Letter #50: How to become an effective storyteller
Expert interview with Jay Acunzo (who needs no introduction)
This week’s letter is brought to you by Masooma sipping a cold glass of Coca-Cola, hair tied in a messy bun as she punches her keyboard: the one big-ish squabble that I’ve with the literature around storytelling out there is that it’s not actionable enough.
Most of it just focuses on the science behind stories. Stories stick. Stories sell. Because they trigger… because we like ‘em deep down in our bones… yada yada yada — you get it.
I’m not saying we don’t want books on that. We do. But if everyone’s gonna quote research, how are we to learn how to storytell?
[Takes a sip from her purple acrylic glass]
It’s not as bleak out there though since we’ve got some great (albeit few) experts diving into the tactics too. Experts like Jay Acunzo, author, speaker, and coach who’s held marketing positions in (big fish) companies like Google and who writes a newsletter on creative storytelling.
So I got Jay on here today to teach us something not many folks talk about — how to become a better storyteller.
As usual, I asked Jay the 3 usual questions I ask all experts:
A mistake Jay made on his journey to becoming a better storyteller
An actionable tip to get you one step closer to telling better stories
And, a secret tip to become a better storyteller yourself
On we go:
👉 Learn from Jay’s mistake: Don’t sell your ideas. Sell why your ideas should exist instead.
“It’s so tempting to try to sell-in our ideas to clients, bosses, and other stakeholders backwards. We start by presenting the idea, eagerly listen to what others say, and then try to rationalize it (or, too often, defend it),” observes Jay.
“This is because we try to sell our ideas. Instead, we need to sell why our ideas should exist.”
“Start by immediately aligning with others and articulating their goals. Let them know what you are about to say is intended to get them what they want — arguably, better. Then lay out your rationale. THEN and only then, reveal the idea. If nothing else, you’ll get a productive response rather than a flat ‘no.’ But often, you’ll get the ‘Yes.’”
“This is a form of storytelling most don’t consider, but all of us need to master,” says Jay.
👉 Do this today: “Describe a sequence of events in vivid detail, with action and emotion included, and bring up the big unknowns or questions en route to the resolution.”
“There are only two things to play with in telling stories: sequences of events and moments of tension. Play with both,” Jay advises.
“How vividly you describe events, which you include or omit, and so forth. And then, the big questions or uncertainties you weave into the narrative to open a loop you will close later. That’s what grips people.”
👉 The secret tip you need for becoming a better storyteller: Use the phrase “that’s the thing about.”
Share a story, then reveal an insight. And the pivot point or transition between these two? The phrase ‘that’s the thing about.’
“Often, we don’t use stories. We use examples that arrive only after the insight. But flipping them, you can grip people and teach far better, resonating emotionally as you do. Because that’s the thing about marketing. If you can show, rather than tell, you win hearts and minds.”
See what Jay did there? 😍
So today’s takeaways:
Sell why your idea should exist instead of starting with explaining what your idea is
Play with sequences of events and moments of tension to tell better stories
Use the phrase “that’s the thing about” to connect your story and insight
Aaaand that’s a wrap. I hope Jay’s insights took you one tiny step closer to becoming a better storyteller — because they certainly helped me (especially #3).