Ask When questions, and other tools for business storytelling
Call it an aha! moment:
Aha! moments — aka moments of truth or desk-pounding moments — like this one, from an Eastman Chemical Company annual report, form the core of every corporate story.
Whether you’re telling business stories as part of your marketing strategy; helping business leaders make an emotional connection with their audiences; or practicing the art of storytelling for social media, content marketing or corporate communications, here are four ways to find the aha! moment that’s the gateway to compelling stories.
1. Find the ‘desk-pounding moment.’
When you’re interviewing for success stories, look for the “desk-pounding moment.”
That, according to David Murray, executive director of the Professional Speechwriters Association, “is the moment when somebody pounded on his or her desk and said, ‘Damn it, we’ve got to do something about this.’”
That’s the secret to corporate storytelling.
“That moment is the origin of every corporate program,” Murray says. “The closer you as a reporter get to the very moment the idea was hatched by a human being, the better your story is going to be.”
The moment of invention often makes for a great story. Nike, for instance, began, according to Nikebiz.com …
Looking for a brand story that sells your product or service better than facts and figures? Ask your subject matter expert when the company began, the sole was invented, the theory discovered. The moment of inception illustrates your organization’s creativity, innovation and vision.
And it can make a terrific — and telling — desk-pounding moment.
2. Ask When questions.
Good stories cover one moment in time. So if you’re looking for a story that connects, ask when questions.
When questions take content experts back to a specific time, a specific place — and, often, a specific story. So try asking “when” questions.
- Moments of pain
- Moments of change
- Moments of crisis
- Moments of decision
These key moments are times that caused your subject matter expert to change course. That’s where the stories are.
A writer once asked Kansas City architect Cary Goodman when he knew he would join his profession. He told her about the time he built a fabulous tree house at the age of 9. His construction was so great that the local paper sent a photographer to shoot it. The photo made the front page.
“When” is also a great way to start a story.
3. Pass the 30-second test.
How do you know whether yours is a moment of truth or just something that happened?
Pass the 30-second test: When you research a moment of truth, make sure the original event didn’t take more than 30 seconds.
In an Esquire profile of Robert Redford, the writer tells about being frustrated by the actor’s incredible need for privacy. In the interviews, he was guarded and wouldn’t share any personal information.
To sum up this attribute, the writer ends with an anecdote about two fans who see the movie star at a New York City intersection:
‘Are you Robert Redford?’ she asked, breathlessly.
’Only when I’m alone,’ Robert Redford answered.
Light changes; woman sprints over to Redford; asks if it’s really him; he replies.
Thirty seconds. That’s a good anecdote.
4. Make sure it’s a moment.
Self magazine asks for moments of truth in a series of stories about readers who shed pounds and shaped up. Here’s one of them:
Open email, see second chin, decide to go on Weight Watchers. Thirty seconds. Good anecdote.
But what about this one?
That’s not a moment of truth, it’s a state of mind. The key phrase here is “I used to think.” This is something that happened over time, not once.
However, sometimes you can transform a state of mind into a moment of truth. If it happened several times, I always say, it also happened once. So choose on of those times and focus on that:
Kids ask Mom to push them in the swing; she thinks, “I can’t!”; realizes she’s got to make a lifestyle change.
Make it a story.
Storytelling has the power to engage, influence and inspire, according to the Harvard Business Review. If you want to move readers to act in the business world, create content and marketing campaigns that share your organization’s aha! moments.