Great Storytellers Ask the Right Questions


Storytelling is as much about asking the right questions as it is about telling an actual story.

Ask anyone who tells stories for a living — journalists, novelists, screenwriters, public relations professionals — what separates the greats from the mediocre, and they’ll tell you it’s the individuals who ask the best questions.

After all, telling an interesting story is more than just asking “What’s next?”

The great storytellers think beyond the next logical step in the story to earn the interest of the audience.

When a character goes to the store, it’s not the act of going there that draws in your reader; it’s the reason for going to the store that is of most interest. This simple act can provide enough information for a dramatic pivot.

If you learn early on that the main character went to a department store to buy a wig and a dark pair of sunglasses, there is obviously something deeper at play that you yearn to find out about. Your readers will stick around to find out the reason for buying a disguise. There are so many questions that must be answered that stem from that simple act.

It’s up the storyteller to ask those questions of their character and put together a compelling narrative.

If you’re writing for business, you need to capture that same idea.

You don’t need to lend an air of mystery to your company’s story. But you need to keep them coming back for more, and the way to do that is to make sure your story is open-ended.

Maybe you are announcing a new product or service. The announcement, whether it’s a press release or blog post on your site, should hint at something greater happening than just something new for your customers to try.

And that “sneak peak” comes from asking the right questions of your subject matter experts.

I can’t tell you how many times a germ of a story showed itself because I asked the experts the right questions. Or, I just asked questions.

You would be surprised how often PR professionals fail to listen and ask questions. This belief that we should know everything often forces us to refrain from asking questions, lest we look like we don’t understand the material.

But there is nothing wrong with asking questions. It’s the quickest way to understanding the stories we need to tell, and they often lead to the best stories.

So the next time you set out to write a press release or a blog post, make a list of the questions you need to ask, then let the other questions come organically.

You’ll be surprised what you learn, and your audience will benefit.

On Kindness


If you were frozen in ice for the past year, thawed out and plopped in front of the television this past Sunday to watch the two people competing to become the next President of the United States of America, you would be excused if you thought the country had gone off the deep end.

[Editor’s Note: We would also accept “WTF?”]

Civility was certainly not on display that night.

If you tried to do some actual research to make up for the time spent in a deep freeze, your mind would not have been put at ease. Browsing newspaper articles to learn each candidate’s stance on the issues would be smart. But if you accidentally waded into the comments section, nobody would blame you if you asked to be frozen again for the next four years.

This election has brought out a side of people (on both sides) that has rarely been seen in America. And with so many people flocking to social media to express their racism and xenophobia, the hatred has been elevated to a height where it’s impossible to ignore.

November 8 cannot get here soon enough.

It’s very easy to look at the state of our world through a glass half-empty view, and there would be a lot of people who agree with you.

But I want to remind you that there are really, really good people in this world who sit on both sides of the fence.

As I mentioned before, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer a few weeks ago. It shocked our family to its core because there was no history to suggest she should be worried. But it’s here and we will do our best to deal with it.

In the weeks since my wife’s diagnosis, however, the outpouring of love and support has been tremendous.

My sister-in-law has created a GoFundMe account to help with the cost of the treatments, since my wife had to stop working. My cousin’s wife started a Meal Train to have food delivered to our house on a regular basis so that we don’t need to worry about what we will make for dinner when there are more important things to worry about. Friends and family have offered their support in a number of different ways, from offering to watch our kids to offering to clean our house.

The kindness, from people voting for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, has been off the charts.

Thanks to them, our hearts (and refrigerator) are full.


For the next month, until the election mercifully takes place, the verbal assaults and jabs will turn into haymakers as supporters of both candidates scream at the top of their lungs to explain why their candidate is the best. And if you’re not in their camp, well, WHAT DO YOU KNOW?

I’m afraid it will only get worse before it gets better, and it will seem like all is lost.

But I know that it will get better. There are too many good people who understand the value of being kind over being vile and vicious.

When the smoke clears, no matter who is president, we will pick up where we left off before this debacle of an election began and go back to being nice to each other.

At least until the next election.

Cancer Is Not Merely An Inconvenience


The word “cancer” gets thrown around so much nowadays that it’s easy to underscore the effect it has on the person who has to deal with it.

Even more so when you talk about breast cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is first among women of all races when it comes to the most common type of cancer among women.

When we hear that something is common, I think we tend to dismiss it as something that is easily to deal with, like the common cold.

But even the most common type of cancer is scarier than getting the sniffles.

Make no mistake about it: getting cancer is not fun.

It is not just an inconvenience that needs to be dealt with.

Cancer interrupts your day-to-day life, while treatment can lead to making even the most benign things, like a scab in your nose, more damaging than they need to be.

And this doesn’t even take into account the mental strain it takes on your mind.

I imagine a lot of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have to stop working to go through treatments. Imagine having your real life halted in mid-stride in order to put your sole focus on destroying the cancer cells that have invaded your body. Then imagine having to deal with the mental anguish that comes with knowing you have cancer.

For a lot of us, our work is a huge part of our lives. When that is replaced by anguish and worry, it’s not easy to dismiss the diagnosis out of hand.

Suddenly you’re faced with the prospect of filling the days and hours with something else, and it’s easy to let your brain wander to the worst-case scenario.

No matter what the cancer prognosis is, it needs to be given the serious attention it deserves. And under no circumstances should it be dismissed as common, no matter what type it is.

There’s a reason why cancer will kill more than 7 million people this year.

It’s deadly, and it needs to be treated as such.

The Memphis Grizzlies Want To Change The Game


In sports, local media is notorious for being tough on the home team.

Even when the going is good, the sky still threatens to fall at any moment, and certain journalists can’t help themselves when it comes to riling up the fan base. (Please see: Lions, Detroit)

After all, what better way to drive eyeballs to your content then by spurring fans to hate-click?

If you own a professional sports team, what’s the easiest way to battle the negative members of the media who threaten to enlist apathy from your fans?

You invest money in your very own content creation hub.

That’s what the Memphis Grizzlies did ten days ago when they announced Grind City Media, an in-house media brand that serves to give unprecedented coverage to “the NBA’s most passionate hoops town.”

[Editor’s Note: Most passionate hoops town? I see the spin has begun.]

It’s not a terrible idea.

The Grizzlies, who hired a respected member of the basketball media to run the site, stand to lose nothing. If anything, they’re going to gain something: more trust from their fans about the product they put on the court by giving them better access to that product they love.

Why agree to a feature in The Commercial Appeal if your own team can create something born out of unlimited access to the player?

With trust in the media at an all-time low, now is actually a really good time to take a chance on creating your own content. At least there are no bones to be had about where your allegiance lies.

Major non-sports brands are already doing this. Marriott and PepsiCo are just a few, with others sure to follow suit.

And who knows – maybe future player contracts will contain stipulations that require the player to participate in a set number of interviews for the content hub. It’s not totally out there.

If you’re a fan, you’re going to get unprecedented behind-the-scenes access; so much behind-the-scenes stuff that your eyeballs will barely be able to withstand the onslaught.

But you’re also getting sugar-coated content without a hint of addressing negativity or controversy.

Angry at the coach for not giving Tony Allen enough minutes? You’re not going to read about that at Grind City media.

But if you’re lucky, you’ll get to read about how David Fizdale’s upbringing led him to a life in the NBA, if that’s your thing.

The World Is Better Offline


If you took some time this weekend to unplug and focus on what really matters in life, the world probably seemed like a pretty okay place in which to exist.

Consider: It finally stopped raining in Michigan after a three-day deluge. The Ryder Cup, football, and the last day of the MLB season provided high sporting drama. And there was a hint of coolness in the air that suggests it’s finally time to visit the apple orchard for cider and donuts.

All in all, things were fine. Good, even.

ButĀ upon arriving at work this morning (or in bed this morning, if you’re that type) we were brought back to reality when we scrolled through our social media feeds.

Consider: Donald Trump is assembling his Twitter army to expose Hilary Clinton’s lies following the next presidential debate. The earth is the warmest it has been in 120,000 years. Hate speech on Twitter is limited only by the character limit.

I’m not saying that we should wrap ourselves in a comfy blanket and ignore what’s going on in the world around us. As responsible citizens, we must stay well-informed and understand the issues that affect us and our children so that we can make informed decisions when the time comes. But there’s something to be said for ignoring the constant barrage of bad news, even if for a weekend.

Now, please don’t confuse me with someone who thinks social media and technology are proof the Devil exists. (They don’t.) There are enough of those people who get paid good money to write about that.

I think social media and technology, when used right, do way more good than bad.

But we are constantly fighting a barrage of information and data that is left to us to be analyzed and scrutinized. It becomes overwhelming.

The next time you open the Twitter app, take a deep breath. You’re going to be bombarded with enough content to make your head spin; not all of it accurate and truthful. That’s the nature of social media today: it’s a platform for sneaks to go unbidden to influence your decisions.

Don’t let them.

Instead, close it down and focus on what you can control.

And, if you still can’t, listen to the Accused podcast, instead.

You can thank me later.