Five fatal storytelling flaws.

Author: Jen Jackson

One of my favorite opening scenes in a movie is from City Slickers when Billy Crystal’s character, Mitch, finds himself at his son’s elementary school career day. Media-buyer Mitch’s presentation falls flat after he has to follow a construction worker dad who tells of his action-packed job that requires super-human strengths to save a woman from a crashing crane. The delivery is classic storytelling, the class cheers the construction dad.

In movies and marketing, successful storytelling drives people to action – whether it’s audience applause, a word-of-mouth recommendation, or a web click. But many organizations with a great product or service miss the boat by missing the opportunity to tell a good story.

Here we share five things that get in the way of good storytelling:

  1. Over telling

Since most of us don’t speak with flowery strings of adjectives, our writing shouldn’t either. The most memorable stories are the simple ones that don’t get bogged down in lengthy prose. We often remind clients and young writers: show, don’t tell. Accomplish this with easy-to-understand words that align with how your audience communicates and use sensory details that enable readers to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings.

  1. Audience unknown

A couple of weeks ago I watched a high school administrator give a roomful of 16-years olds the same talk on college admissions that she had given to parents a week prior. While I had loved her presentation chocked full of facts and figures, it was a snoozer for the kids. Knowing your audience and what resonates with them is the difference between hitting the bullseye and missing the mark completely. Our audience research typically includes developing “personas” that outline demographical information, likes/dislikes, hobbies, careers and attitudes.

  1. Drowning in facts

If you’ve ever listened to an excellent speaker or teacher, you know that an emotionally-loaded story will always be wrapped into their talk. It’s how we get sucked in and continue to give our attention. A list of facts is hardly memorable and not at all interesting. If you’ve got facts to communicate, find ways to encapsulate them into a rich, relatable story.

  1. Jumbled with jargon

Corporate jargon cracks me up, yet we all use it. Do you have bandwidth for a project? Can we leverage this product attribute? What’s its pain point? The sweet spot? If your writing speaks truthfully and honestly, it doesn’t need jargon. Avoiding buzzwords conveys truth and ultimately yields trust. The best books and movies flow conversations seamlessly throughout the story, allowing us to get lost in the real-life dialog. Let your writing do the same.

  1. Phoniness

Made up stories sound, well… fake. No one likes a phony, so keep it real. Personal accounts and anecdotes are what attract us to other people. The same goes for your product, service or organization. Companies that talk about their own goals and aspirations that stem from shortcomings or failures are the ones that real people want to do business with. No need to overpromise with corporate chest beating, or oversell with empty promises.


Everyone has a story to tell. What’s yours?