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Telling Business Stories Without Boring

How many times have you wished storytelling advice translated more easily to content marketing? 

You’re not alone. I get many questions about how to transform marketing content into great stories. 

Earlier this week, I talked with a team of content marketers who feel passionate about creating engaging content marketing for the medical device company where they work. 

They told me they struggle to create compelling stories that include the details their product marketing colleagues request. The product team routinely sends four-slide decks filled with product features and technical specifications they want to see in the content. 

The unspoken part of their request: Make it exciting.

I told the content team they need a “pope in the pool.” 

Read that sentence again to make sure you didn’t misunderstand – you need a pope in the pool. 

Storytellers often need to relay specific details to help people understand what’s going on. This exposition (if handled poorly) risks boring the audience and causing them to tune out or skip ahead. 

In his book on writing, Save the Cat, Blake Snyder describes the “pope in the pool” technique, which takes its name from a scene in a script called The Plot To Kill the Pope. Snyder admired the writer’s choice to have the pope’s staff convey information to him (and the audience) as he swims laps in a pool. 

The scene exploits the dissonance between how people expect to see a pope (on a balcony in ceremonial garb) and how the movie shows the pope (in a pool wearing a bathing suit). The audience feels intrigued enough not to mind the stream of facts and background information. 

Steven Spielberg uses this technique brilliantly in Jurassic Park, a movie that requires the audience to understand some details of DNA replication. The director could have shown the characters staring at a dinosaur egg while one of the park scientists explained how DNA replication occurs. But some of the characters are experts who already understand the concepts. So that kind of scene would have insulted the audience’s and the characters’ intelligence (and probably bored them, too). 

Instead, Spielberg pulls a great storyteller move. He shows the expert characters testing one of the rides (built for kids) in which an animated creature explains DNA replication. The experts bicker, fidget with the ride, and make fun of the information. The scene sets these characters up as true experts and creates an entertaining and informative experience.

I use the pope-in-the-pool technique in presentations whenever I need to deliver a litany of research results. Wrapping the research findings into entertaining anecdotes or side stories helps the audience absorb the data while the stories keep their interest (I hope).

And I teach my clients to do it, too. In this week’s Rose-Colored Glasses, I share an example that shows how you can convey product details (even for something as specialized as a medical device) in the context of a compelling story.  

I'd love to hear examples of the compelling ways you’ve found to package product details in a gripping story. Share them in the article's comments section or send them to me by email.

In the meantime, remember:

It's your story. Tell it well.

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Advisor
Content Marketing Institute

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