How To Tell a Great Story

Nat Torkington recently sent me a link to a fabulous posting by Seth Godin entitled How to tell a great story. If you got any value out of My Talk At Startup School, you should be sure to read Seth’s article. It really resonated with me. At O’Reilly, we’ve had the privilege to help kick off or otherwise contribute to some great computer industry stories: the commercialization of the internet, open source software, Web 2.0, and the maker movement. And Seth’s really summed up what those stories have in common:

  • Great stories are true.
  • Great stories make a promise.
  • Great stories are trusted.
  • Great stories are subtle.
  • Great stories happen fast.
  • Great stories don’t appeal to logic, but they often appeal to our senses.
  • Great stories are rarely aimed at everyone.
  • Great stories don’t contradict themselves.
  • Great stories agree with our world view.

(I struggled a bit with Seth’s last point, because I think that great stories wake us up to ideas that haven’t been part of our world view, but I think that there’s some interesting truth to it as well. It ties in to what Kathy Sierra talks about a lot on her Creating Passionate Users blog: helping people to have the story be about them rather than about you. However, I’m not sure that I entirely agree. Great stories, like great poetry, create that flash of recognition, the moment in which you see something as if you’ve always known it to be true, but in fact, if we already know we know it, there’s no spark. (For more on that idea, see Robert Bly’s wonderful book, Leaping Poetry.))

If you care about marketing and branding, this is an article to read! (I was quite honored that Nat sent it to me with the subject line “Everything I’ve learned at O’Reilly summed up by Seth Godin.”)