May 25, 2022

Metal monster

Duel is one of Steven Spielberg’s first movies.

The main character, salesman David Mann, drives a small red car through a desolate landscape. It’s hot.

He comes to drive behind a huge, brown truck. He overtakes it.

Moments later, he sees in his rearview mirror that the truck is tailgating. Mann waves and lets him pass.

The truck cuts him off. But after that, it seems like nothing happened.

Mann stops to refuel. The truck stops as well. Mann drives on and again, the truck tailgates. Even when Mann accelerates and reaches high speed.

For a moment, Mann manages to shake off the truck. But the menacing metal monster keeps appearing. It becomes increasingly clear what it wants: to kill Mann.

At the end of the duel – spoiler alert – the two vehicles face each other on a dead end. The truck approaches Mann. Mann locks the accelerator with his briefcase and jumps out of the car.

After a collision, the truck rolls into a canyon.

As a viewer, you feel nothing but relief.

Duel is simple, but pure storytelling.

We get to know a main character with whom we identify. That main character has a problem. And in the end, that problem is overcome.

If you look closely, you can see this structure in many films.

And you can also use it to make communication about your work more interesting. Though that may sound farfetched.

How?

Check our page about the SCQA structure.

Regards,

Arnaud

 

May 18, 2022

They seduce the mamils

In the village Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, they’re not a fan of cyclists.

At least, that’s how I imagine it.The village is located south of Amsterdam and opens up a beautiful cycling area.

On a sunny Sunday, thousands of cyclists cycle through Ouderkerk, on their way to polders and ditches.

Most of them are ‘mamils’: middle-aged men in lycra.

Until recently, you couldn’t walk safely through the narrow Dorpsstraat of Ouderkerk on such a summer day. Left and right, the mamils raced by.

But now, the municipality has come up with something clever. A friendly sign to tempt cyclists to detour, and thus avoid the Dorpsstraat.

This is the sign:

This sign is clever because it speaks the language of the target audience.

Among cyclists, KOM stands for King of the Mountain. In the Strava sports app, you get the KOM crown if you’re the fastest in a segment – hilly or flat. ‘Kom’ is also the Dutch word for ‘come’.

I am a mamil myself.

Every time I see the KOM sign, I have to smile. And I am more than willing to change my route.

Do you want your audience to be more benevolent and understand you better?

Speak its language, use its words.

Regards,

Arnaud

May 11, 2022

Little green man

‘Suppose a little green man…’

Stephen Hawking once wrote this sentence in a scientific paper.

The playful formulation didn’t make it to the final draft. An editor forced him to change it into ‘Suppose an observer…’.

I came across this anecdote while researching for an article on academic writing. I couldn’t find out if it’s true.

In my research I stumbled upon more little jokes from scientists.

At the time, I didn’t include them in my article. But today I’d like to share a few with you.

Scientists find, for example, room for humor in the titles of their papers:

NOX, NOX Who is There?

An In-Depth Analysis of a Piece of Shit: Distribution of Schistosoma mansoni and Hookworm Eggs in Human Stool

Both have really been published.

The names of new animal or plant species sometimes contain a joke as well.

For example, there’s a mite that’s called Darthvaderum. And a mushroom with the name Spongiforma squarepantsii. Both because of their shape.

The names of the species come from an article by biologist Stephen B. Heard. Heard also wrote a Scientist’s Guide to Writing.

He argues that we should include ‘touches of whimsy, humanity, humour, and beauty’ in papers more often. Obviously, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of clarity.

Regards,

Arnaud

May 4, 2022

How to create a group

You’re going to the supermarket for nine groceries.

Strawberries, broccoli, butter, raspberries, kiwi, cucumber, milk, tomatoes and white bread.

But you’re not allowed to make a list.

Remembering nine groceries is a lot for your brain. So it’s useful to create groups. Categories, clusters, silos…

But how do you create logical groups? Not only for your groceries, but also for structure puzzles at work?

A tool that can help you is MECE: Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive.

For example, the groups ‘dairy’, ‘fruit’ and ‘green’ are not MECE. Because ‘fruit’ and ‘green’ are not mutually exclusive. Just ask the kiwi.

The groups ‘dairy’, ‘fruit’ and ‘vegetables’ are not MECE either. Since white bread doesn’t fit into any of these groups.

Then what is MECE?

For example, the groups ‘red’, ‘green’ and ‘white’. At least for this collection of groceries.

In your work you can use MECE to analyze data or arguments, to get a grip on complex matters or to make a chapter division.

That’s why consultants love it.

Regards,

Arnaud

April 28, 2022

The problem called template

Suppose I start a presentation like this:

I’m Arnaud from Analytic Storytelling.

Today I’m going to talk about templates.

By the way, I work at Analytic Storytelling.

A template is a standard layout for slides. Often with an organization logo and fixed colors.

I work at Analytic Storytelling.

Sounds absurd?

According to communication expert Jean-luc Doumont (recommended!), many people do something similar in presentations. Maybe you do it too, without knowing it.

Obviously, nobody literally says their name after every sentence.

But people do use a template on every slide.

For example, the Kennesaw State University (Georgia) template looks like this:

This isn’t about me trying to bash Kennesaw State University. Because almost every organization has a template like this.

If you’re working on a presentation, a template might feel comfortable.

There’s nothing on your slide yet. But it already looks professional.

Jean-luc Doumont thinks very differently about templates.

According to him, everything on a slide should contribute to the message. Anything that doesn’t, is visual noise. And visual noise makes your message less clear.

Doumonts own slides are very minimalistic. I’m a little less radical myself.

But seeing your template through his eyes is stimulating.

Regards,

Arnaud

April 20, 2022

By monkeys 🐒🐒

Your monthly internet costs are increased. By monkeys.

What does this sentence have to do with good communication?

One of the most important pieces of writing advice is to use the active voice. And to avoid the passive voice.

An example of an active sentence is ‘Joseph cooks the spaghetti’. The passive counterpart is ‘The spaghetti is being cooked’.

An active sentence is more direct and visual: it paints the whole picture. Active sentences are therefore usually clearer, more attractive and easier to read.

If you want to use the active voice, it’s important that you recognize passive sentences immediately.

You can do this by paying attention to the auxiliary verb ‘to be’. Cooking is taking place, decisions have been made, internet costs are increased…

But wait – it’s much more fun this way.

Check if you can add ‘by monkeys’ to the sentence. Possible? Then the sentence is probably passive.

Regards,

Arnaud

 

PS I found the monkey trick on the website of Monzo. You can also use zombies, if you prefer.

April 13, 2022

Blood and milk

One day in high school, I passed out.

During geography, on my school desk.

The lesson was about the Maasai, a nomadic tribe in Eastern Africa. One of the Maasai traditions is bloodletting.

A Maasai selects a cow from his herd. He ties the neck with a belt. Then he shoots the cow in the neck with bow and arrow, causing the cow to bleed. He collects the blood in a gourd.

When the gourd is filled with about half a liter of blood, the Maasai pinches the wound edges together. This stops the bleeding. The Maasai adds milk to the blood and drinks it.

I had a teacher who expressed himself very visually. And I couldn’t stand blood.

Before the milk came in, I was knocked out on the table.

This anecdote shows how strong the effect of a good story can be. You’re drawn into a world and have an emotional reaction on what you’re picturing in your mind. And sometimes even a physical one. 😉

You probably don’t want your audience to faint.

But if you want to get your message across, emotional involvement really helps. You achieve this involvement with a visual description full of sensory details. With blood and milk.

Regards,

Arnaud

 

April 6, 2022

What’s the fire?

Today I have a little exercise for you.

Storytelling often revolves around an opposition. The opposition between problem and solution, between before and after.

The opposition creates tension: we aren’t yet where we want to be.

Sometimes you’ve been working on a subject for so long, you forget the opposition. You’re no longer focused on the problem part. So you forget to talk about it.

In other words, you only communicate about the solution: your advice, proposal, research, policy or product.

Therefore, as an exercise: find the corresponding problem for each solution below. And take at least half a minute to describe the problem.

Here’s an example to get into it.

Is the solution ‘firemen’? Then say that annually, there are over 66,000 house fires in the Netherlands. In about 50 cases with a fatality. And with 800 people every year with very severe burns. This often leads to years of trauma. The average financial loss per fire is almost € 21,000. Etcetera.

Describe details, numbers, consequences and the associated emotions.

Ready?

Here we go:

Toothbrushing

A reversing camera for your car

A website with medical information verified by specialists

A campaign for understandable government language

A quality mark for fair fashion

Good luck!

Regards,

Arnaud

March 30, 2022

How do you convince a skeptic?

In my training sessions, participants sometimes ask difficult questions.

I like that.

One of the most difficult questions is: how do you convince someone who fundamentally disagrees with you?

For example, someone who doesn’t believe in climate change. While your story is about heat pumps.

Or someone who thinks that 5G towers emit dangerous radiation. While there is no evidence for that.

And I haven’t even mentioned corona yet.

So it’s a topical question…

My answer?

It’s hard. Sometimes it’s impossible. But not always.

The most important thing is that you really start from the world, the knowledge and the values of your audience.

The best example I have found is in the book Made to Stick: about a campaign against the litter problem in Texas.

How do convince the stereotypical young, male Texan who occasionally leaves something lying around?

That Texan has a pickup truck and doesn’t care about seals. He is proud and independent and doesn’t let anybody tell him to clean up his mess. He’ll decide that himself!

The ‘Please no litter’ signs had little effect. 😉

In the campaign, Texan pride eventually became the deciding factor.

For example, there was a TV commercial with a tough, famous Texan baseball player throwing garbage in a trash can with a fastball.

The slogan? Don’t mess with Texas!

Pretty good.

Regards,

Arnaud

March 23, 2022

Is a question mark in your title a good idea?

Today I have something funny for you.

It’s called Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.

Betteridge’s Law states that to any headline that is formulated as a yes/no question, you can answer ‘no’.

Wanna try?

Is this the new medicine to cure AIDS?

No.

Is Algeria a paradise for renewable energy?

No.

Are cryptocurrencies taking over the world?

No.

If the answer were ‘yes’, the headline would be different. That’s the idea behind Betteridge’s Law.

A journalist would love to put in the headline that a cure for AIDS has been found.

That’s why headlines with a question have a bad reputation. A reputation of overselling and sensationalism.

Since I know Betteridge’s Law, it’s difficult for me to read headlines with a question in a neutral way.

More examples? There’s a dedicated Betteridge’s Law website with an extensive collection.

Regards,

Arnaud

March 16, 2022

A much better slide (within a few minutes)

Today’s tip has just four words.

Use The Noun Project.

Really.

Use it for your presentations. And for your infographics and graphical abstracts, if you make them.

What is it?

The Noun Project is a database with icons created by graphic designers.

You can find an icon for just about everything. There are over 3 million icons.

Wanna try?

Let’s take the following slide about police investigation as an example.

There are just a few sentences on the slide. But still, your audience has to concentrate to grasp it.

And it’s not very appealing, such a slide full of text.

Enter The Noun Project.

In a few moments, you’ll find an icon for every important word.

Sometimes you need to be a bit more creative. For example, with ‘common crime’, I used the keyword ‘pickpocket’. And with ‘serious crime’, I used ‘mafia’.

The result may look like this:

I’m not a graphic designer. And I’m sure my alignment isn’t perfect.

But I did make a slide that is much better than the one with just text.

In less than 15 minutes.

Regards,

Arnaud

 

PS I don’t have any shares in The Noun Project. Just to make sure. 😉

March 9, 2022

Talk to me

A blogpost from 2005.

You can see from the layout that it was a while ago: MS-DOS vibes.

But it’s still one of the best articles on writing I’ve ever read. And I’ve read quite a few.

The title alone.

Conversational writing kicks formal writing’s ass.

Author Kathy Sierra advises to write the way you talk. But then without the um’s and you-know’s.

Not only in blog articles. Also in books.

Even books on complex topics.

When you write conversationally, something strange happens.

Your reader knows he’s not having a real conversation. Yet his brain subconsciously thinks it needs to talk back. So it pays more attention.

Research also shows that people remember conversational writing better than formal writing.

You may know this intuitively. But most people have unlearned writing informally in high school.

Too bad, Sierra says. Your sixth-grade teacher was wrong.

Sierra ends her story with a nice one-liner.

If your brain had a bumper sticker, it would say: I heart conversation.

So, do you want me to pay attention?

Address me as ‘you’. Ask me questions. Use everyday words.

Just like in a conversation.

Regards,

Arnaud

March 2, 2022

Advice from the art academy

In my twenties, I studied for two years at the art academy.

My specialization was ‘Image and Language’, and one of the courses was ‘Writing’.

I wrote a story that was set in Mongolia – I had been there. I have always remembered the criticism of one of my sentences.

Mongolia is a vast country, with magnificent, untouched nature and an authentic nomadic culture.

I wrote something like that.

I was still young. 😉

The teacher was resolute. Cliché formulations. Too much ‘tell’, too little ‘show’.

This is how I got introduced to the basic rule for creative writing: Show, don’t tell.

You can tell your audience that a country is vast. But it works better to show that. With images and details.

How do you see it?

For example, do the characters ride a horse for a day without seeing anyone? Do they buy two kilos of rice because they know they won’t see a shop for the next week?

Show, don’t tell is also good advice for professional communication.

If you want to say that your product is user friendly, of high quality or sustainable, for instance.

Does the phone have a four-year warranty, is it made from recycled materials, and can you repair all parts yourself (with a manual)?

How do you see it?

Regards,

Arnaud

February 22, 2022

Baby, Werewolf, Silver Bullet

Never in my weekly tip has a werewolf passed by.

That must change.

Here it comes.

In our Analytic Storytelling method, we use a fixed format to structure stories. The SCQA: Situation – Complication – Question – Answer.

The SCQA-structure makes your story comprehensible and urgent. And I fully support the method.

But…

The abbreviation is somewhat abstract. And maybe hard to remember.

Some time ago, in a blog post by biologist Andrew Hendry, I came across a more visual alternative.

Baby – Werewolf – Silver Bullet.

(The Q is missing, but that’s not a problem.)

Andrew Hendry says to start your story with a cute baby. A subject we find interesting or important. Like biodiversity.

Then explain that the baby is being threatened. So that the audience will start to worry. This is the werewolf part. For example, the biodiversity is being threatened by habitat loss.

Finally, describe the silver bullet you use to make the werewolf (more) harmless. For example, designing ecological corridors in a new way. A way that limits the impact of habitat loss.

Can’t remember the abbreviation SCQA for a moment? Think of Baby – Werewolf – Silver Bullet.

That’s hard to forget.

Regards,

Arnaud

February 16, 2022

How Can I Make This About Me?

Are you on Twitter?

I am, although I rarely post. I mainly look around for input and distraction.

An account I enjoy following is ‘How Can I Make This About Me?’. HCIMTAM shares messages from people who put themselves a little too emphatically in the spotlight.

Like Prof. David Pinto:

Renowned psychologist Prof. Dr. Willem Hofstee passed away. Sad. Prof. Hofstee was a member of the reading committee of my Dissertation and he wrote about me: “The greatest possible respect is due to the contributions the author has made to civilization and humanity.”

Another fun HCIMTAM example is Instagram model Natalie Schlater.

She posted a picture in which she stands prominently in front of a rice field, in underwear. Caption: ‘Thinking about how different my life is from the man picking in the rice field every morning.’

HCIMTAM shows extremes of narcissism and vanity.

But the tendency to relate something back to yourself is not extreme in itself. It is human.

And your audience has that tendency – consciously or unconsciously – as well.

Therefore, it’s best to ensure that your story is already explicitly about your audience. Because people find themselves most interesting after all.

Regards,

Arnaud

February 9, 2022

You overestimate your audience

Everyone knows this!

Do you ever think that when it comes to your subject?

Many experts know this experience. You think you’re explaining something in a very simple way. And yet your audience looks at you questioningly.

How come?

The mechanism that plays a role here is called the curse of knowledge.

As an expert, you’ve been trained in your subject for years. And the knowledge you’ve gained, determines the way you perceive the world.

An ornithologist recognizes a merlin, while a layperson only sees a falcon, a bird of prey or just a bird.

An ornithologist has all kinds of associations with the word ‘merlin’. How it looks, that it’s rare, that it’s small, that it doesn’t hover, like a kestrel.

And many more.

Such associations are important for your work as an expert. But when you communicate, they just get in the way.

Because your audience doesn’t have those associations. So they don’t automatically draw the same conclusions as you.

Are you unsure whether you should explain a basic term of image from your field?

Then the answer is probably ‘yes’.

Regards,

Arnaud

February 2, 2022

Grumpy Old Man

‘The first rule for a good style is to have something to say; in fact, this in itself is almost enough.’

This is a quote by the 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.

As a former philosophy student, I can’t help but share such a snippet of wisdom with you every now and then.

Schopenhauer was popular among my fellow students.

This was partly due to his provocative, pessimistic view of life. He was a grumpy old man. Selections of his work have been compiled in Dutch as De wereld een hel (The world a hell) and Er is geen vrouw die deugt (There are no good women).

Schopenhauer was also popular because his work is so easy to read. He has an elegant, attractive, literary style.

But according to him, the basis of a good style is that you have something to say.

He is right.

And it also applies to communication about your work.

Sometimes I see people worrying about form early on. Sentence length, passive sentences, spelling. Fonts, colors, and alignment on slides.

All important.

But not the essence.

Make sure that first, you know what you want to say. What your message is. And pay most attention to that.

Only then, worry about form.

Regards,

Arnaud

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Do you have a question you’d like to discuss? Feel free to call us or send an email: 

Stijn Cornelissen
s.cornelissen@analytic-storytelling.com
+31 6 45 30 41 74

 

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