On a recent Saturday I took a “how to write sketch comedy” class that made me cry like a baby. (And these weren’t tears of laughter, like the kind that come just before you pee your pants.)
Now, I have no immediate plans to audition for Saturday Night Live — nor do I dare tread on Kevin’s backstory as the Copywriter from Comedy.
Instead, my best friend Jesse and I signed up for the course to reacquaint ourselves with the stage (we were theater buddies all through high school.)
The class turned out great, but I got off to a rocky start.
We broke the ice with a few improv games (quick, shout out a sketch scenario – “a diabetic chocolate maker”) and then we dug into the writing with a simple warm-up exercise.
No sweat, I thought. Pounding on keys is what I do for a living. Let the funny begin.
Our teacher set up the exercise this way: “Imagine you’ve just been given a diagnosis by your doctor that you only have one year left to live. What do you do?”
So we write for a minute or so, and that’s when he interrupts us: “Oops. Your doctor calls you up to tell you ‘mistakes have been made’” It’s not a year – you actually only have six months to live. How do you spend your time?”
A few more minutes of writing, and then another interruption.
Yep, you guessed it – the second diagnosis was wrong again and we only have 1 month to live.
Then a day. An hour. A minute.
(The joke – the doctor keeps “editing” his diagnosis – is what is known as “The Game” mechanism inside a sketch. Like in “Who’s On First?” – the “Game” is that every player’s name is also a common word.)
At the end of the exercise, teach asked us to share our work, and the wisecracks began to fly. “I’d finally watch The Wire,” said one guy.
I did not share – because I didn’t trust my voice not to quiver.
I had been quietly weeping for the last half of the writing exercise.
Here’s a snippet from my “one hour to live”:
“I talk to my wife on the phone and speed home. We sit in a room and I tell them I love them. We sing songs and I record a video. We snuggle together on the couch and talk about their futures, that they’ll be happy.”
Yeah, while the other students were treating the warm-up as chance to flex their zinging muscles, I went “the other direction” and treated it like homework in a Tony Robbins course.
I think one reason I got so caught up in the imagined scenario is that, as a copywriter, I harness the persuasion technique known as future pacing.
(Warning: Your marketing can change you just as much as you hope to change others. That’s why I’m always in better health and make smarter lifestyle choices when I’m writing for a health product.)
When you “future pace”, you describe a positive future created by your solution. For example, copy that starts with the word “imagine”:
“Imagine what it will feel like when you wake up 3 days from now … you blink the sleep from your eyes with a happy but puzzled smile on your face … because something – you don’t know what – doesn’t seem “normal”.
“And then it dawns on you — for the first time in years, you can move every joint in your body without a shout of pain. Your ankles do not groan under the weight of your body. Your back is silent as you bend down to slip on your shoes. And your wrists don’t utter a single whisper of complaint as you bring your steaming morning coffee to your lips. Your joint pain has vanished.”
Typically, future pacing is a direct address to the reader (I’m talking to you, buster) … but we can use this technique when we tell our own stories, too, as I’ll show you in just a moment.
Now, the climax of a great Sales Story is a “moment of victory” — the moment just after we’ve discovered the key to our problem and can now apply the solution to our lives.
It’s the moment after we’ve snatched fire from the gods. And now we give warmth and light to the whole world.
If your story has engaged your audience, then their hearts will thrill to this scene. This is when their desire for your solution reaches a fever pitch, and they’re primed to buy.
Great — but what if you don’t have your Victory Moment yet? (Like, when you’re still hashing out your product and offer?)
Fear not, because a story will light your way.
If you don’t have a victory moment yet, write the story as you want it to play out. Future pace yourself.
Get caught up in the moment, just like I did in my sketch comedy class (but yours, I pray, will be a happier future.)
When you tell your story this way – complete with all the realistic details you can muster – you locate your solution in space and time in a much more concrete way than mere analysis will accomplish.
It’s like athletes who improve their execution by visualizing their performance in painstaking detail. Stories are “moving images” so they activate the emotional centers of our gray matter, the part that governs motivation and action (so we can get more stuff done.)
Essentially, we’re turning the power of stories on ourselves.
True, you then have to go out and create the dang thing – but by imagining it as the climax to your story, you now have a much clearer goal.
And as a bonus, you’ll have a big chunk of your Sales Story already in the can.
You can tell a story about the future to help make your solution real. Because of the way stories engage our emotional brain, they can beat a clear path better than a dull “strategic plan.”
Does your story have a great “Victory Moment”?
Let me know in the comments below.
Stay Tuned For Next Week …
In which I dig out a few of my old philosophy textbooks to unearth an ancient story selling secret.
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