This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for all the smart folks out there writing about writing.
Back in a much earlier life I briefly studied photography, and one of my favorite practitioners was a guy named Duane Michals. If your idea of great photography is precision of structure, perfect lighting and gorgeous darkroom technique, a la Ansel Adams, Michals’s photographs weren’t much to look at. But they were rich in evocative imagery—his work of the time nearly always told a story. (He’s still out there making pictures but I haven’t kept up with his work, so I can’t speak to what he’s doing now.) He often strung together sequences of images, sometimes even adding scrawled words.
Maybe because even then I was a better writer than a photographer, I loved his work. And I still remember an anecdote he told in an interview I read. He used to run into someone regularly—I’m thinking maybe it was a guy who worked at his gym–who was an amateur photographer . The man was always trying to engage him in conversation about equipment and technique. Michals reported he would listen to this guy chat on about f-stops and filters and then finally stop him and say, “I’m sorry, Joe, but I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”
Telling a good story is not a matter of fancy formatting or elaborate technique. Over the years, trying to make my way through mind-numbing pieces of corporate text, I often find Duane’s voice in my head: “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” Which is why I laughed when I came across this blog. It’s a bit old, already, but well worth the read.
Sometimes I’m asked what “telling a story” really means in the practical world of business communications. Which is why I was pleased to come across a simple, strong example at a business conference a few weeks ago. To illustrate one of her points, a speaker was describing the trajectory of her own business. She needed to explain that a key moment happened when her husband lost his job. But instead of just saying, “then my husband lost his job,” she said something like this:
“My husband worked from home. One day, we were both at home working when he got a call from his boss, asking him to come into the office: something that had never happened before. It turned out, my husband had lost his job.”
This presenter was wise enough to add just a few simple sentences and instead of an abstract fact, we have the man, the home, the family. The lost job suddenly has context, and with that comes a whole lot more meaning. Here’s an even older post than the last one, but another thing to be thankful for (at least sometimes) is that things live on forever on the web:
I was planning to add a few more links-to-chew-on, but a third thing I can be thankful for this season is that I have almost too much work to do, plus some delicious down time with family and friends ahead. So that’s it for now. Have a wonderful holiday!
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