Tell the Story

April 27, 2016

The other day I received the nicest complement. I asked Carolyn Vella, my partner in all respects, to read a draft of a report we were preparing for a client.

Why Carolyn? Because she is my toughest critic. How tough? Well, when I got a contract for my first book (actually she got it for me), I was thrilled. I sat down and started. Soon I had an introduction and several chapters done – or so I thought.

Carolyn took a look at them to edit them and soon gave them back to me. The introduction was crossed out with the sole marginal note “B*** S***”. I then looked at her edit of chapter 1. She had crossed it out completely with the pithy editorial observation: “More BS”.

I was shocked, but she was right. They were terrible. By the way, I still have the original manuscript. Anyway, as you can see, she is one tough editor/reviewer.

Reviewing this report, she spotted an error on page 9 where I had misspelled an executive’s first name. And that was it. So I asked “Anything else?”

She said “Yes. I enjoyed reading it. It was interesting.” A business report that was enjoyable to read, that was interesting? And you thought that an interesting business report was an oxymoron.

What made it interesting? It looked at a target and told a story, with a consistent “plot line”, without too much jargon (one of the many flaws of that first MS), without many footnotes[1], and with headings that let the readers know what was being discussed. And those headings created a table of contents that let readers go right to a portion that they might need to read, and to skip those they did not need.

Why, other than ego, try to make a report interesting by telling a story? It is very useful because people remember when they read, or hear, something interesting. In my experience, they retain more from those documents or presentations than they do from ones that are critical, or important, or strategic, or vital – or as we silently label them – boring.

Keep that in mind. To get your point across, try, at least a little, to be a story-teller.

[1] Carolyn treats footnotes (and parentheses) as inventions of the Devil. As one trained to write in law school (legal writing is a true oxymoron), I still find it difficult to write without either. Once I did law review article that had over 300 footnotes.

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