Are you done talking yet?

Close-up of father reading story to son (10-11)We all have that friend or colleague that will come in Monday morning, uber excited to tell you all about their weekend and you’re already cringing at the thought of it. It’s not that the story won’t be interesting. Perhaps they won a million dollars or got engaged. It doesn’t matter. Your friend can’t tell a story to save her life. In fact after she finishes the story, you’ll have aged about 20 or so years and forgotten what she was talking about in the first place. What does story telling have to do with PR? Well, everything. Telling a story, in my opinion, is very similar to pitching a story to media professionals.

At my company, I have the opportunity to work in teams. We collaborate on everything and often pitch the same story just to our respective outlets. So why is it that I may get more interest from the media than my respected colleague? I think it depends heavily on how we tell our story. Some things I’ve noticed along the way:

Be excited. Our friend Keith is amazing at this. I swear he could sell a red popsicle to a beauty queen in a white dress. Honestly, find something that excites you about your client/product and immerse yourself in it. If there is truly nothing you can get behind, than try a little trick–smile when you’re talking about it. I know this sounds crazy but it’s the truth.

Be quick. Please, I’m in my twenties and already have some gray hair.  By the time you finish your story, I may have wrinkles. Same goes for pitching. Assuming you’ve already asked if the producer has a minute, really only make it a minute. I don’t mean talk fast, but please get to the point. If they are nice enough to listen to you, be courteous enough to not waste their time.

Be a showman. Some of us get a lot of flack for this but the truth is sometimes you must exaggerate. We’re not saying you should pull an entire story (and especially not a pitch) out of thin air, but sometimes details need to be added or taken away to make a story more streamlined, or to have more impact. Think of it as editing. Life is, on the whole, pretty boring. You’re doing people a favor when you give them something more (or in this case less). Just don’t stumble into the realm of full-fledged falsehood.

Be respectful. If you know your audience, you’ll know when to tell them the story and when to keep your dang mouth shut. You wouldn’t tell your grandmother about how you danced on that table this weekend, would you? Likewise, you wouldn’t tell someone who works the technology beat that they totally have to read your pitch about a new travel destination. It’s just not a story that they want to hear.

Be un-pointless. You better have a point, man. If you ever took a creative writing class in college, you might remember “That Girl/Guy” who always forced the class to read their stupid, boring stories where a main character very much like her/him would sit in a room and maybe smoke a cigarette and think about life. Shoot me now. There’s a time and a place for the avant garde story, and it ain’t here. Your pitch shouldn’t get bogged down with needless details. It’s a story with a conclusion, a call to action, a punchline, a POINT.

So go, tell stories. Flail your arms a bit while telling it. But tell it quick, tell it right, and tell it to the people who need to hear it.

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  • mikeschaffer

    I love this. Pitching is sales. You have a finite amount of time to convince the producer/editor/reporter that YOUR story is the best thing in the world – and loads better than any other crap that has come across their desk today – thus, making it worthy of their valuable air-time/column inches.

    It's critical to boost your client/event, without going so far over the top as to make it unrealistic.

    But wait…THERE'S MORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  • jeffespo

    I love the whole get to the point and be interesting. I know a number of folks who tell a story and I cringe. They become self obsessed while speaking, so I can check emails, look at a paper or take a nap and not miss a thing, only to realize that they suck at story telling.

    I am sure that reporters get that as well, so its important to be timely, fun and catchy.

    Now which one of you has the grays?

  • We both have gone much more gray in the time since we've started pitching. While Stina has pretty regal streaks, I'm going all George Clooney salt & pepper, which is disturbing.

    But back to the point! YES. Self-obsession is the number 1 killer of good stories. (It's actually, IMO, the root of all evil; I think I blogged about it ages ago here:

  • Yes, cheesiness does not a good story make, unless you're being intentionally cheesy to people who like cheese. Wisconsinites maybe?

  • “Warm up on your own time” was something one of my professors always told us, taught us to cut the filler out of our writing and storytelling. Which goes right into having a point.

    So your product is way cool. Your company provides exceptional service. And your point is? Everyone has a cool product, great service so get over yourself. Put on that showman hat, cut the boring, make your point, and tell your story better than they do.

    To be respectful, I'd add be polite which means: shut up, listen and let someone else get a word in as you regale them of your weekend exploits. Maybe they had a bad breakup and aren't up for the zany stories of you. Maybe the reporter is crunching a deadline, but can take your call tomorrow.

    Get the story right, the right target, at the right and then get out of the way.

  • Davina you couldn't be more right about being polite and shutting up at the same time. I can't get over sometimes how long winded some people are.

    I think its hard to put on the “showman” act when you're not 100% sold on what your selling. Then you've got to fake it till you make it I guess.

  • jeffespo

    I will be the judge of the distrubingness

  • Good post – I especially like the reminders to be respectful, quick and un-pointless.

    I do think you have to be careful with 'being a showman' though. Exaggeration can get you into tricky places and undermine your credibility if you're not careful. If you exaggerate and get too excited about some clearly un-exciting clients or products, there's a risk you won't be listened to when you have genuinely exciting pitches.

    If you have to exaggerate, maybe you shouldn't be pitching the client/product (but taking some other approach instead)? Or you should be pitching them to someone else who does find them exciting?

    It's all about making sure that what you're pitching is exciting and interesting to the audience you're pitching it to, so you don't have to fake it and exaggerate. Or am I being naive?