Vanity: The first deadly sin of storytelling

We can’t tell great stories if we fall prey to the five deadly sins, said Jonah Sachs in “Winning the Story Wars.” This is the first of five posts about these sins.

The story needs to be about your audience, not about you.
The story needs to be about your audience, not about you.

Sin #1: Vanity

You are not going to convert people to your brand or cause by telling them how great you are. Your own opinion isn’t enough to convince your audience or community.

You need to connect with their stories. People really want “to see their own reality and values reflected in a message,” Sachs said.

According to Sachs, one of the reasons that John Kerry lost and George W. Bush won the 2004 presidential election was the difference between their stories. Kerry’s story was about his issues and his credentials. Bush’s story connected with American voters.

Here are excerpts from the first few minutes of their acceptance speeches at the respective national conventions:

Kerry: “I’m John Kerry and I’m reporting for duty.”

“Guess which wing of the hospital the maternity ward was in? I’m not kidding. I was born in the West Wing.”

Bush: “Since 2001, Americans have been given hills to climb and found the strength to climb them. Now, because we have made the hard journey, we can see the valley below.”

“We will build a safer world and a more hopeful America, and nothing will hold us back.”

Here is Sachs’ formula to overcome the sin of vanity:

  • Start with your audience and their needs.
  • Introduce yourself, your cause or brand as a catalyst to help them meet those needs.
  • Build the story with multiple characters (remember, it’s not about you) and with your audience in a starring role.
  • What is the conflict between what your audience needs or desires and their current state?
  • What is the plot or journey that you invite them on to reach their desires?