I am profoundly skeptical (and a little perturbed!) when some “leading guru” claims to have discovered the “ultimate formula” to “fill-in-the-blank.”
But after spending an hour (or two-ish) with The Oprah Whisperer herself, I’m newly convinced:
If you want to tell a persuasive story — a story with a clear point + a precise call-to-action — there is a formula.
(But not a creepy, rigid formula. More like an elegant bone structure. And once you see it laid out, it feels utterly obvious + organic.)
So. A few days ago, I had a private session (ooh la la!) with a woman who has mastered the art of soundbite-sized storytelling.
Her name? Susan Harrow. Never heard of her? Allow me to hit the highlights: she’s been in the media coaching + publicity business for decades upon decades. Back in the day, she (literally) wrote the book on how to get invited onto The Oprah Winfrey Show. She once fell madly in love with the leader of the Anarchist party in Italy (il mio cuore!). And she has a superhuman capacity for distilling big, complex ideas into TV- and radio-friendly nibbles.
As a professional wordsmith myself, I’m a little bit smitten.
I initially asked Susan to help train me for a slew of upcoming media shenanigans (podcast interviews, book launch events, magazine pitches, and — fingers crossed! — a morning TV talk show, or two.)
I got a looooot of practical tips during our training session.
But more than anything, I was humbled by an important reminder:
Consolidating your thoughts into short + sweet soundbites isn’t “cheesy” or “superficial.” It’s actually an exquisite art form.
And like any art form, it takes disciplined practice to master.
Susan granted me full permission to share what I learned during my session, with you.
(And if charming Oprah’s power-pants off isn’t part of your life + career plan, know this: the 5-part bone-structure that I’m about to share works beautifully whether you’re writing a blog post, outlining a TEDx Talk, revving up for a TV appearance, or just enchanting a couple of dinner party guests.)
Without further ado …
How to tell a soundbite-sized story — for TV, radio, online video, or short-burst (and seriously-efficient) writing.
1. STATE THE PROBLEM.
For better or worse, human beings tend to lean in + pay attention when confronted with negative news, first.
“Most working Americans receive upwards of 100 emails a day — even though our brains can only process + accommodate about 50. Even worse? Most of us describe our overflowing inboxes as a huge source of chronic stress.”
… is a lot more compelling than:
“Some Americans get just the right amount of emails, and it’s quite lovely for them!”
2. MAKE A PROPOSITION.
… and make it sound FUN.
“With a couple smart tools — and a few simple word-games! — you can not only reduce the amount of incoming emails you receive, but turn your inbox-clearing time from drudgery to delight.”
3. ANCHOR THE LESSONS.
Quickly zip through + announce each of the lessons (or points) you’re going to hit, in the hot minutes ahead.
“Today, I’m going to share 3 totally addictive word-games that will make your everyday email correspondence feel like a pleasure: 1. The write-a-haiku game. 2. The channel-a-hero game. 3. The feel-know-do game.”
This anchors each lesson in your listener (or reader’s) mind, and primes them for what’s about to come tumbling their way.
4. DELIVER THE LESSONS.
Deliver each lesson in the shortest possible burst. Think: zen master speaking to a group of toddlers.
As you roll through each lesson (or point, or technique, or tip, or teachable moment) be sure to smoothly + casually reference your current work — or your upcoming projects. This is your chance to illuminate how you help people + where they can get more of you.
“This next game has been a total hit at my writing workshops, which I teach all across the country …”
“One of my clients used this technique to create a completely new structure for her business, in a single afternoon …”
“I can’t get enough of this idea. In fact, it was the inspiration for my latest book …”
5. SUM IT ALL UP: “TA DA!”
Your audience is (unconsciously) waiting for a sense of completion — that “full circle” moment. If you skip this closing statement, they’ll be left dangling — sensing that something is missing, or feeling like you just fizzled out.
“To sum it all up: email isn’t going anywhere — that’s for darn sure. But with the right attitude — and a few playful games up your sleeve — emails can be uplifting to write, and inspiring to read.”
AND … SCENE!
5 easy pieces. That’s all it takes.
For more soundbite-making magic, tune into Susan’s free audio-class: Speak In Sound Bites. (You can sign up to get a text message reminder when the class is about to start — so you don’t forget to show up! Perfect for brilliant-but-goldfish-like brains. Like, uh, mine.)
Happy media-soundbiting, idea-synthesizing + story-shrinkifying. (I’ll be practicing right along with you!)
P.S. Who is your favorite teacher, storyteller or media personality — and what do you love about them?
Photo of me (way up top) by Leslie from Shuttersmack.