Yada Yada Yada

There is so much focus on the importance of storytelling in business. From brand to leadership to managing client relationships, storytelling has become the “silver bullet” for how to approach something better.

This post is not about when or why to tell a good story.

Instead, I want to call attention to the biggest problem with storytelling—skimping on the details. I’ve described it before as whitewashing, and we see executives do this all the time. Most of us are guilty of it. We end up describing a situation, saying yada-yada-yada, then cutting straight to the punch line—leaving people with a bland, vanilla story instead of sharing all the specifics that pull others in.

Just a couple of days ago, I had a frustrating customer experience with automated technology. I was at the grocery store. I could just say, “Self-checkout kiosks don’t work very well,” and you might nod your head and get the gist. But here’s what happens when I embrace the yada and don’t cut it out.

“I was at the grocery store to pick up a couple of last minute items on my way home, and I used the self-checkout kiosk. It should be quicker for two items, right? I had to go back twice to ask the helper, who was running back and forth between all six of the self-check kiosks, to come over and help me get approval or bypass something. While I was waiting for the key-code to be entered—for a second time, no less—I watched people in the longer, traditional checkout lines zip by me. I saw who I’d be behind and they were long gone, which adds to the frustration. Turns out, the self-checkout kiosks don’t work very well.”

Chances are, when I referenced the specifics of knowing where I would be in that other line, that’s what relates and you can put yourself there—we’ve all been there. The universal is in the particular—it’s those particular details to which people relate. That’s what’s memorable.

Identify the details. The yada-yada-yada is the important part. When we leave it out, we take out the heart of our story.

Instead of getting them to just nod their heads (which is a great start), really pull someone into that experience you’re describing. Get them to feel what you want them to feel. Make them feel the frustration of, “Ugh, I’ve been there,” or on a positive “I want that,” because that will motivate them to take action—they’re fired up!

In your next big opportunity (or even just the next time you’re telling a story), don’t be afraid to do a deep dive. Commit to the yada-yada-yada. Keep it real, keep it punchy.

And whatever you do—don’t half-ass the story.

Tail That Wagged The Dog

“Why does a dog wags its tail? Because a dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog.” I remember in ’97, when the movie ‘Wag the Dog’ came out—it got me thinking about things or people that control things, who really shouldn’t. … Continue reading

Sorry, I’m Not Sorry

“I’m sorry, you go first.” “I’m sorry, I need to grab something.” “Sorry, can I scoot by you?” How often do you start a statement with a quick, “I’m sorry…”? This Pantene ad hits home how overused the phrase is – especially by women. In the opening of the ad, … Continue reading

The Big Short

A lot of times people ask, “What are the essential components of a speech?” They’re looking for the silver-bullet, the ideal length of time spent, the appropriate level of seriousness, how much humor, how many data points to include, etc. Often, we look to TED talks, popular speeches and commencement … Continue reading

I Don’t Need to Prep. I Can Wing It.

Does your calendar look like the above? Many do. Just yesterday I was talking with an executive about an upcoming meeting. A few minutes into the conversation, he realized, “Whoa. This is a way bigger deal than I thought.” This is a critical week for meetings, as we’re all squeezing … Continue reading

Rule of Three

The Three Musketeers. Sex, drugs and rock n roll. The Star Wars trilogy. Ever notice that throughout literature, pop culture and film, three is a magic number? Beyoncé and her R&B group Destiny’s Child know this well. They started as a quartet but only hit it big as a trio. … Continue reading

Emotion Earns the Extra Mile

For Father’s Day this year, my three boys joined forces and created a special homemade book filled with memories about what I meant to them. It was bound together with a little help from Mom, I presume. And they presented it to me while we were away on a family … Continue reading

Things that Need to Be Said

“Oh, did you get your hair cut?” I say this all the time. In my mind, it’s clear as day that I’ve just given a compliment. But to the person listening, it leaves a lot of doubt and lingering questions. Does he like it? Does it look good? Did I … Continue reading

Mistakes Happen

There you are, in front of your audience, and you make what feels like a big mistake. What now? The fear of mistakes – and the humiliation after making one – can derail a presentation much more than the mistake, itself. Instead of letting mistakes get in your way, think … Continue reading

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

There’s nothing like 77 bathtubs to give you a quick idea of what “7.7 cubic meters of water” looks like. A friend recently sent me a link to this post on the current drought situation in California. Regardless of your political standpoint on Gov. Jerry Brown’s response to the drought, … Continue reading