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What you and Miss Universe have in common

September 14, 2011

So, the wait is over: they’ve crowned Miss Universe 2011. We can all breathe a sigh of relief.

And what’s most important? It wasn’t all about the package: Miss Angola puts her good fortune down to inner beauty and strong principles. (Silencing all her critics in one fell swoop!)

Your story is a bit like a Miss Universe Contestant. It doesn’t simply need good looks, it needs to have something inside.

Consider this little nugget of insight from one of the judges: “I know my job and I’ll be tough, but fair. You have to keep in mind that these women are not objects just to be looked at. They’re to be taken seriously. I want to choose somebody I take seriously and the world takes seriously, too”.

Let’s all pretend we live on Mars, and can take this statement at face value. The judge is saying you can have the biggest boobs, the tiniest waist, the whitest teeth or the tautest bottom, but if you don’t have the goods to back it up with, you’re not going to be wearing that pretty little tiara on crowning night.

Communication is the same: no matter how well you write, you need a story to tell in the first place. In media relations, journalists can suss out if you have no story, the same way a Miss Universe judge can tell you have no grasp of international politics. (Ok, at least let me pretend that’s true). In blogging, readers will switch off if you’re boring, repetitive or just a total wanker. And the most animated speaker will bomb if they deliver death by Powerpoint.

What makes a good story? 

Well, firstly, does it pass the ‘sales message’ test? You know the one: are you helping me solve a problem, explore a current issue or change the game somewhere, somehow?

No? OK, that’s a product marketing spiel, and you can put that in a brochure. Please don’t pretend it’s a news story.

Secondly, can you tell me your story in real, conversational English? Or is it a jargon-laden explication of an obscure point, designed to make you sound clever? It is? Ok, onto the next contestant.

Thirdly, if you are really, really honest, would you listen to this story yourself?

I know that sometimes you end up believing your own PR. But there are plenty of business people out there – and their PR advisers – living in a state of suspended disbelief, pretending their story/topic/media release is worth reading.

If they took a step back, they’d realise their story is little more than a pretty girl with a skimpy bikini, but very little else to offer in the way of enlightenment. Please make sure you’re not that person.

But what if you know your story is crap?  Yet your boss or your client tells you to work on it anyway?

You have a few options.

The first is to whinge but do it anyway. That’s clearly the easiest option – and sometimes the only one. (God, when I think of some of the turds I’ve had to try and polish).

The second is to look for other, topical stories you can try and link it to – perhaps your spokesperson can comment on that issue.

The third is to open up a conversation about how you can improve it: what’s missing, what other info you could access or whether you could wait until the story has developed into something more useful.

The final option is to quit your job, go travelling and tell your boss to bugger off. But I would never take that option myself…

Like this post? Of course you do – there were sparkles and tiaras! Why not share on Twitter or Facebook?


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