Create an incredible shrinking story

October 4th, 2009
Businessman eyes stack of paperwork

Lately I’ve been obsessing about how to make a big story very small.  Specifically, I’m planning to shrink a mountain of information to three pages in an industry presentation. And use pictures not words to tell the story.

Ha! Good luck, you may think. Well, with my antennae up for a plausible approach, I’m inspired by people who’ve “been there, done that” in this mission of creating the incredible shrinking story.

An executive from Levi Strauss once shared a parable at the national conference of Business for Social Responsibility, now known as BSR.  Still early in its development, BSR was struggling to define its itself. Though the organization had a singular focus on making the world a better place through sustainable business practices, the needs of its constituency ranged widely. The little guys didn’t necessarily have the same agenda as the big corporations. Hearing a parable about a king who persists in having his messenger cut his life’s story in half, over and over, until it fits on one page was a worthy lesson for the task before the membership. (Years later, it’s interesting to see that BSR references itself only by its acronym — that’s taking shrinking to the extreme!)

And then I found a soulmate in Josh Silverman, President of Skype. He shared his career path in the New York Times article, “Learning in Business by Following the Heart.” Silverman’s first  job on Capitol Hill taught him a lesson or two in leadership communication:

“In Washington, no matter how complex the issue, you have to boil it down to one page. That’s an invaluable skill for a leader.”

The process of distillation isn’t easy. I recall one CEO telling me to “cut it in half” after presenting a positioning statement that was already half the length of every previous articulation of the company’s value proposition.

Done.  Two sentences. Now, back to those three pages I mentioned earlier.

Posted October 4th, 2009

  1. October 9th, 2009 at 19:23 | #1

    I was reading with interest hoping to get a couple tips on the “how” part. I agree with the passion for “what” you are hoping to do. Please come back and share the methods you chose to accomplish the task. In this situation, execution may be more difficult and important than strategy.

    Take care Therese!


    PS… Linked to your blog via Twitter. It works!

  2. October 11th, 2009 at 10:24 | #2

    T: Like this perspective as a long-winded e-mailer/writer. I got feedback last year that there were too many emails from me in the inboxes of coworkers. Checking the data, I learned that it wasn’t the number. I concluded after looking at most of the messages that it wasn’t the length of all of them, either. It doesn’t take but one long communique to turn the audience off, it appears. Makes your admonition all the more important to follow. (God, I hope I can remember!) M

  3. therese
    October 11th, 2009 at 20:17 | #3

    Thanks for the nudge, Rod! Stay tuned to learn about the approach. The brief has been written, but as you note even the best-laid plans can hit a detour in execution.

  4. therese
    October 11th, 2009 at 21:53 | #4

    @Michael Whitlow
    Michael – Thanks for your note. It’s a good reminder that many variables need to be considered when appealing to a certain audience’s needs.

  5. October 19th, 2009 at 10:27 | #5

    I have this posted on my office wall:

    “Brevity in writing is the best insurance for its perusal.”
    Rudolph Virchow

  6. therese
    October 19th, 2009 at 10:30 | #6

    Excellent! Thanks, Mardie.

  1. November 9th, 2009 at 08:31 | #1