to-the-chase

 

I’ve been reliving my childhood through watching old television programs on Netflix. With the push of a button, I can watch John Gage and Roy DeSoto save lives in Emergency!, Jim Rockford scam bad guys in The Rockford Files, and evil Cylons chase a ragtag fleet of humans in Battlestar Galactica. My retro-binge-watching habit has also taught me lessons in business storytelling.

Take Battlestar Galactica for example. Each episode opens with a preamble that consists of:

  1. Clips from the last episode
  2. Space scenes accompanied by a voiceover that describes the backstory
  3. Full credits for producers, directors, actors, etc…

The intro consumes four of the episode’s forty-nine minutes–eight percent of the show’s total running time!

While it’s easy to fast-forward through these annoyances today, it wasn’t back then, as the only way to watch the show was during its live broadcast. If you missed the network-determined timeslot, you missed the episode forever. 1970s television viewers were, in every sense of the word, a captive audience, and so the networks could afford sloppy storytelling.

Digital storage technologies have eliminated that luxury by freeing audiences from the tyranny of broadcast schedules. Time-shifting allows us to read, watch or listen to whatever we want, whenever we want, placing the burden upon the storyteller to create content that inhibits our spring-loaded thumbs from pressing well-worn fast forward buttons. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, corporate communicators still write Galactica-like preambles. If you don’t believe me, make a mental note of how many times you read the following opening lines:

  • These days…
  • We live in an age/era that…
  • As more companies…
  • In our ever-changing world…
  • In (fill-in industry name) today…
  • In today’s hectic world…
  • With the advent of…
  • With the explosion of…
  • With the increase/decrease of…

If your company opens its stories like this, stop it. Just stop it!

Master storytellers know how to cut to the chase. They know how to pull audiences into a story instead of making them trudge through its clunky details. Ann Handley offers excellent advice on how to fix the Galactica-like preamble in her bestselling book, Everybody Writes.

At the beginning of a piece, many of us take too long to delve into the topic. We offer too much setup and background. In other words, we take a metaphorical running start on the page—before getting to the real starting point. It’s a great way to warm up to a topic, and I do it all the time. But in most cases I go back and erase the running start, covering my tracks completely and getting to the key point more directly.1

By lopping off the first paragraph, storytellers pull readers into their stories rather than making them slog through word-sludge in hopes of finding the point.

Eliminate Galactica-like preambles. Create great opening lines. Deliver backstory (StoryHow PitchDeck Card #30) only after you’ve set the hook (StoryHow PitchDeck Card #52). Pull your audience into the story immediately…

…or risk losing them forever.

 

References:

  1. Handley, Ann. Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content (p. 56). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Photo Credit: Library of Congress

 

 

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