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Storytelling 101

“Tell more stories!” they shouted at you. “Stories sell!” they exclaimed. “It’s the best way to market yourself!” they bellowed. After the ringing in your ears faded, you said, “Okay, I have stories to tell.” You start telling them. But deep in the back of your mind, where you let few people enter, you’re wondering. Are my stories interesting? Are people even listening?

Seth Godin said it best today when he wrote, “Here’s how to know if you’re on the right track: if you stop a story in the middle, the audience will insist you finish it.”

Yes, your stories are interesting, but you might not be telling them right. How do you become a storyteller that has people on the edge of their seat waiting for the next line?

Jeff Sexton knows. He writes the best blogs about storytelling in an advertising sense that I’ve ever found. You could spend a day or two reading his past posts and learn more than you ever would on a college campus.

Roy H. Williams, is the master, well, um, the Wizard. He was nicknamed the Wizard of Ads and it stuck because it is true. His Wizard of Ads trilogy of books is to this day the most fascinating series of books I’ve ever read.

Here are some basics I’ve learned from these masters.

Start with something interesting. You need to hook the listener right away. You can fill in the background later (if at all).
Choose what to leave out. Details slow down the delivery and distract from the story. Cut out all the descriptions that aren’t absolutely necessary (which is like 95% of them).
Leave in the verbs. Stories need action. Action is excitement. Action makes people want to see what happens next.
Surprise me. If I already know how the story ends before I get to the second line, I’m outta here!
Tie the ending to the beginning. People want resolution to their stories. If you hooked me with an interesting opening, I want to know why that is important at the end.

Your writing is influenced by your reading. Read great books by great storytellers. Look for these clues in their writing. Mimic it in your own. Write. Write some more. Test it on your friends. Stop in mid-story and see what happens. Test again with new openings and new verbs. Write some more. Tell some more.

Soon your audience will be demanding you finish.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Some of my most powerful ads have been stories like these…

She almost fell out of the pew.  Her pastor actually called Toy House the Promised Land for kids.  Right there in front of a packed church.  The lady on her left leaned over and said, “You work there, don’t you?”  She nodded.  The lady leaned in again, “I love that place.” She couldn’t help but smile.  “Me too,” she whispered back.  It’s the promised land for kids and adults.  Just ask the lady sitting on your left.  Toy House and Baby Too is an impact partner of Home.fm.  We love to see you smile.

What is your earliest Christmas memory?  Mine was grandma and grandpa sitting on a bench handing my sister and me our gifts.  I was only three, but I tore open that package with the speed of a six-year-old.  A towel, a white, Raggedy Ann towel.  I smiled a big smile, unfolded my towel and plopped down.  I couldn’t figure out why my sister was crying.  After all, she got Raggedy Andy and he’s way cooler.  Merry Christmas from the Toy House in downtown Jackson.  We’re here to make you smile

Christmas Eve, nineteen sixty-five.  He didn’t know if he would make it.  Nine months of active duty, he missed his family.  And he was an uncle now.  His sister had a baby girl, a precious little child for which a stuffed animal from an airport gift shop just wouldn’t do.  When his dad picked him up in the family sedan, he asked, “We got time to stop by the Toy House?”  “Of course, son.  Welcome home.”  Merry Christmas from the Toy House in downtown Jackson, an impact partner of Home.fm. We love to see you smile.

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