I was working recently with a team of executives on storytelling and delivery, and in one of the exercises I pressed them to present their pitches faster and in a more compressed style. The world is impatient and you need to hook your listeners quickly.
The executives struggled – and mostly succeeded – to tell their stories in 2-3 minutes. They gave me a little pushback, saying that I was asking too much. They wanted more time. My response was “Yes, this is difficult, but important to be able to do.” No one is as interested in your story as you are; you’ve got to be able to get it done.
And then I saw this video. Too late for my executive seminar, but not too late for you, this 3-minute ad from Thailand packs a powerful wallop in a very short space. And it suggests several lessons for good storytelling.
1. Avoid the intro. There’s virtually no preamble here, just an immediate incident to get the story going. Skip the opening stuff and get right to the point.
2. Go for the emotion. The emotions invoked in this video run deep and involve social norms, family, debt and honor – nothing trivial. Don’t waste our time with trivial pursuits. Get to the good stuff.
3. Make it about life and death. Stories that hold our attention involve not only strong emotion, but big stakes. If you’re going to keep us watching, or listening, go for the gut level.
4. Give us texture. If you’re trying to tell a story quickly, you might be tempted to give us a vague fairy tale, in order to save time and effort. But don’t. This video throws us right into a milieu and expects us to keep up. It feels real, not imaginary.
5. Complete the arc. What ultimately satisfies in a story is completeness. The rest of our lives may be chaotic, fragmentary, and unfinished, but give us a story that isn’t. Give us the full narrative. Even in three minutes.