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06.
Better Stories use strong verbs & short sentences.

Better Stories contain big ideas, small words and short sentences. Big stories don’t need big (buzz)words. Better Stories create a higher impact when they have a low readability score.

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06.1

FREE MIT Speaking Course.

Patrick Winston's "How to Speak" course is an annual institution at MIT. MIT OpenCourseWare publish lots of free lectures on YouTube but this one in particular is ideal if you want a deep dive into the correct application of strong verbs and short sentences. [Click image for video - 63 mins]

06.2

Brevity is Everything.

Grant Faulkner's The Art of Brevity is a masterpiece. It's an easy read that will make you passionate about telling short stories. Almost every page of my copy has notes on it - which is always the sign of a great book. Grant provides a bit of background about the book in this podcast. [173 pages]

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06.3

Speak Like JFK.

President Kennedy liked his speeches to be around 15 minutes because he didn't want to sound like "a windbag". He loved brevity so much that he studied journalism to learn how to write 300 word stories and made friends with Hemingway, the master of the short story. [Click image to enlarge]

06.4

Best. Speech. Ever.

Lincoln's Gettysberg address is generally regarded as the greatest speech ever given, but why should any business leader care? (Beyond wishing that most presentations were only 2-minutes long!) This lecture by Larry McEnerney from the European Speechwriter Network will show you why. [59 mins]

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06.5

The Craft of Writing.

This masterclass on The Craft of Writing Effectively from Larry McEnerney is one of the best lectures on writing that I've ever watched. While it is directed at academics and researchers who write to help themselves think (or to secure grant funding for their research), there are MANY valuable lessons in this lecture that will help anyone to communicate more effectively. This clip will give you a taster but I encourage you to watch the whole thing. [9 mins]

06.6

Readability Scores.

Great communicators obsess over syllables, punctuation and readability scores. I use MS Word's tools, Gunning Fog Index and now watsonx. If there's one thing Generative-AI is good at, it is deploying a LLM to help you quickly craft a script into something more "readable". [Click image for a deeper dive]

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06.7

Gunning Fog Index.

There are many great writing tools out there. You can even use Microsoft Word Editor to check the "readability" of your writing - but for quick demos or a rough guide I like to use this site to check the score. Good business writing should be a 12 (high school reading age). Most business writing is 16+ which is why audiences struggle to understand it quickly.

 

So try copying one of your scripts or speeches into this site. Look at how how many 3-syllable words you use and how much punctuation. Gunning Fog or Flesh-Kincaid will help you simplify your writing. Your audience will thank you for it. [Link]

06.8

Be Short.

More gold from ad man David Ogilvy. I love this memo for it's truth and simplicity. Print it out and use it as a cheat sheet or a reminder to always "Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs".  [145 pages]

06.9

Jerry Seinfeld.

When I posted my analysis of Jerry Seinfeld's commencement address at Duke University in May 2024, it quickly gathered over 1.5M views (more than the official Duke video!).

 

Not only is it one of the best commencements you're ever likely to hear, but its insanely low readability score of 6.77 (resulting from the way that the speech was written as a psalm or a song) makes this speech a masterclass in the art of brevity and levity. [3 mins]

06.10

McKinsey Storytelling.

Not every story need to look like a hero's journey of transformation and don't let any "story coaches" try to convince you otherwise. McKinsey have mastered the art of telling short stories in the C-Suite, by beginning with the ending. They get straight to the heart of what matters immediately. It's a simple framework they call the "Pyramid Principle" and it is showcased perfectly here in this artlce about leadership lessons for CEO's. [5 mins]

06.11

Brevity by Steve Jobs.

Everyone with an Apple account has access to Steve Jobs FREE book "Make Something Wonderful". I paid an arm and a leg to bag one of the hard copies that were given out to Apple & Pixar employees because it's such a beautiful piece of writing. It's an easy read you can dip in and out of for inspiration, which contains 255-pages of Steve's short speeches, emails, internal comms and notes.

[FREE with iBooks - Click image for link]

06.12

Study Songwriting.

Compelling short stories are not unlike songs. They have a rhythm, a narrative, a certain tone and they need to engage an audience and connect with them emotionally. I regularly dip into Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo.

 

Whenever I have the opportunity I try to deconstruct my favourite songs to try and understand why they work - like I did on this graphic for Billie Eilish. It's a great way to get better at storytelling, by looking at brevity through a different lens.  [145 pages]

06.13

Rober, Colin & Samir.

"Stories are the closest thing we have to magic in this world". This gorgeous clip from ex-NASA YouTube star Mark Rober (one of my heroes) was from an episode of Colin & Samir's YouTube show. They regularly deconstruct the best stories, from the best storytellers, to see how (and why) they work. More insights and inspiration that you can shake a stick at. You should subscribe to their channel. [1 min]

06.14

Words That Win.

Lewis Iwu is a former world debating champion who has coached many teams, businesses and NGO's to speak more effectively. This book is a great little field guide to help you craft more compelling arguments, especially when you need to "win hearts and minds". [231 Pages]

06.15

FREE 14-Hour Writing Course.

Writing stories for business audiences are closer to writing for science fiction or fantasy than you may think. Conflict, obstacles, heros, villains, transformational outcomes... Writer Brandon Sanderson published his entire creative writing course from BYU for FREE on YouTube. It's worth a look. [Click image for YouTube playlist - 14 hours]

06.16

Harvard's Presenting Guide.

This definitive guide from Harvard Business Review is a must have book. You'll read it in a couple of hours but no doubt you'll refer back to it time and again. Contains essays from some of the best in the business: Nancy Duarte, Nick Morgan, Chris Anderson, Amy Cuddy. [145 pages]

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