The recent success of The Avengers has got me thinking about what elements we might use to help our writing get and keep our stakeholders engaged in our causes and, ultimately, our organizations. I will share what Stan Lee’s been doing to engage his readers and viewers for over 50 years. I will also provide tips on how you can use these tools to build long term lasting relationships with your key stakeholders. Now, “Avengers Assemble,” and let see how our team of superwriters can defeat the forces of boredom in our weekly blog.
Tip #1 – Keep your story fresh. How did you get involved in your organization? I bet there is a good reason that you feel so passionately about your nonprofit. For many of us, we’ve been involved for so long we may have forgotten our origin story and how it affects the way we introduce our stories to others. For others, you might even have a finely honed story that shares how you got involved. Has it been updated or are you still using references from the 1970’s? Stan Lee has proven even legends need to be rewritten occasionally if they fall out of context. It doesn’t mean a complete rewrite but updating helps you connect with new people. One of Stan Lee biggest secrets is how he updates the story but maintains the core concept. He has a fascinating writing trick of giving kudos to the people who have been involved in the character for a long time by including small clues only the long term fan would understand, but the new fan will ask about. It’s a great bonding time for the different generations and it provides the glue to engage future generations in discussions. If you’re looking for a great example consider how the Ironman story origin has evolved. Rent the two disk set and watch the movie first. This is a great example of Stan Lee at his best. Then check out the added bonus DVD material to see how this wonderful story has evolved.
Tip #2 – Create a story I can see myself in. The second tip is he creates stories that we can be involved in. His stories could happen in our neighborhood. We can see ourselves in his story lines. He uses emotions to move people through his stories and you should too. He’s very careful to not overdo the emotions. Today, we see much of the advertising yank on emotions. We see so much death and destruction, we almost become immune to the emotions we should be feeling. I see this in many of my client’s most powerful stories. The gifted storyteller uses both positive and negative emotions in the right proportion. If your story becomes a sermon, you risk putting off the readers who really care about your cause. No one wants to be lectured 24/7. Since many of our messages are shared through the social media universe for days, it can be very easy to overdo the negative and forget to include the positive. People don’t mind a rollercoaster, but they need to feel good at the end or they won’t return. You have to set the expectation for return.
Tip #3 – Keep it simple. The final secret of Stan Lee’s stories is their simplicity. I know you’re thinking, “How challenging can it be write a comic or a graphic novel?” I’m not sure if it’s that simple. How do you transition your story quickly, keep people engaged, go viral and then make sure they return for the next installment? When you think about these challenges, you need to make your transitions quick and powerful. Stan and his team do this by using easy transitions and easy to remember lines. Who doesn’t remember “Hulk will smash!!”, “ Avengers Assemble!!”, and “ It’s clobbering time!!” These simple transitions take the reader into the action but also make great tee-shirts. It allows readers to pick sides and easily to relate to their favorite characters or stories. It seems so easy, but it not. It takes planning and repetition, but the payoff is huge.
So what do you take away from today’s blog? Hopefully some new tools and ideas that will make your writing more powerful. It’s critical to understand the three tips we talked about to make your writing easy to enjoy. You have to create drama in your writing and share characters people can relate too. Don’t be afraid to use emotions to help make your points, but be careful not to lean too far in using negative feelings to sell positive change. Finally, simplify your message so that it fits on a tee-shirt or bumper sticker and can be shared easily with others.
Next week, I’ll start writing about one of my favorite parts of our jobs as leaders of nonprofits, how to raise money and awareness for our causes in challenging times. As Stan Lee would say, “Nuff Said!!”
If you don’t read today’s blog from puny human, Tripp Braden, Hulk will smash!!
Now you know the pressure I was under to produce a great blog sharing some of the secrets that Stan Lee has used to keep people involved in his heroes and their stories for over 50 years. There’s nothing worse than a big green Hulk looking over your shoulder as you try to share the secrets of his and The Avengers’ longevity. All the time I spent with Nick Fury in Washington has paid unexpected dividends over the past several days.
The Avengers had a record opening weekend with over $200 million in ticket sales. What can we learn from Stan Lee that would make our marketing more powerful? Stan Lee is the master of good storytelling. He’s been doing it for over 50 years and his stories are as popular today as they were 50 years ago. How does Stan do it and how can we apply some of his storytelling magic to our organizations to create better opportunities?
I believe there are three keys to Stan Lee’s storytelling success. Let me share what I’ve learned from Stan Lee and how it applies to the writing we do for our organizations and causes.
Key 1 – Include drama. The first key of Stan’s success is to include drama. What is drama? Drama is the context in which your message is placed. Drama is the secret of a good story. Most good drama is driven by conflict. Good versus evil, light versus dark, overwhelming situations that would challenge anyone. Drama sets up the story by grabbing your attention at the very beginning and doesn’t let go until the end of the story.
In good storytelling, there are usually several conflicts in the story. The more, the better. In Stan’s stories there are always subplots to keep your attention during slow times in the story. In most cases, these small hooks allow us to choose sides, see ourselves in the characters, and sometime allow us to release ourselves from our daily activities.
Good drama is important to your story because without out it, people won’t come back for more. As a salesperson, I know it might take several calls before a client decides to buy from me. In good storytelling, you want people to read you often and share it with their friends and family. A good story will be easy enough to share but have enough twists and turns that it makes people want to share it with their friends. Don’t be afraid to give a little more detail and maybe even embellish the facts a little. People are not moved by small ideas and lack of detail.
If you’re still reading it means that you are looking to become a better communicator. I believe that in the past we could get away with mediocre writers and still get people to read our stories. With people seeing thousands of messages every day, we must learn to change if we hope to compete for our stakeholders minds. Today, everyone is in the entertainment business and we must teach as well as entertain. If your marketing tries to compete with the facts only, you’ll be lucky if someone reads you once and may never read you again. So, take time to think out your story before you start writing. Look for interesting bits of information about your situation. Learn to look at things from the point of view of your reader not from your point of view. Because we are so exposed to our own situations, we sometimes fail to share it in a way that it’s new or exciting to our readers. Share details that help people understand the situation, but don’t fill in all the details. Allow the readers’ imagination to be an active participant in the storytelling.
Now that I’ve covered the first of Stan Lee’s storytelling keys, drama, I’ll start covering the next element, character creation, in my next blog. This key helps you draw your best stakeholders into your story and they won’t even know you did it. Learning how to create great characters is the next step to make your writing more memorable. But you already know this, because I know where you hide your stash of comic books in your office.