. Because that’s what creatives do. Creatives use notebooks for creatives. Moleskines help creatives get what they want: feel creative.
  2. So, essentially, they bring the future into the present. They make creatives visualise themselves becoming even more creative by using a Moleskine notebook. Just write your scribbles into a Moleskine and soon you’ll be becoming even more creative. And – who knows – even famous? This notebook makes creatives feel even more creative.

The story of 2022

What did 2022 bring you? What did you learn? Who did you meet?

Why not take the time in between the years to turn one of the answers into a story, your story of 2022?

One of the most common complaints about storytelling is that people don’t know where to find good stories.

The truth is, you don’t find good stories, you tell good stories. It is through the telling that a story is born.

The three questions at the top are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s been a wild year for most of us. We saw unusual things unfold, large and small. We met unusual people in the most unusual places, some of them hidden from the public, some of them on the global stage. We failed. And succeeded. We stumbled. And got up again. We found beautiful things. And some of us have lost close friends.

2022 was a year in which we made profound experiences.

Pick one. Start with one. And tell a story about it.

PS: I would be honored if you shared one of your stories with me. I’m writing this blog for you and I’d love to get to know you a little better. It would mean the world to me.

Is communication an art or a craft?

Why do I speak of an “art” in my tagline “The Art of Communicating”. Isn’t it more of a craft?

It is a craft. You can learn a lot by following the rules.

There are the ancient rules of Aristotle: logos, ethos, and pathos.

There are the rules of modern storytelling.

There are the rules about how our attention works.

And many, many more …

The art is in making it appear as if there were no rules.

If you just follow the rules, it will most likely end up feeling like it’s created by, well, following a set of rules (just scroll through your LinkedIn timeline or surf to the next landing page that sells you an online course and you know what I mean).

When you just follow the rules, it will feel “created” rather than natural.

The art is in making it feel natural rather than created. You might still follow the rules. But they aren’t visible anymore.

It’s the difference between a masterful piece of art and the same piece reproduced through painting by numbers.

But let’s throw the question back at you: Is communication an art or a craft?

The perfect first sentence

The perfect first sentence is the one that makes your audience want to read or hear the second one.

Sounds trivial, but is it?

I mean, just look around – let’s say at a couple of speeches you listened to recently. How did these begin?

How did yours begin?

Just because every other speech begins by going through the agenda, yours doesn’t have to.

Your favorite movie

A huge part of what makes a great movie compelling is that you don’t know what’s going to happen but want to find out.

But then again, why is it that you’ve watched your favorite movie a dozen times although you know what’s going to happen?

These movies keep the tension regardless. You’re glued to your seat and can’t help but want to follow the story a fifth time.

This time, tension works in a very different way, though.

When you’re watching a movie for the first time, tension is to a large degree created by what we don’t know. We anticipate what’s going to happen and tension is created by the uncertainty about whether that’s actually going to happen.

But when we’re watching a movie repeatedly, tension is created differently. This time, we already know what happened.

Crucially, we already know what we felt. And so this time, what we anticipate is the repetition of this sensation. It’s the certainty of what we’re going to feel that creates the tension. (Just observe how often you’ll say something like: “Wait, now comes the best part!”)

Music works this way, too. You can hear a piece for the 100th time and it still creates tension, sometimes even more, when you’re waiting for that climactic moment to finally arrive.

What does your audience anticipate?

Spread the Word

Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz



Yes, I love talking to you. Call me at +49.2241.8997777
Or reach out at michael@michaelgerharz.com