Check the Story


You need to check your story by asking the right questions and not settling for the first answer.  You are mining raw material for your story. Raw material not polished content. Be gentle, but probe. Know the point of the question and ask it differently later. The first ask may be, “What does XXXX do?” Answer may be, “Host an after school debate league.” Later ask, “You use debate to do what?” Response may be, “Change lives by giving kids a chance to experience success.” Follow up! Ask, “And when that happens?” BANG! Here’s where you get the gold nugget. You may get an idea for an elevated value proposition. Accept the fact that an answer may be more useful in a different context than the questions indicates.

I probably have 50 questions of which I’ll pull 12 and come up with others specific to the client. You want to mix left and right brain questions.

Here are some basic go-to questions:

What do you do?

How does it work?

Who needs it?

What do you want?

Why does that matter?

How do you know?

What does the future look like if you get what you want?

What’s in it for the rest of us?

What can you claim no one else can?

Technology, people, the time—everything changes. What is your enduring promise?

If your company story were made into a big budget Hollywood movie, what’s the title?

Who’s the hero?

What does the hero want?

What stands in his/her way?

What genre is the movie?

I prefer to do these interviews by phone. It takes about thirty minutes. I may ask people to clarify an answer. I’m listening for story more than concentrating on the facts or the past.. That doesn’t mean accuracy doesn’t matter. It means I listen like a playwright. And I think like a director who is looking out for both the audience and the performer. In my head they are stand-ins for your customers and your sales people, staff, and stakeholders.

When I have all the interviews done I transcribe them into a large document and give them to the President, CEO, Executive Director. There is great value in this document long after the engagement is over. Material that didn’t make the brand story cut may be useful elsewhere, or for a different purpose.

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