November 1, 2017

Four-Word Stories Are Short, Sweet and Really Powerful

A few years ago, I read a blog post by James Buckhouse on the effectiveness of four-word stories. It had a huge impact on how I approach and teach storytelling.
When launching a new business, Buckhouse says that four words are powerful because they make entrepreneurs disciplined.

If you write a longer story, the door cracks open to ambiguity; you can start to hedge your bets, get vague or abstract. Stick with four. It means you must identify a subject, an object, a verb and maybe one descriptor or refining notion.

From the outside looking in, describing your company in four words is a challenge. But it’s really straightforward. As important, it makes you focus on what matters. After all, four words is not a lot of real estate so every word counts. In four words, you need to give people a taste of what your product or services and/or the benefits.
When I do marketing workshops, I provide a few examples before asking people to create their own four-words stories.
First, I display Square’s logo.


And then show them my four-word story: “Run your business anywhere”.
I’ll display Tinder’s logo.


And I’ll show them my take: “It’s how people meet”
Once people grasp the concept, it’s amazing how creative they become. Whereas before they might have struggled to create an elevator pitch or a boilerplate, four-word stories immediately start flowing.
At a recent workshop where I was pressed for time, I gave people a couple of minutes to create four-word stories. In no time at all, there were 25 stories, many of them really good.
Then, comes the fun part!
Once you have a four-word story, it’s time to expand it to a 10-word story by adding details about you serve.
And once you have a 10-word story, it can be expanded to a 25-word story by adding details about the benefits delivered by your product.
In time, you’ll have an elevator pitch and more.
The trick is starting small and focused rather than trying to tackle everything at once. By breaking things down into small pieces, it is easier to build a multi-dimensional puzzle.
Far too often, we complicate storytelling by adding too many elements right away. We’re in such a rush that we think storytelling flows quickly and easily. Instead, it is essential to let your stories surface when they’re ready.
Four-word stories are compelling because they’re accessible and fun to create. With some imagination and out-of-the-box thinking, good or even excellent four-word stories magically come to life.
The next time you’re tackling a creative project, embrace the four-word story approach by attacking a small-size chunk.
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