February 21, 2016

Telling multiple stories

Much of this blog gives advice about how to tell a story. But that’s actually an oversimplification. In fact, you’re almost always in the situation where you want to tell multiple stories at once. The main messages of this post are:

Reasons the multiple-stories situation is so common include:

The first way to deal with all this is via modularization. In some cases, that’s easy. (E.g. websites can make different points on different pages.) Sometimes it’s harder, but worth doing anyway. E.g., in my recent post on influencer pitches, I said: 

In cases when modularization isn’t easy, I have a specific and elementary tip: As you were taught in grade-school essay writing, summarize what you’re going to say before you go ahead and say it.

And by the way — the cases in which it’s hard to follow this advice may also be the ones in which it’s most important. After all — if you can’t figure out what all the elements of your pitch are, your listeners probably won’t be able to figure it out either.

Pro-tip: If you have to say “Please don’t question me; just let me talk for a while and my point should become clear”, then you don’t understand the structure of your own argument as well as you should.

All that said: Even though I called above for modularization, I also recommend that you look for ways to weave together different stories whenever it makes sense. (If the idea of a complex tradeoff between modularization and integration is new to you — well, then you’re probably not a software developer. :) ) That gives you more opportunities to reinforce each of your main messages. In particular:

In some cases there’s yet another complication, in that your stories can (partially) contradict each other. Common cases include:

My specific tips for dealing with such situations clearly and credibly include:

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