Good Things Come In Easy-To-Open Packages


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2018 has been an eventful year, and with Brexit uncertainty ahead, many businesses are having to work harder than ever to stay competitive.

My Christmas gift to you is to offer some thoughts on how to make things just a little easier on yourself, and maybe make it a little more possible to take a well deserved rest this holiday.

Cognitive Ease

You may have heard of the principle of ‘cognitive ease’. This concept is discussed at length by Nobel Prize winner Danny Kahneman in his renowned bestselling book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

When we are launching new products, events or initiatives, there’s usually a lot of information that needs to be communicated to the target audience. In a busy world, we’re competing against a lot of noise to get our information out there, and have it received well.

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This simple principle can help you in designing press releases, marketing and social media campaigns for maximum uptake with minimum stress.

Cognitive ease is when our most basic, instinctive operating system receives new information which feels palatable, acceptable and familiar. Unfamiliarity, complexity and effort all trigger our brains to switch into a more interrogative mode—and that can result in your audience simply turning off.

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Make It Easy

For an initially positive response, choosing words, fonts and a colour palette that are easy to pronounce, assimilate and understand allows your audience to relax into a receptive frame of mind.

Come Again?

Even more effective is repetition. Kahneman describes an experiment based on social psychologist Robert Zajonc’s ‘mere exposure effect’, in which various foreign words were repeatedly (and without explanation) published on the front page of a college newspaper over a period of months. At the end of the campaign, when the newspaper readership was polled on the perceived ‘good’ or ‘bad’ qualities of these foreign words, those which appeared more frequently were rated much more favourably than those shown only once or twice.

This apparently bizarre response is explained by our historical biological conditioning to be wary of novel events. It’s not our ‘conscious experience of familiarity’, but what we perceive at a base level.

Novelty that works

You may have new or challenging ideas to communicate, and you’re certainly looking for audience engagement and response—but using familiarity and safety to reach out doesn’t mean killing creativity. In a recent Freakonomics podcast, Tessa Amabile, a psychologist and a professor emerita at the Harvard Business School, describes creativity as “essentially, novelty that works. It has to be somehow feasible, workable, valuable, appropriate to a goal.”

So there’s something about even the newest and most radical idea that has to have a hook in our consciousness; something which resonates, makes itself palatable and understandable. Something just a little familiar.


The world-renowned graphic designer Michael Bierut takes up this idea in the podcast, and expands on it, referencing a 20th century designer, Raymond Loewy, who coined the credo:

MAYA: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable… it was based on his theory that everyone has these two impulses. And one is the desire for regularity and comfort, and the other one is the quest for surprise and novelty, right? If you have too much regularity and comfort, you get bored. If you get too much surprise and novelty, you get overexcited, wired and distracted and exhausted. It’s the idea that it’s novelty with a purpose.

So when you’re planning your next communication, remember that good things come in easy-to-open packages: whatever’s in the box, get the wrapping right!


For help with writing or editing, a free consultation or quotation, please contact, or give me a call on 07988 858873 to talk more.

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Huge congratulations to Ligia Catherine Arias-Barrera, author of Regulation and Supervision of the OTC Derivatives Market. 

Published in April, this groundbreaking work has already been recognised as a major contribution to the discussion on the regulation and reform of financial markets after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, and has been placed at #13 in the Book Authority's Best Banking and Law Books of All Time listing.

Catherine Arias Barrera Ph.D. LLM is an Associate Professor at Universidad Externado de Colombia, and—amongst many other things—is currently preparing a book tour, delivering seminars and contributing to conferences to share her expertise in this field. Find out more about her and her work on her Linked In page.

It was my privilege to work with Catherine on the editing of this, her first book, and I’m delighted that it’s already received such a warm welcome. 

Well done Catherine, and I hope we can work together on many more projects in the future!

Regulation and Supervision of the OTC Derivatives Market is available from Amazon, Waterstones and all good booksellers.

Project Management's Green Book: The critical system which keeps your project on time and on budget


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Last time, we examined the four main challenges which always seem to pop up when planning projects:

  • being over-optimistic about the likelihood that all will go to plan

  • being overconfident about your capacity or speed

  • underestimating the complexity of pulling together the whole project

  • the inertia of everyday working life: procrastination, procrastination, procrastination...

In this post, after recognising what’s holding you back from realistic and successful project management, discover a simple fix suggested by Stephen Dubner and Bent Flyvbjerg (professor at Oxford University’s Saïd’s Business School) in a recent Freakonomics podcast.

Reference Class Forecasting

Rather than just focusing on the idiosyncrasies of the project you’re planning, consider previous similar tasks. Look back at projects with the same sort of scope, density and complexity, and frame your expectations about the new project based on those earlier ones.

Taking this principle further, Flyvbjerg describes a revolution in accurate budgeting and timeline planning by the UK Treasury, when they began to keep detailed records of every project they financed for the Department of Transport: how long they took, how much they cost—and crucially, how far off the mark the original predictions were.

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These records became the Green Book, and its analysis allowed the Treasury to consistently and accurately predict what they’d need to allow for in terms of time and finance, by using data from past pieces of work to reveal just how much the combination of optimism bias and strategic misrepresentation costs their projects.

Warning: spin might send your planning off track...

Warning: spin might send your planning off track...

Strategic Misrepresentation

We’ve all seen what happens when you let a human make a calculation, rather than a computer. As the Economics Nobel Prize winner Danny Kahneman says, “If you realistically present to people what can be achieved in solving a problem, they will find that completely uninteresting. You can’t get anywhere without some degree of over-promising.”

A little bit of spin might get your project off the ground, but it could also create some serious headaches further down the line. A canny project manager allows for this creative marketing when they’re planning, by factoring in a reality check on the numbers they’ve been given—and reference class forecasting makes it possible to do more than just guess.

The gap between what old projects should have cost in time and money, and what they actually ended up costing will reveal the magic number by which you should scale up the initial project quotation.

The Green Book Mindset

This all sounds amazing, right? Perfect planning using reference class forecasting can resolve the frustration of the challenges we’ve discussed so far—but there’s a catch.

The mindset has to shift across every member of your team, from “projects always overrun” to “this is a realistic goal, and we expect to meet it”.

When you make the shift to this kind of planning technique, everyone needs to reset their attitude towards projects. Whether it’s a multi-million pound development, or an in-house bid on a report, every member of the team needs to recognise that the usual wriggle room has been eliminated.

If you have multiple partners and the stakes are high, you may need to build in incentives and penalties to ensure your contractors meet their targets.

Projects vary, and you won’t always be able to find a perfect match from your archives, but reference class forecasting coupled with the Green Book Mindset should make a real difference to your scheduling and budgeting processes.


Plan in extra help

And if your deadline is already set—as is often the case for bids or report submissions—this method of project planning will help you predict how much extra help you’ll need to meet your target.

Using a reliable project planning mechanism gives you the space to consider whether your team has capacity for all of their workload. And if not, using a professional freelancer (such as a writer, editor or proofreader) can all make the difference in completing your task on budget, and on time.

For a free consultation or quotation, please contact, or give me a call on 07988 858873 to talk more.

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Next time:

Team Work, Collaboration and How to Get the Best out of Working with Others

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Project Management, Blown Deadlines, and How Freelancers Can Help

5 min read

As a freelance writer, editor and proofreader, much of my work involves supporting a team to produce a final published document—bids, reports, white papers, articles, and so on.

Time and again, I receive emails from the project manager letting me know that the work isn’t ready for my input yet, because other contributors haven’t managed to complete their drafts or finalise their results.

Having worked with many managers on this, I can reassure you: if you’ve ever experienced the frustration of trying to keep a project on target for a deadline and felt as if coordinating the working group is an impossible task—you’re not alone!


In a recent Freakonomic podcast, Stephen Dubner detailed some common project dynamics, and the reasons why most of your group tasks overrun—in terms of time, budget, or both. In this five minute read, I’ll identify four key issues which affect us in our planning, and how using freelance support can radically help you overcome these challenges.

The Planning Fallacy

You may be an experienced project manager, or perhaps you are new to overseeing a group piece of work—but in either case, you’ve managed your own workload successfully in the past. And yet, Nobel Prize-winning psychologists Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky would advise us all to be on our guard against the Planning Fallacy: overestimating your capacity, and underestimating the size of the task.

Despite our best intentions and most rigorous organisation, managing a multiple-stakeholder project can be overwhelming, and we can all fall prey to the same inefficiency monsters. So, what are they, and how can we defeat them?

The Optimism Bias

Freelancers are experienced at working on multiple-contributor projects, and have seen a wide range of challenges; they can help you think through possible difficulties and strategise around them

The first factor which messes with our deadline is our instinct to assume things will go more or less according to plan. Your own competence and professionalism can impede your ability to predict the sheer number of obstacles your project may face—we are insufficiently comprehensive in our thinking when anticipating bumps in the road.


You may be able to imagine a competing piece of work arriving at the same time as this project, for example, or perhaps running into a technical issue that burns a few (dozen) hours of re-work or delay, or even that a crucial colleague may have a day off sick, or get held up on a flight… but can you imagine all of these things happening at once? As well as, maybe, ten other minor disasters you can’t even dream up right now—but that could happen, and have a major impact on your schedule?

Our Optimism Bias—the expectation that things will pan out well, even in the face of negative past experiences—is good for our emotional wellbeing, and it allows mankind to undertake daring and bold endeavours… but if we're trying to plan a realistic project schedule, it can work against us.

That’s when an external perspective can make a significant difference to team productivity: firstly, because freelancers are experienced at working on multiple-contributor projects, and have seen a wide range of challenges; they can help you think through possible difficulties and strategise around them.

Secondly, factors which affect your immediate team will not impact in the same way on freelance support (software / hardware issues, dynamics within the team, competing priorities, etc.), and so they can bring speed and positivity to the project, regardless of what’s going on within your office.


Planning Fallacy factor two is overconfidence: the well-established feedback loop which tells us that being upbeat about our ability or progress is always a Good Thing.

... and that is a lifetime of feedback we give people, where we’re rewarding them for overconfidence constantly
— Katherine Milkman, Associate Professor at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

In a competitive and fast moving world, it's beneficial to make bold claims, super positive self-assessments, and generally present a glass half full message—even if we know that the glass actually has a chip on the edge, a crack down the middle, and the drink inside probably should have been chucked out weeks ago for Health and Safety reasons.

The danger of overconfidence is that we start to believe our own hype, and lose sight of where we truly are on the schedule.

Whilst your freelancer will certainly want to impress you, we know that the proof of the pudding is in the eating—we don’t get hired back if we don’t produce the goods. One member of your team upon whom you can rely for 100 percent honest feedback is the one who—after the dust has settled and the project is complete—will depend on your recommendation for future contracts.

Coordination Neglect

The massive gains which come with a wide range of participants and specialist expertise are at risk of being undermined by the logistical challenges which accompany the ultimate reassembly of all this input into a coherent whole.

Freelancers can provide excellent collaboration in designing a schedule and a system that allows work to be done in the right order, and received by the right people at the right time, minimising re-work and delays

Coordination neglect—underestimating the complexity of putting together the rich data and insight you've received from across your team—can be a major stumbling block in successfully making your deadline.

A freelance support can be invaluable in working around some of the difficulties here. We are well used to the process of coordinating multiple inputs, and can provide excellent collaboration in designing a schedule and a system that allows work to be done in the right order, and received by the right people at the right time, minimising re-work and delays.


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The fourth crunch factor which blows your deadline is that old desk enemy, procrastination.

There’s always something more interesting / urgent / easy to do than slog out the work—it’s human nature to put things off, especially if you’ve hit a tough patch.

This is another way in which utilising freelance support can really speed things up: when you hire someone to work specifically on your project (writing, editing or proofreading your reports, for example) they are completely focused on your work.

There’s nothing competing for our attention or importance, and all of our doodling, social media distraction, and displacement activity gets done on our own time!

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Freelance support for your project can make a crucial positive difference to planning your workflow and managing your timeline and budget—by contributing experience, rigour, an external perspective, and uninterrupted focused energy, moving the project forward on time, on budget.

For a free consultation or quotation, please contact, or give me a call on 07988 858873 to talk more.

Next time: Take Project Planning Strategy a Step Further

My next blog post examines a simple but brilliant technique proven to deliver accurate budget and planning predictions, slaying the Planning Fallacy forever!

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Happy World Story Telling Day!

To celebrate World Story Telling day, and to find out what Samuel T Coleridge and YouTube have in common, read my latest article, published today on (@CraftContent).

(Eagle eyed readers of the IJLA blog may spot that an earlier version of this article first appeared on here, last year.)

Beautiful words surround us – I'm featured in the PCN spotlight this week!

image credit: Luis Llerena

image credit: Luis Llerena

The Professional Copywriters' Network are featuring me in their spotlight this week, with an interview on my journey into freelance writing and editing, the high points of the job (as well as the bug bears!), what I do to jettison writer's block, and advice to writers who are just starting out.

For the full article, click here. To learn more about how I can help you, please go to My Work page, or contact me directly.

Mind The Gap: Expertly Communicating Your Brand in Every Message

In reaching out to customers or partners, it’s tempting to imagine that simply producing more – maximising the amount we say and how often we say it – will effectively demonstrate who we are. But just getting your brand out there, advertising, engaging with social media marketing, or churning out reports or white papers is not enough to ensure you are successfully connecting with your audience.

Pandering for traffic is not brand building. Winning the respect of your audience is.
— Lewis DVorkin "Journalists and Statistics, Paying Attention to the New Media World" Forbes

Reaching your customer base and clearly expressing your relevance, your core values or your unique selling points requires a clear understanding of that audience.

image credit:  WDNet Studio

image credit: WDNet Studio

  • What matters to them?
  • What information or experience in your field do they already have?
  • How much detail do they need?
  • What are you offering?
  • What is your call to action?

These questions are likely to be familiar to you – we’re all brands now, whether you are a commercial business with products or services to sell, a startup, a consultancy, advocacy organisation or social enterprise.

However, the next step may be tougher...

image credit:  Greg Plom, pixabay

image credit: Greg Plom, pixabay

Your product or skill base may be the leanest, smartest, most effective on the market; your service may add significant value to your customer; your bid may be the most competitive – but if you can’t express that reality, you’re relying on your customers to make a big jump to close the gap.


The Hidden Logic of Success

The really good news is that being brilliant at anything is simply a matter of careful rehearsal. In Bounce, Matthew Syed debunks the talent myth, demonstrating that hours of purposeful practice builds our competence and expertise, until – seemingly effortlessly and innately – we are performing to the highest levels. When we see extraordinary prowess, in any field, "we are witnessing the end-product of a process measured in years… what we do not see is what we might call the hidden logic of success." Syed, Bounce (Fourth Estate 2011)

After years of experience in restructuring, redrafting, and refining, a professional writer instinctively finds the right words, nuance, tone and pace to connect to and convince their audience.

The famous 10,000 hours, coined by influential sports and business commentator Malcolm Gladwell, represents the amount of time we need to invest in a complex task to achieve mastery. Writing fluently and persuasively is such a skill – and given enough practice, anyone can become an expert communicator. After years of experience in restructuring, redrafting, and refining, a professional writer instinctively finds the right words, nuance, tone and pace to connect to and convince their audience, approaching each new project with the ability and speed of a specialist. 

So that’s the good news. But if you’re already pouring your energy and creativity into your core business, where do you find those extra hours to develop your ability to communicate? Right now, you have information you need to get into the marketplace: perhaps a report to put out, web copy to update; an article, a white paper, a summary…

That's when you should consider adding the skills of a freelance copy writer into your team – someone who has already written countless hours of material for a diverse range of services and organisations. Someone who can help you find your voice and reach your audience. Today.



For more on how I can help you to communicate, influence and explain, get in touch at

Why Telling Stories Matters For Your Business: Empathy Provokes Action

You may have seen this morning that both the Today programme and the BBC News front page, along with many print papers, ran headline pieces on an attempted murder trial.  And you could be forgiven for wondering why – because it wasn't real...

The defendant, the victim, and all of the witnesses were characters from The Archers – that national treasure, the long running radio soap airing six days a week, which usually focuses on nothing more stirring than the Flower & Produce Show, milk prices and poaching ethics.

“An everyday story of country folk” may not sound exactly riveting, and you certainly may not expect its fictional events to hit national headlines – but for the last year this 13 minute long nightly radio drama has built a compelling domestic abuse narrative around two central characters. Yesterday culminated in a unique one hour special, where jurors deliberated over an attempted murder charge against Helen Titchener, the terrorised wife.

An courtroom artist's impression of the fictional trial, created for Radio 4 by Julia Quenzler

An courtroom artist's impression of the fictional trial, created for Radio 4 by Julia Quenzler

But more dramatic than the triumphant Not Guilty verdict – greeted with euphoria by Archers fans on Twitter, where #FreeHelen has been trending for months – is the surprising action it has provoked beyond the fictional world of Ambridge.

In February this year, an Archers fan set up a Just Giving page for the ‘real life Helens’, to help listeners donate to the domestic violence charity Refuge. After seven months, the page has raised almost £160,000. That’s a phenomenal amount of money, largely given in increments of £10 and £20, simply as a response to a story.

No one associated with the radio drama has ever asked for a donation. Not once in the entire storyline has mention been made of Refuge, or their reliance on charitable giving to survive. Helen doesn’t even access this form of support to escape her abuser.

Simply put: the insight, compassion and outrage elicited by this story has triggered a spontaneous response from the show’s listeners, to collaboratively provide the best help they can. Nobody thinks Helen Titchener is real, but they are very clear that she represents a real experience for many.

Stories captivate us. We live out the emotions and ideas of the characters. We imagine ourselves in the same situations. We wonder how we could help. We want to act.

If you want to go beyond simple awareness from your audience, tell them a story – and watch them respond.

Q & A: How do you write a great Executive Summary?

image credit: Andreas Lischka

image credit: Andreas Lischka

“If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter” 

This famous proverb, variously attributed to Mark Twain, Pascal and Churchill, expresses a truth well understood by the summary writer: producing a short piece of text which clearly encapsulates complex or lengthy ideas takes a great deal of expertise and careful planning.

Before you write, begin with a list of questions...


How informed are your readers?

How much technical jargon needs explanation?

How much time do they have?

How many other similar reports will they read?

1. Who is your audience?

Think about the length and depth of the report. You may be looking for a one-page preface: some teaser statements, a few bullet points and a couple of tantalizing quotes, pulling in your reader so that they engage with the fuller piece. Another report may require more substance, with clear headings, greater detail, perhaps key figures or statistics.



Are you selling an idea?

Are you posing a complex theoretical question?

Are there multiple aspects to your argument?

Is there a call to action?

2. What is the tone of your report?

In a strong summary, the reader can easily identify key themes and implications. Aim to match the frequency of the longer piece: energetic or considered, ambitious or reserved. A report delivering a positive finding should have a positive summary; one containing challenges and future action needs a summary that’s enquiring, active and compelling. Don’t add your own synthesis – you’re aiming for perfect representation, not a mini-editorial of the original article.

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image credit:


What’s a proportionate level of detail to include?

Are you obscuring the USP by including too much background?

Have you understood the most important aspects of the proposal?

How can you articulate these key points simply?

3. What’s the big idea? 

It’s crucial that you know what you’re writing about – yes, that sounds obvious, but it’s tempting to assume that creating a brief summary only requires a passing grasp of the content. In fact, to clarify and exemplify material requires you to thoroughly understand the big picture, and have a robust, working familiarity with the detail. Representing a report in micro-form means first identifying its proportions and architecture: what collapses if you move this or that supporting structure of the argument.



How many pages do you have?

What are the style / formatting guidelines?

Can you include key quotes from the report?

Is your structure clear and easy to navigate?

Have you created a good snapshot of the wider image?

4. How do I look?

There are various ways to present a summary; following the general structure of the main report is the obvious starting point, but avoid slavishly adhering to it subtitle-by-subtitle. You’re being asked to process complex ideas and lengthy arguments, and deliver them to the reader in an engaging and digestible way – not write up a secondary school science experiment (Hypothesis / Method / Results / Conclusion).

Using bullet points for key ideas and implications, and asking questions are more good ways to highlight important elements of the report, and draw the reader into the full piece. 

image credit: utroja0

image credit: utroja0

Finally: the golden rule for summaries is to imagine the reader will never read the full report, but just what you’ve written here.

Make sure it’s exactly what they need to know.

The Sooner You Start... Why Procrastination Isn't Always Bad

"I think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done."

Susan Orlean, journalist, author and staff writer for The New Yorker

We all do it. Industry leaders down to undergraduate students; creatives, executives, technicians and salespeople. You may even be doing it right now.

When faced with a big project, a lengthy report to read, a complex client conversation… we put it off. No matter how many helpful screening systems we employ (the Freedom app, for example, can disable all of your social media tools for a specified time), it’s human nature to find distractions amidst the call of focused work.

image credit:  Quinn Dombrowski

image credit: Quinn Dombrowski

So is procrastination always the thief of time? When the working world first embraced the internet, its perceived impact on employee productivity was overwhelmingly negative. Facebook and other social networking sites were blocked as matter of course, and using your computer for personal chores within working hours was a covert practice at best, and potentially a sackable offence. 

As the Internet Century has moved on, so too has our understanding of what worker efficiency looks like, at least in the world of the smart creative. Flexible hours and and the ‘always-on’ reality of working life has changed how we see the division of work and home, now far more integrated than before.

But time-wasting is still time-wasting, right? Not necessarily. Daniel Levitin writes in The Organized Mind about the switch our brains make between the ‘central executive’ — the fully focused prefrontal cortex which is actively engaged in a task — and the daydreaming state when our attention wanders. 

Our desire for productivity isn’t always best served by plunging into work. If we confront that complex task head on — what Adam Grant refers to in his recent TED talk as pre-crastination — we miss the opportunities that arise when our brains wander in a contemplative state.

"procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps."

Allowing yourself time to switch between focused attention and day dreaming (and yes, that includes going completely off topic: YouTube surfing, inbox clearing, Words With Friends, a run or walk…*), you can make the difference between pinging an instant comeback to a problematic email, or designing a thoughtful and constructive response; getting your report in on time, or creating something really worthwhile.

Of course if you’ve allowed time to watched the entire season five of Game Of Thrones, eaten your own body weight in pretzels, and run out of tweets — and you’re still struggling to get the words on a page — it may be time to call in some professional help.

* For some truly inspirational work-deferment, watch another procrastination connoisseur… Tim Urban's funny and enlightening TED talk, taking you Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator

He cannot choose but hear... Engaging your audience through storytelling

He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.
— from 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', Samuel Coleridge


In the age of information, how do we choose to communicate? The answer is… in the same way as we have for thousands of years. Humans tell each other stories. The medium we choose may be different: a tweet, blog, email or text – but mankind has always warned, taught and understood themselves through narrative.

In his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future the business writer Daniel Pink explains that the critical skills of the 21st century are those of story tellers: “a society of creators and empathizers, of pattern recognizers and meaning makers”. To stand out in a crowded market, you must make an emotional connection with your audience.

Urban myths, cyberspace anecdotes, watercooler gossip: according to evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, social conversation makes up well over half of all human discussion in public places. The explosion of social media in the last ten years is in fact merely representative of what has been happening via word of mouth since humans first spoke at all.

Over the last few days the international community marked first World Storytelling Day, and then World Poetry Day. We celebrate these forms of communication because they are instinctive to us – they create the capacity to remember and to reflect.

Consider the last two or three stories you heard – read to your child at bedtime perhaps, or watched on television? A fairy tale warning of ravenous wolves in the woods; a Scandinavian crime thriller. A story captivates us where simple facts fail. We are gripped by another’s experience, and just as the wedding guest listening to the ancient mariner, we cannot choose but hear.

And there’s a story in everything. Forget the conventional wisdom telling us a news reporter may cover a political piece, or economics, and at the end of the show you’ll have a ‘human interest story’. Was there really any other kind? 

So when you next seek to convey technical information to your customers, to share an update on a breakthrough, to celebrate a new product – do it the intuitive way. Tell them a story.

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