you tell someone who knows little or nothing about your profession what
If you’re smart, you tell
a story. When someone asked Dan Tyson at a Super Bowl party what he did
for a living, he said he was a real estate attorney who worked to protect
home owners from equity strippers.
"What’s an equity stripper?" someone
"Let me explain it this way," he said,
and he told the following story:
An 85-year old woman got behind on her
house payments. Her house was worth around $200,000, and she had only
about $25,000 remaining on her mortgage. Along came three men who tricked
her into signing her deed over to them, assured her they would sell her
house back to her, charged her exorbitant payments, and when she fell
behind, began eviction proceedings.
"That’s equity stripping," Dan said. "As
part of my pro bono work, I helped establish an equity stripping task
force made up of a group of private practice and public employees
associated with the Volunteer Lawyers Network and Legal Aid of Minneapolis
and of Saint Paul. We go after unscrupulous, predatory lenders, protect
the rights of property owners, and limit the damage done to neighborhoods
by foreclosures and vacant houses."
Now, look again at the proceeding two
paragraphs. The first is narrative, the second exposition. If you
eliminate the narrative paragraph, you can see how much less effective the
expository paragraph is on its own.
One way to determine whether you are
using narrative to good effect in your communication, both written and
oral, is to consider your options. At the most basic level, you have only
three: narration (telling), description (describing), and exposition
(explaining). Anytime you put your fingers on a keyboard or open your
mouth to speak, you are employing one of these three basic modes of
Normally, you choose your mode without
conscious thought. It’s a natural choice, one you make all the time, and
you move readily from one mode to another based on your purpose and
But you may be making the wrong choice.
Whether you are introducing a newly hired staff member to your team,
writing a weekly column for your company newsletter, or profiling your
organization’s success on its website, you may be neglecting the power of
As a general rule, the sooner you tell
your story, the more likely you are to connect with your reader or
listener. And the more compelling your story, the more engaged your
When I think about how succinctly Dan
told his story about the 85-year-old woman, I realize it wasn’t the first
time he has explained how he works to help people who have been victimized
by dishonest and unscrupulous lenders. He was offering a well-rehearsed
and carefully structured narrative to support his description and
explanation of what he does for a living.
What is your story? Can you tell
it in a single, well-structured paragraph?