There’s a tension between two modes of communication – comms by storytelling and comms by bullet point.
They each have pros and cons.
In this post, I’ll summarize the differences.
There is no verdict.
The bullet point
Some speak in bullet points.
They’re being the golden threes be’s:
- Be Brief.
- Be Brilliant.
- Be Gone.
Their talks might as well be written in nouveau-valley font, with Serif.
Brevity is valued; where hard problems command easy heuristics, and where ‘don’t make me think’ is the l’ordre du jour.
If I had more time, I would have written less.
That’s especially true in the Valley. It’s true of politicians in certain settings. It’s true on Adelaide and on King.
Elevator pitches are a boiler plate of bullet points.
“Hey, I’m just some fucking guy from a company with a y replacing the i for some reason, and our app turns pictures into sound for people who like neither. It’s like Fitbit for music. Unlike some other bullshit company, ours is funded by y-combo, with killer feature A that has a real nice problem-solution-market fit. Just give us some fucking money so we can add more users for chritsakes. That company again is something with a y replacing the i for some reason…uh, you know what, I see some old money trying to be hip over there…go fuck yourself for a minute? Okay, thanks bai.”
It’s repeatable. You don’t really have to understand much about anything to get what it is. It’s concise.
- The name of the company
- What the product does
- For which target segment
- Something that compares to it so that it can be repeated
- Name a competitor
- State differentiators
- State your purpose
- Restate the name of the company
If you find that, when others can describe what your idea is, you’ll have done it right.
If you’re the one authoring the quack, then you’re just fine with duckspeak.
It’s all very Ryan Howard taking over ACN.
Who can be against such a movement?
A story is memorable. A story has an editorial. It has a moral. A story causes empathy. Referencing a story is a tight piece of information density.
- Harrah’s CRM with the free buffet when a gambler gets close to a pain point.
- Armstrong and Abel at Patch.
- Ryan Howard at ACN.
- Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.
They take time to tell. They’re not always concise.
But there’s a lot of money getting made on the consulting side emphasizing the power of stories.
A common story, in business comms, is along these lines:
We had a problem/opportunity/challenge. We assumed one fucking thing and another fucking thing. Turns out, neither fucking things were true at all. We found something that sounds really obvious. So we told some asshole in some bullshit department to do something about that fucking thing. They made a kennel. When an appeal to executive power finally caused movement, we persevered an as a result we made a fuckton of money. Others looking to make a fuckton of money should challenge their fucking assumptions too.
A story is just as formulaic:
- Initiating incident
- Rising Action
- Truths discovered
- Falling action
Stories are repeatable; and possibly more repeatable than a bullet point with less transcription error.
Causes and effects are also made clearer.
It’s for that reason that the leadership business press emphasizes storytelling.
Facts Tell, Stories Sell
When a politician is talking to the general public, they don’t tell facts. Facts tell.
“My plan will increase year-round employment in regions with high seasonality by up 20% and keep 90% of the population off welfare.”
“My plan will create good jobs. Like for Veronica, a hard working tax paying married mother of three in Bathurst. She works the second shift at the Lobster Hut Inn. The problem is, high season only lasts 4 months, so she has to collect provincial welfare for those other 7 months, making a 1 month gap. That gap, created by my heartless opponent, is a real stretch for her and her children. My plan will let Veronica stay off welfare by empowering her work at the liquor store for 3 months. That way Veronica qualifies for Employment Insurance, getting her off welfare, and creating a month where her kids don’t have to go hungry. All the while keeping her working longer without taking hours away from anybody else in the community.”
Stories work especially well by drawing connections within a causal model. That story I just told is how provincial government transfers the burden of supporting seasonal employment from the provincial coffers to the federal government without causing greater aggregate unemployment in the community.
Good stories are rhetoric. They’re designed to persuade.
So they’re effective.
I prefer not to be talked to this way, by politicians or by business leaders. I don’t like to be manipulated. My guess is that most people, if they were aware of the mechanic, wouldn’t want to be manipulated either.
But it’s effective.
Bullets have strengths. They’re concise. They require little thought to say. They require next to no memory to repeat.
Bullets have weaknesses. They’re disorganized. They don’t draw a line between cause and effect. People don’t love to repeat them.
Stories have strengths. They’re repeatable. They have an editorial. They draw clear lines between cause and effect.
Stories have weaknesses. They take a lot more time to tell. They require an investment on the part of the listener. They can be downright manipulative.
There is no verdict.