Today I was inspired by an article written by Neil Gordon, an innovative marketer I follow. Neil in turn was inspired by the infamous fly in the US vice-presidential debate. The fly, not respecting political conventions, landed on the vice president’s hair. Most stories about the debate focused on the fly – drawing attention away from the content of the presenters.
Neil wrote about audience distractions during a live talk. That got my brain churning about how a story can send your audience to a place you don’t want them to go.
Nobody’s perfect and anybody can make these 3 mistakes (I have and no doubt will again.) But just a few tweaks to your story will turn things around.
(1) “I have no idea what she’s talking about.”
You may have heard me tell the story about the time I used a football analogy in a live talk to a group of techies. “The copywriter is like a quarterback,” I said, “and the design team fill the role of the offensive line.”
The audience stared back at me. Missing were the usual head-nods I get from this metaphor.
So I stopped and said, “I guess you don’t follow football.” They all laughed and I made the point another way. (To be fair, Philadelphia had just won the Super Bowl a week earlier; these guys were part of the 1% of Philadelphians who didn’t follow football.)
Nowadays, when I’m speaking or holding a webinar for a new audience, I ask the meeting planner about the audience. When I’m speaking to a group in North Carolina, it’s a pretty safe bet they’ve heard of Vince Gill and Kacey Musgraves. When I’m in Philadelphia, I can tell a story about South Philly.
(2) “That couldn’t have happened…”
I was looking forward to a recent book on life transitions. I was disappointed by an overdose of fluff, but the final straw came from a simple factual mistake.
The author told a pretty good story about Beverley Bass, claiming Ms. Bass was the first woman to fly for a major airline. Unfortunately, that honor belongs to Bonnie Tiburzi, who wrote a really good book about her experiences, way back when. Why hadn’t he bothered to google this?
Closer to home, one marketer used to tell stories about maxing out her credit cards to buy equipment, take a trip and upgrade her wardrobe. As a few people pointed out, you can’t keep maxing out your credit cards before someone takes them away. And when you add that you just bought a large home in an expensive city, eyebrows get raised.
You run Into special challenges when you really do have an amazing offer that seems too good to be true. You offer the benefits – but how do you convince your skeptical audience? I share some copywriting tips to deal with them in this blog post.
(3) “That’s not your story. I read it in a book of urban legends.”
I was attending a dinner at a networking event. The keynote speaker, who was obviously well-paid for his contribution, told an engaging story about an improbable event.
He lost a lot of us in the first 3 minutes. We’d read the same book.
These days people don’t seem to borrow stories as much as they used to, but occasionally I hear someone desperate to open their article or talk with a story they just didn’t have. So they help themselves to someone else’s.
Although I’m focused on storytelling these days, sometimes I tell clients, “You just don’t need a story.”
It’s okay to make up a story — if you tell us. One speaker said, “I don’t have kids, but if I did…”
The parents in the room shook their heads wisely. No, they thought to themselves, he wouldn’t.
But he honestly thought he understood parenting. He didn’t claim expertise. So his audience was more amused than distracted: “Boy, has he got a lot to learn!”
The best way to build credibility with your audience is to understand – really understand – where they’re coming from. And the best way to do that is to find their backstory, which is also their baggage story. Get the full scoop in my new course The Client Advantage, a guide to finding your client’s real motivation.
Or for a preview download this free report.
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