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.