telling a good story


NYPL geckgo

Yes, there is a gecko in this post.

My mission as a writer is telling a compelling story, whether it’s about a person, a product, a passion or a great organization.

Writers are frequently reminded to “show – don’t tell,” so instead of rambling on, I’ll share a pair of examples I pulled together for a presentation I made to a university class.

I chose these bios to illustrate the difference between dry, run-of-the-mill business content and good storytelling.

The first is a composite of a couple of leader bios I found on the websites of prominent companies; the names and identifying details have been changed.

Anna Jones

Chief Marketing Officer, Stellar Software

Anna Jones, Chief Marketing Officer for Stellar Software, is responsible for providing strategic direction for Stellar’s products, solutions and services and presenting the Stellar brand worldwide. Additionally, she oversees a number of operational units including Marketing and Product Management, Alliance Sales, Channel Marketing, Employee Wellness Services, Education, Human Resources, Professional Services, and Publications.

Jones is also a member of the Stellar Operating Team, which drives the company’s global business performance, and the Stellar Technology Team, which drives the company’s technology and product roadmap.

Driving the company to be customer-focused, Jones helped lead the transformation of Stellar from a tools provider to the software solutions provider it is today. She has done so by building particular industry expertise into Stellar’s product management and product marketing teams, which research the market and partner with R&D to leverage customized solutions for each industry. In her time at the company, Jones has overseen a dramatic increase in Stellar’s profile.

Exhausting, isn’t it? Anna has clearly had a distinguished career, but do  you come away having learned anything about her that will stick with you?

The second bio is one that I wrote for a client using details from an award nomination profile we worked on together. Again, all names and specifics have been changed for privacy’s sake.

Rob Smith

Founder / Vice President

When he was growing up, Rob Smith was fascinated with taking complicated tasks and figuring out how to make them easier. These days, that problem-solving fascination is fueling a successful design career.

Rob began making his mark in San Francisco after driving across country in a restored VW bus with his pet gecko, Truman, very little money, no job and no place to live. 

Fortunately, SuperSmartSoftware, an up-and-coming start-up, was looking for people like Rob, and he quickly became design lead for several of the company’s best-selling products.

In 2002, while he was working on a graduate degree, Rob co-founded Cool Widgets, a design firm. What began as a two-person operation is now one of the most highly respected firms in the Bay Area.

Rob’s ability to design engaging interactive experiences has brought him plum assignments for American Express, Electronic Arts, Boeing and Microsoft. Cool Widgets has just been honored as one of Startup Mania magazine’s 100 Best Companies, and Rob was named a Top Young Entrepreneur of 2012.

Talk to Rob about his education background, and he’ll tell you he was lousy at taking tests and had mediocre GPAs but managed to pry open many doors with hustle and persistence – including the one to the prestigious, highly competitive Columbia School of Journalism.

Throw his innate talents into this mix, and you have a skilled, passionate entrepreneur, community leader and colleague.

Both Anna and Rob are accomplished professionals, but I’m willing to bet that you will remember more about Rob than you do about Anna. I also believe you’ll have a much better sense of what it would be like to do business with Rob because his bio is personal and real.

You always have to consider your audience, and there may be situations where it might not work to have a bio quite as casual as Rob’s is. But even when you can’t talk about geckos, road trips, mediocre GPAs and unemployment, it’s wise to use a little color, warmth and conversational style in the stories you tell. No matter what you’re trying to get across about yourself or your company, nonprofit, product, service, cause, etc, you gain no advantage from content as boring, generic and stiff as Anna’s bio.

In short: Tell a great story, and people will remember you long after they have forgotten the competitors who are drowning in jargon-filled boilerplate.


The cool gecko image above is courtesy of the New York Public Library digital collections. 

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