The Beats Behind Your Breathtaking Stories

A story without beats is the fastest way to make people fall asleep. (That was not meant to rhyme. Just putting it out there.) In fiction books or movie scripts, writers define a beat as the smallest unit of a story — something that happens that causes a reaction.

If the Titanic had been merely a fabulous ship reaching port in one piece, there would have been no story.

As corporate storytellers, we look at marketing as having beats too. A beat is an interaction — something that happens that causes a reaction. Your hero headline on the homepage creates desire. The visitor clicks on the call-to-action to learn more. There’s a beat. The average movie has about 40 beats. The average homepage? Anybody’s guess. BUT, strive to have beats throughout.

Here’s the big WOW: a great brand story is one long string of beats — one interaction that leads to the next one.

Fun fact: the typical movie has about 40 beats in it. Less beats slows the action. More beats can keep you on the edge of your seat. Now switch the perspective to your story. Thinking in terms of beats, instead of mere content, changes everything. Website content becomes a path of engagement, sales decks become dialogue, and videos morph inspire action.

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Our own lives have beats. Our own lives are one scene built upon another, conversation that evoke action, surprises that lead to unexpected roads. Our own story does not magically appear. You went from point A to point B, maybe even to point Z (thank you, alphabet, for having 26 of you). It’s never easy. The path was littered with fear and angst. But it was worth it because it landed you here, wherever here is — from one interaction after another.

There are many stories behind a company. How you saved the day for a customer. Why your company does what it does. Your vision for an amazing world. Your founder story.

Showing your stories to the outside world should captivate people in the same way you feel entranced watching a great movie. Stories are one-part emotion and one-part authoritative. People buy on emotion and justify the purchase with underlying authority or facts. The beats in the story keep the emotion and the relationship moving forward.

Consider your story one of your biggest unfair advantages — one thing that others don’t have and cannot copy.

Let’s end with the words from one of the most famous film director’s of all time: Frank Capra: “There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.”

Now, take your brand story to breathtaking heights.

A Story: Keep Going

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I love to run, but I detest feeling cold. So last Saturday, I went to our local Vaughn Center, plunked down two dollars in quarters pilfered from our family coin jar and exchanged them for the privilege of running the track.

Six times around makes a mile. It's really not hard at all. Unless you are Marvin.

I don't know if that is his name, but that's what I'm going with. He looked like a Marvin, a rather nostalgic name befitting a man who is most probably in his seventies, wrinkly skin on his dark-skinned face, still broad-shouldered, still built like the athlete I suspect he once was. He wore chinos and a black polo top.

When I spoke with him, I didn't ask him his name. It was enough for me just to approach a stranger. Many people don't know this about me, but I'm a real introvert. Big groups terrify me and meeting strangers . . . don't even get me started. But this man did something that was so massively impressive, I had to work up the nerve to tell him the truth. And I did. I thanked him, straight out, for inspiring all of us that day.

Marvin walked at a complete 90 degree angle. He used the rail around the second floor track as a guide because, obviously, he really didn't have a lot of clearance to see far ahead. He would stop a lot. He would stand at the rail and watch the basketball and volleyball players below make three-pointers or spike the ball over the net.

I imagined him fifty years before. A great player, someone with promise, maybe a scholarship to college or the captain of his high school team.

Then something happened along the way. Was it a car accident? Years of hard work stacked on top of each other? An illness winning the war on his body?  

So I asked him, after thanking him, if it was painful to walk. Because it looked like it was, and he shook his head and said, "Oh yeah. My back, my lower back." He was sitting on the bench alongside the track when I talked with him. I figured I had one more question before he thought I was a nut, so I asked him what I really wanted to know: What motivated him to come out here and go through all this pain?

His eyes had a fierce light of goodness. He stared right at me and said, "I've got to try. I've just got to keep on tryin'."

I thanked him again. It was one of those moments where I felt like I'd been touched by an angel. One human being sharing with another about courage, life, determination.

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Michele Kelly is CEO and Co-founder of K+L Storytellers, a brand storytelling and content company passionate about helping middle market companies scale through story.