The Story Behind The Story

What I’m about to tell you may sound like an exaggeration, but I don’t think it is. If you asked me to list the top three things in my life that I most enjoy, #1 would be playing basketball every Tuesday night.

I don’t really know what it is that makes this such an ideal experience. Maybe it’s seeing the same guys week after week. Maybe it’s spending two hours engaged in an activity whose sole purpose is fun. Maybe it’s the wife-sanctioned beer drinking at the local dive bar afterwards. Whatever the reason, I love it.

During the school year we play inside at the middle school gym. We sign up through the town’s recreation department, and in exchange for our $35, we get a t-shirt, some balls and use of the courts.

It’s not really a league – there are no pre-set teams – and there’s no age restriction. Were I a statistician, however, I’d tell you that the mean, the mode and the median all hover around 45 years of age. We get some outliers on either end, but not many.

In the summertime, however, everything changes. Beginning in June we move outside to the asphalt courts in front of the school … these games are open to anyone (cue scary music).

Yikes, big difference. Because while the proportion of “old guys” in the summer is still a good 70% or higher of the total, there’s now a healthy mix (emphasis on “healthy”) of high school and college-age players. They’re not necessarily better, but they sure are faster, stronger and decidedly less breakable.

OKAY, LET’S STOP RIGHT HERE. Normally, this is where I’d write some kind of connector sentence – a sentence to tie the opening basketball story to a useful lesson about E-Newsletters. (If you’re new here, check out this recent newsletter from the archive as an example.)

Today, however, instead of continuing on as usual, I want to take a close look at the basketball story itself, and point out some elements which are deliberately in here and which serve to make the story (I hope) interesting and compelling for you, the reader.

In order…

“What I’m about to tell you may sound like an exaggeration, but I don’t think it is.”
Intriguing opening line. Your readers have a lot of distractions and you need to draw them in from the start. It’s hard to read this first sentence and not keep going.

“Maybe it’s seeing the same guys week after week; the local dive bar.”
Lake Wobegon effect. It’s homey and cozy. It makes me seem like a nice guy from a nice town (I’m not; it is).

“Maybe it’s the wife-sanctioned beer drinking…”
Punch line. Not hysterical, but having the third item in a list of three be a bit funny is a well-tested formula. It keeps things moving.

“… town’s recreation department … $35 … a t-shirt, some balls and use of the courts.”
Specifics. You need to provide enough detail so that readers can visualize whatever it is you’re describing.

“Were I a statistician, however, I’d tell you that the mean, the mode and the median…”
Side trip. I could have just said the average age is 45. But again, this kind of humorous, irrelevant tidbit keeps things interesting.

“I, we, I, I, I, you, we, you, I, I”
Conversational words. I deliberately use first and second person phrasing — just as I would if we were eating lunch together and I was telling you the same story. I’m trying to connect with the reader.

“… cue scary music … emphasis on ‘healthy'”
More humor.

“… wife-sanctioned … love … yikes … less breakable.”
Non-business words/phrases. These are words we might use every day in e-mail or conversation, but they’re not the kind of things you usually see in “business writing.” That’s deliberate — we want to make a human connection with readers, not make them feel like they’re being talked at or sold to.

Here’s the bottom line. Telling stories is a great way to engage your readers, make a personal connection and convey a message; I highly recommend using one at the start of any presentation, interview, white paper, newsletter or resignation speech.

Keep in mind, however, that to get maximum effectiveness from your stories, you need to pay a little bit of attention to the language that you use. See you on the courts.

 

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