Ruining The Story – 5 Things You Can Do Wrong in Storytelling

Storytelling Success – 5 Things Companies Do That Ruin It

by Kathy Klotz-Guest

 Kathy Klotz-Guest (MA, MBA) is a marketing storyteller and founder of marketing firm Keeping it Human, whose mission is to help companies turn marketing-speak into compelling, authentic human stories customers and employees act on. A comic improviser and speaker, Kathy also runs The Jargonorrhea Live – Viral Marketing Show podcast, when she’s not ridding the world of jargon-monoxide and un-human marketing. I am optimistic about the next phase of storytelling bringing the industry to a better place—although I do have a bone to pick with how some organizations knowingly (or unwittingly) get in their own way.

Here are five things companies do that can impede storytelling success. Don’t make me turn this storytelling van around, kids!

1. The Complexity Conundrum

I see this too often, especially in industries that have lots of jargon, such as high-tech, financial services, medical, pharmaceutical, etc. Some corporate storytellers think that a good story has to be layered with stuff—because a simple one is just too simple to be effective, right? So they add more bells and whistles to pimp out their story ride so as not to “dumb it down!” Ackkkk! It’s hard to watch when companies are so close to a beautiful story, and then this happens! Complexities like jargon kill clarity, and clarity is the storyteller’s burden, not the audience’s. When I’ve said we need to keep things simple, I sometimes am met with the, “Why would we dumb it down?” response. Simplicity is about accessibility of message, and it is not the same as “dumbing down.” (highlight to tweet) Secondly, that phrase is patronizing to your audience. “Simple” allows your audience to champion your story. Complexity works against that. Your audience is smart—they just shouldn’t have to work that hard to understand your story. That is your problem. Moreover, jargon-monoxide poisoning—as I’m known in the industry for calling it—is a big signal to me that a company does not have a clear story, or else they’d be proudly singing it from the Swiss Alps like in The Sound of Music. (Note: I like romanticized analogies.) Complexity gets in the way of the emotional resonance of a great story. Without emotional arcs, no one cares about your story. I’d say your mom will, but I’d be lying to you—just like your mom sometimes does!

2. The Superhuman Fallacy

Too many companies have bought into a myth that great stories should make them look like “superhumans.” So, they take a great simple story that works and turn it into a freak on story steroids in a quest to make their story more “awesome.” Your story shouldn’t sound like it came out of Forrest Gump. “Superhuman” isn’t real. What’s real? Being human, and telling the truth without too much exaggeration. Too often, storytellers believe that the truth isn’t enough and that their stories, by extension, are too ordinary to be meaningful. I disagree. Of course you can take some poetic license, but there is a difference between a little story botox and going way overboard so that there is little truth left. The latter is a terrible disservice to the organization and to audiences. A great, honest story doesn’t need story steroids, or “storoids.” (Stand back, all—I have a comedic habit of Kathy-isms!) The truth wins every time. It’s human. Sometimes organizations don’t want to reveal the truth because it makes them look “vulnerable.” Well, all vulnerability should have context. And if vulnerability is relevant and makes a company more transparent and honest, do it. For more info on being vulnerable, I’ve got some resources for you. I also just did a Hangout on this same topic with a great guest.

3. Fear of Risk

A great story has risk—a risk to the storyteller, a risk in the story that has to be resolved for the audience, and risk that the story might not work. Over-sanitized stories, like stories by committee, often become crappy stories. Sometimes organizations fear talking about challenges they face; they fear being vulnerable, as I mentioned. Yet, stories without challenges are not stories at all. Challenges create tension and risk that have to be resolved for the audience—that’s part of great storytelling and taking your audience on an emotional journey. Your audience feels risk—there is no getting around it. Storytelling is how you acknowledge it and show your audience how to resolve it.  Today, companies need to be more afraid of not risking anything. Now that’s scary.

4. Storytelling – The Perfect Ending

A story that ends with an economic benefit makes a really crappy ending. Simply telling your audience that your product will help them save or make money or time—concentrating on a rational, economic benefit—is a really shallow ending. “So what?” I say. And so do a lot of your users. Shallow is emotionally unsatisfying. What users really want to know is how their personal lives will change. They want hope that they will be better. What will money allow them to do to achieve community, fulfillment, credibility, recognition, and all the things that human beings want? Your audience has human needs that have nothing to do with your product or service, and those needs go beyond rational, economic value. It’s your job to find what they are and tell stories that speak emotionally to those needs. Did your product help them reach their personal goals? It’s never about your product, ever. It’s even OK to have a story ending that is open-ended, still evolving, and that leans towards hope. You can also have a business story that invites your audience to co-create an ending for themselves by sharing their stories. A great ending isn’t perfect, just better. And realistic.

5. Hiding Behind a Corporate Veil in Storytelling

The “Corporate Veil” is coming down in favor of a human frame. Part of the reason many brand stories fail to capture the imagination of audiences is because they are still oriented around companies as protagonists. Companies can’t be. People don’t care about companies. They care about people. You can’t hug or thank a company; although many of us would like to smack companies! That means great storytelling should be told through the lens of a person: a specific customer, a passionate employee, a dedicated partner. That’s what connects with people: stories of other people who are like them in some way or share similar values, situations, or challenges. Every great company story must be anchored in a human story, and that can only happen when a story is told through a personal human lens. Get more content like this, plus the very BEST marketing education, totally free. Get our Definitive email newsletter.

5 Things Companies Do That Ruin Storytelling Success

Can A Baptist Learn From A Lutheran About Outreach? Let’s See


Ministry Matters™ | Why I offer ‘free prayer’ in a coffee shop

I drink coffee only on Thursdays. This is partly because I am a weirdly patterned person. It’s also because I feel insecure ordering my preferred tea at a coffee shop; it’s like ordering a salad at a steakhouse. But the main reason I drink coffee on Thursdays is because that’s the day I take a little sign that says “Free Prayer” and sit at a local coffee shop for a few hours.

I like to think I have great ideas, but good advice gets all the credit for my work as a first-call parish pastor. One mentor and professor, for example, shared this: “As pastors, the first thing we have to do is take care of our people.” With that in mind, I focused my first year of ministry on spending time at people’s homes, setting up several visits a week to meet their dogs, applaud their children’s artwork and pray with them around their dinner tables.

A second bit of advice came from a clergyman who offered this: “A pastor is doing the job well when at least half of his or her time is spent outside the office.” Pastors regularly go out on hospital visits or stop by the homes of newcomers, but the administrative demands of parish ministry otherwise keep many of us shackled to our swivel chairs. For me, come Thursday mornings, after too much time within my office walls, I become cantankerous. So for everyone’s sake, I heed that good advice and break out of my sacred confines, fleeing to a local coffee shop for reading and sermon writing.

When I first started doing this last summer, I felt insecure and self-indulgent — an incognito clergyman in shirt and tie munching an “everything” bagel with cream cheese and calling it work. I had to legitimize pastoring in Panera.

That’s when I began wearing my clergy collar each Thursday and setting up at any one of my church’s dozen or so “satellite campuses” (i.e., the coffee shops where I typically run into several parishioners I’ve missed the previous Sunday morning). I bring with me a sign that says “Free Prayer,” with a quote at the bottom from Martin Luther: “Pray, and let God worry.”

And people stop to pray with me every time.

One brisk October morning, a man I had not met walked through the ever-swinging door of the local Starbucks. Amari, from West Philadelphia, had business at the courthouse in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the town where I serve. He looked at me and asked, “‘Free prayer’? What’s that?” I explained that I’m a pastor in town who goes out to where people are during the week to offer prayer. Tears welled up in his eyes. He placed his coffee and courthouse papers on my table and walked outside.

Sometimes, our people are the ones we have never met.

I packed my things and Amari’s and went outside to invite him to go for a walk. As we strolled together over the next hour, I heard all the unuttered prayers and pains he had held inside for two years. His wife had experienced an identity crisis and left him. A dear friend had died from a blood clot. An aunt had died from medical malpractice. Another friend had died from an overdose. Finally, death had taken his sister. Death had hollowed out Amari’s spirit, and he had spoken about it to no one. “Then I read those words, ‘Free Prayer,’” he said, “and I couldn’t keep it in anymore.” It seemed that God had enacted a little apocalypse, an awakening, in Amari’s soul. And all I’d had to do at first was sit there.

Though I offer prayers for others, the blessings have also come to me. I recall when a man sat down and requested prayer for a friend undergoing heart surgery. I asked whether he’d like to start the prayer. He began, “Dear God, I thank you for Thomas. Thank you for giving him the courage to offer prayer in this place. And Lord, may Thomas know that you are well-pleased with what he is doing.”

Heaven embraced me with that prayer. I was second-guessing my ability to reverse trends, to draw more people to worship, to inspire more generosity. Then a stranger prayed for me, and I felt, at least in that moment, that I was doing something right.

The bulk of my ministry is still among people within my congregation, but I am grateful for those free prayers at coffee shops each week. I think of the schizophrenic woman who stopped and asked for prayer because she sees witches. We prayed for courage and strength and protection. An owner of a Dunkin’ Donuts asked me to pray for her shop. Upon seeing my “Free Prayer” Facebook post, an old acquaintance asked for prayer for his nephew born three months early. A manager of a Starbucks sat down at my table to share what God had been up to in her life.

God has been up to a lot in my life through this Free Prayer ministry. While it has done admittedly little to expand the ranks of my congregation, it has done much to expand my vocation to include the ranks upon ranks of God’s people I have never met who are searching for answers, waiting for comfort and willing to pray.

An Amari walks into a coffee shop every day in your town. I guarantee it. It may be a man or a woman, young or old, but an Amari is there. And he or she could really use some prayer. I set up my little sign to invite people to “pray, and let God worry” right where they are — because the Amaris need prayer and aren’t about to walk into my office down the hill at church.

Sometimes, we have to move beyond the shadows of a steeple to take care of our people. And in so doing, we may just find that God takes care of us, too.

Are You Ready To Maximize Easter? Here’s Some Ideas How

Easter is only about six weeks away. March 27 will arguably carry the greatest potential to reach the unchurched for Jesus over any other weekend the rest of the year. Are you ready?

3 Big Ideas to Help You Prepare for Easter — Ministry Today

Practical questions to help you prepare:

1. What do you want to improve upon from last Easter?

2. Do you have the right people at the planning table?

3. What will your service times be?

4. What are the additional expenses for your Easter weekend?

5. Is your creative team well under way preparing worship, video, and other service elements?

6. Do you need any additional special musicians or singers? Special equipment?

7. How will you advertise?

8. How will you leverage social media?

9. How will you inspire your congregation to invite their friends?

10. What is your plan for fervent prayer for salvations?

11. How will you follow up with first-time visitors?

12. What is your follow-up plan for new Christians?

13. What is the topic or sermon series immediately following Easter?

Here are three big ideas to help you have a strong Easter:

Culturally Sensitive

This does not infer political positioning; it’s about an awareness of current culture. What are the problems, events, stresses and social impacts that are on people’s minds? How can you make the gospel relevant to the unchurched? Don’t preach to Christians who could deliver the message themselves, in a language that only Christians can understand. Speak to those who are disenfranchised from the church or far from God.

Biblically Bold

Don’t be timid when it comes to the message. People want to know what you believe, and they want to know you believe it! I’m not suggesting to preach louder because it’s Easter. It is important, however, that you speak with conviction from your heart. Be bold. Sin is sin and eternity is a really long time. Heaven is just a much better choice! It’s an amazing gift. People desperately need Jesus and you get to help lead the way.

Relationally Warm

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. To be blunt, if your Easter guests are turned off by grumpy ushers, a messy and understaffed nursery, and cold cheap coffee, they won’t hear one word of your message—and you won’t see them until next Easter. It’s important that your actions communicate that your guests are important. Let them know they matter. Talk with them, pray with them, laugh with them, and serve them well! Be real, be yourself, and put intentional effort into loving people!


I trust this is helpful to you but we all know that nothing trumps the power of prayer. You just can’t start praying too early for God to do a great work on Easter!

Great Leadership Principles for Ministry – Here’s 10

To help make your journey along God’s plan as efficient as possible, here’s my 10-point summary of leadership principles:

10 Leadership Principles for Ministry — Ministry Today

1. You must desire to lead. If you’re promoted to leadership, it should be because you want to lead. The desire to be a leader is nothing to be ashamed of, but the key is that your desire to lead should be married to your desire to be used by God. When you manifest that combination, you’re not driven by ego but by altruism.

2. Leadership requires vision. Leaders see what other people may not see.

3. Leadership requires communication. If you are going to be a leader, you have to be able to communicate, and you have to know what to communicate.

4. Leadership takes risks. You can’t plant yourself safely behind a desk. You need to wrestle in the arena of your organization’s activity.

5. Since leadership flows from a concern for those being led, relationships are vital.

6. Leadership is a balance between initiation and response.

7. Leadership rebounds from failure and loss. Anyone who has been in leadership has taken some pretty severe hits. But you must get back up off the floor and keep pushing ahead.

8. Leadership upholds and operates on the strength of godly principles.

9. Leadership differentiates between negotiable and non-negotiable courses of action.

10. Leadership serves from love, not from power. God-ordained leadership upends the world’s triangular model of personal advancement. People of the world try to work their way to the top of the triangle, to the place of power over the subservient masses. Godly leaders serve their way to the bottom. You try to get underneath everyone else to live out Christ’s pronouncement, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

As leaders, we are involved in the sovereign work of God. We choose to serve, and He uses us according to His plan.