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Engage your audience: get to the point, use story structure, force specificity

159 points18 hoursiandanielstewart.com
danielovichdk4 hours ago

I was introduced to the STAR framework recently which lays it out like so : Situation > Task > Action > Result

Situation: I was asked by my wife if we should sail around the world for a few years.

Task: I agreed on the spot now we had to work hard towards looking for possible sail boats that could be our home for a few years and keep us safe while sailing.

Action: We travlled around the continent looking at boats, at the same time we saved up as much money we could. When we found a boat we bougt it, sold our house and lived on the boat. We took sailing and navigational classes and used a lot of time researching where in the world we wanted to go.

Result: We went sailing on May 17th 2023 and at the moment we are in the pacific helping environmental organisations de-plastic Hawaiian islands.

I found it being a good framework getting to the actual point!

stevage3 hours ago

STAR is the standard thing people are expected to use for job interviews these days.

danybittel10 hours ago

Vicky is not talking about the a story structure. If you followed a story structure, you start with how you've been (I always loved windows), then what happened (I got an automatic update), then piles of problems (The computer wouldn't start, lost some data, couldn't reinstall windows) then the solution (until I installed Linux) the moral (use Linux).

Vickys structure is sort of the opposite. Start with the most important part (You should use Linux), go deeper (for example Gnome, for desktop) or add surprise (it's very easy to install), open the conversation with a question (do you use Linux?) or close it with an answer (it doesn't have automatic updates).

That's why this blog post is kind of a mess, with conflicting ideas.

chadcmulligan8 hours ago

That's how newspaper articles are structured (the second part you mention), start off with the important bit (there was a car crash no one was hurt) then add more details as paragraphs proceed, if someone wants to know more they keep reading.

Of course the web has sort of ruined this, but I'm talking old school newspapers.

kstenerud8 hours ago

That's one annoying thing with modern articles. You have to wade through paragraphs and paragraphs of "John grew up a taxidermist's son and bla bla bla bla..." before you even get to what the article is supposed to be about.

Then you get a couple of on-topic sentences followed by another deluge of fluff.

Oldschool newspapers were great because space was at such a premium that this kind of garbage wouldn't happen.

lencastre7 hours ago

Try reading a recipe for a simple chocolate cake. You get the author’s deep rooted trauma of being that weird kid shamed in HS for some reason as well as over sharing of political stances on the war in Ukraine ending with promoting penny stocks or some MLM pyramid scheme. FFS just give me ingredients and steps.

kstenerud7 hours ago

"We can't bust heads like we used to, but we have our ways. One trick is to tell 'em stories that don't go anywhere. Like the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe. So, I decided to go to Morganville - which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days nickels had pictures of bumble bees on 'em. Gimme five bees for a quarter, they'd say. Now where was I... Oh yeah! The important thing was that I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn't have white onions, because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones."

- Abe Simpson

+1
krisoft4 hours ago
cainxinth3 hours ago

Hence the classic newsroom refrain: “Don’t bury the lede!”

ajuc7 hours ago

A historian I know rants a lot about the fashion to write historic books in anything but chronological order.

There's a lot of machinery in our brains that automatically parse chronological stories for dependencies and correlations. If you break up the order you throw it all away and everything becomes manual. It makes it easier to force people to agree with your interpretation, nothing feels "off".

It's like writing sequential imperative code vs a bunch of callbacks. Pretty obvious what's easier to debug.

XorNot10 hours ago

The second part is the structure I tell everyone to use in presentations - and yeah, its explicitly not narrative. I have a conclusion, so that goes up front - it's the most important part, it goes first. Then the second row rank of assumptions which support the conclusion go next, and only then do you start doing the background on how some of those are reached - if it matters.

I find it's as much a writing tool as it is useful for getting to the point quickly with presentations: the goal of presentation is not to surprise the audience, or have a clever twist. It's to be plain, open and honest.

(Which is to say, anytime you don't see this structure in any context other then fiction, you're probably being market pitched and what you see is fiction).

bawolff11 hours ago

I found myself first agreeing with this, and then hating the examples used.

I think the part i liked boils down to: have a thesis and be very upfront on what it is. Everything you say should build up that thesis.

To a lesser extent, i also agree with the idea that presentations should (usually) have a narrative structure, but i wouldn't put it the same way they did.

But at the same time, when they started to go into examples, everything started to sound click-baity. "One important thing you have to know about X" just feels like a click-bait headline. It also kind of assumes that i want to know one thing about X. Maybe i would rather know zero things. The "why" is left unadressed.

another-dave6 hours ago

> "One important thing you have to know about X" just feels like a click-bait headline. It also kind of assumes that i want to know one thing about X. Maybe i would rather know zero things. The "why" is left unadressed.

Agree that the phrasing feels a little clickbaity, but don't think it detracts too much.

There are scenarios that you can safely assume that someone does want to know about X — maybe you're presenting at a conference or giving a lecture; asked a "Tell us about a time when…" question in interview or, as in her example, you're giving a report about what your team did to senior managers.

ricc8 hours ago

This comment seems misleading… The example used was “the one thing you must know about this topic is …”, and I would have agreed with this comment if they forgot the “is …” part.

logifail9 hours ago

> everything started to sound click-baity. "One important thing you have to know about X" just feels like a click-bait headline

"X important things you have to know about Y. Number N will surprise you!"

solatic11 hours ago

There's a latent bias here that any audience can be engaged. That's simply not true. Some stories are told in a medium that is difficult for specific audiences to agree with (I'm thinking here of the difference between people who learn by listening, reading, doing), but some audiences just won't care about the story you're telling. You could be Tolkien himself, but if people you happen to be telling a story to aren't interested in fantasy, they won't engage.

Engagement is like dating: be attractive, don't be unattractive, and remember that it's a numbers game. "Be attractive" meaning, learn how to tell a good story. "Don't be unattractive" meaning, don't make stupid mistakes like not using a microphone and speaker in a large group, or hitting send at 7 PM on a Friday night. "Remember that it's a numbers game" meaning, don't spend all your energy on your first audience and get discouraged if they don't engage; just do you and tell your story to as many people as possible until you find those who do engage with you.

stevage3 hours ago

No, the "be attractive" of story-telling is, have a story that's worth telling.

The dark side of all this "how to tell a good story" stuff is teaching people how to suck up other people's attention on something that is fundamentally unworthy, like marketing drivel.

runamuck3 hours ago

I find "subject verb object" prose, combined with avoiding all forms of the verb "to be" yields clean, active, and easy to read text.

delichon3 hours ago

Social media: s/Engage/Enrage

mvkel13 hours ago

Whenever a video about making a compelling story is per se not compelling, I wonder.

The most powerful example would be a meta video that explains the concept within its own content.

Like the acronym GNU (Gnu's Not Unix).

aubanel8 hours ago

Something great I've specifically witnessed yesterday: when doing a small request, like ask for a feature request in the team channel, don't just describe a small use case.

Instead, provide the bigger picture: e.g. "I'm currently trying to climb that benchmark, I'm close to the top and only need a few % points that I could get with this new feature"

For me it worked wonders: a PR that I had been awaiting for some time was done overnight by an enthusiastic and helpful coworker!

kamikaz1k13 hours ago

Almost two decades ago now, I came across a PUA book where the author emphasized the importance of telling good stories, along with some good practical tips on how to structure.

I’ve used them regularly to great success. I tried to give this advice to some of my friends for interviews who followed STAR method a bit too rigidly. It didn’t work out…but over time they organically became better story tellers through practice.

This is a large tangent, but the post gives good business communication tips. I wrote a more succinct guide for my team, but I think I’ll share this too. Our company suffers from slack disease, so stuff like this can really help.

hmmmcurious113 hours ago

Sounds interesting, which book was it? Im looking for more practical ways to improve communication despite the PUA label. Although you can find many similarities between dates and interviews heh

stevage3 hours ago

For sure. I work as a freelancer, and I think there is an awful lot of similarity between dating and engaging new clients. Fundamentally, both sides are thinking "do I want to spend more time with this person", in addition to what they concretely offer.

skydhash4 hours ago

My recommendations are On Writing Well and Made to Stick for texts. As for verbal communication, “How to win friends and influence people” helps with the cues and motivations.

gumby12 hours ago

What are PUA and STAR? Hard to search for them.

SteveDR12 hours ago

Pick up artist (I think?), and STAR is a technique for answering interview questions

ChrisMarshallNY6 hours ago

This all seems quite ... familiar. I feel like it's basic common sense. Almost all of my writing and presentation classes -all the way back to grade school- have advocated this kind of thing.

Her video is pretty good, though.

aaronbrethorst12 hours ago

I gave up on the video after about 40 seconds. Get to the point, Vicky.

FredPret13 hours ago

The recommended texts are way longer than the originals. Engagement decreases per word written.

bawolff11 hours ago

Yes, but i don't think that is the only consideration.

After all, if only number of words written mattered, the best thing to do would be to just have an empty slide.

Being concise is better than verbosity all things being equal, but not at the expense of failing to clearly get your point across.

kamikaz1k13 hours ago

WDYM? The slides?

I actually thought they were quite good.

FredPret13 hours ago

For example:

Original: "Survey results"

Suggested: "Survey output indicates main root cause of churn is awareness of better value for money offering."

My suggestion depending on the context would be: "Survey: we're too expensive" or "Survey: churn due to cheaper alternatives" which will be read by 5x more people.

andsoitis12 hours ago

> "Survey: we're too expensive" or "Survey: churn due to cheaper alternatives"

I, for one, think the specificity is worth the extra couple of words.

FredPret4 hours ago

It’s certainly better… if you can get people to read it

nottorp9 hours ago

So... the content is irrelevant :)

All that matters is presentation and then you'll have "engagement".

No need to be talking about anything interesting.

stevage3 hours ago

I realised recently that many of the posts I see on social media that have the highest engagement achieve it through...ambiguity. People interpret the thing differently, then argue about their understanding, creating "engagement". Often the ambiguity isn't even intentional, it's just vague communication.

another-dave5 hours ago

The post isn't saying that though. It's saying that presentation is important _too_ (which is most definitely is). I think a lot of people can relate to "I did good work, why is it not landing well?"

> Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith.

nottorp5 hours ago

But what if my interpretation of 'engagement' (and 'content creation' while we're at it) excludes good faith?

The way I see it, 'content creation' is all about quantity not quality or having any message/goal.

And 'engagement' is about getting people to react emotionally (doesn't matter if positively or negatively) to get them to spam your 'content' to others.

brainzap5 hours ago

enrage your audience

Barrin929 hours ago

The only thing one should care about is to speak in your own voice. All these MBA cookie cutter slide deck presentation styles that introduce phrases or 3 part structures just mean you're on autopilot. I find nothing more off-putting than hearing someone give a talk and you can precisely pinpoint where they just start to borrow phrases or go down some generic list of items.

jononor8 hours ago

In my opinion that misses out on some critical steps: 1) Think about the purpose of the communication, the goals. 2) Consider the audience, their background and communication preferences

Barrin924 hours ago

the problem with focusing on the audience is that we're in an age where people are already over-obsessed with reception, it's no accident that the title of this post starts with "Engage your audience..." and deals almost exclusively with structure and how to say things rather than substance. Much more interesting these days to look for people who write for themselves and take an audience as it comes rather than trying to optimize for engagement.

hotdogscout13 hours ago

As others said, that video bored me and so did the blog post.

The hero's journey is not good Framework for a technical talk.

Be interesting, create a hook, what do you find interesting? What style draws you in? Emulate that, then branch off.

Conversation is a lot more complex and depends on reaction, audience, expertize. Every verbal interaction is a lot like writing.

If you're gonna read a book about it it should be How to Make Friends and and Influence People.

Corny title but a timeless working strategy for communication.

On Writing by Stephen King is fine too but tldr; be honest.

bawolff11 hours ago

It depends on what you are talking about, but i actually think the hero's journey is actually a good framework for many (not all) technical talks. [I agree the blog post did a poor job selling it]

A lot of technical talks are essentially a story on how you (or your team/company/whatever) solved some problem. Essentially you are the hero, and you are regailing everyone with the tale of how you solved some technical problem. That naturally forms a sort of narrative story, that isn't that different from fictional stories where the hero's peaceful life is interupted by some call to action, go through some hardships, and eventually slay the dragon.

skydhash4 hours ago

You’re right. But people fails often to define the characters, build the scene, and structure the plot. I’ve been reading some of the books from “Write Great Fiction” series [0] and you can apply the advices to nonfiction too.

[0]: https://www.writersdigest.com/wd-books/wgf-plot-structure