3 killer storytelling techniques from AMC’s “The Walking Dead”

the-walking-dead-onlineWith the season 5 premiere in just three months, I thought it’d be fun to share this article I wrote. While I discuss my career or work issues often on this blog, this is the first time I’m actually sharing some of it. It doesn’t fit with the topics I usually write about, but I know many of you have blogs of your own and am hoping you may find some inspiration. If not, hey, it’s about “The Walking Dead”. That’s fun enough, right? 

This post first appeared on Cursive Content’s blog last week. I used to work with the insanely talented ladies of Cursive Content, and it was wonderful to team up again. If you are a writer, blogger, marketer – or just interested in learning more about all of the above, check out their blog. But first, read this!

I have the entire “The Walking Dead: Season 4“ in my DVR queue, courtesy of the 4th of July weekend marathon on AMC, and it’s eating me alive (pun intended). My husband and I recently started watching on Netflix, and have had way too many binge-viewing sessions over the past few weeks than I care to admit.

As I gazed longingly at my queue this weekend, wishing I had a free hour to sneak in just one episode, it occurred to me that the reason I am obsessed with this show is its incredible storytelling.

The storyline elements that make the show so popular (it’s the #1 show on TV among 18- to 49-year-olds) are the same as those that draw people to your content and drive business. To get your audience to tune in regularly, makes sure your content accomplishes these three goals.

1. Create tension

Simply put, nail biters draw people in. If the characters on “The Walking Dead” think they’re safe, but the camera pans out to show hordes of “walkers” heading in their direction, my eyes will remain glued to the screen.

Create this tension and sense of urgency in your content to capture your audience’s attention, too. Focus on current and potential barriers to your audience’s success, using your customer and industry knowledge as well as your own perspective to set the scene. 

2. Introduce your cast of characters

A sheriff who’s a dead shot, a veterinarian with a wealth of first aid skills, a former pizza deliveryman who moves swiftly – these are just a few of the characters whose specific skill-sets have saved themselves and fellow survivors time and again.

Bring your story to life through the voices, perspectives and insights of your “characters” – those employees who have helped shape your business and, in turn, craft your story. In doing so, you’ll demonstrate the strengths of each employee, and how they uniquely position your company to “rescue” your audience.

3. Save the day

On “The Walking Dead,” Sheriff Rick’s group of survivors is tough – possibly the toughest group out there battling the dead– and others in need of protection have begged to join.

Your content should clearly communicate the approach and solutions you offer and why your business is the best – or perhaps the only one – to address those threats.

Consistently incorporate these three elements into your content, and you’ll establish your business as a go-to authority with a unique perspective and solutions. Like Sheriff Rick, you’ll be the one your audience turns to for consultation – or the next time they need to be rescued.

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Fading fast

Photo: pastoralyn.wordpress.com

Photo: pastoralyn.wordpress.com

Last month, Energy Project CEO and Founder Tony Schwartz appeared on seemingly every news station after publishing his article, “Relax! You’ll be more productive” in the Opinion section of the New York Times. His hypothesis: we can’t work like computers, quickly, for long periods of time, juggling multiple functions, and still be effective and engaged. Instead, we’re most productive when we alternate between expending and renewing four types of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

So rather than try to squeeze all the work out of us that they can, employers should be striving to meet our four areas of need so that we are inspired, focused and, ultimately, producing better-quality work.

As someone who experiences the former on a day-to-day basis, I liked what I was hearing.

I visited the Energy Project website to learn more and decided to take the energy audit – a 20-question assessment that helps determine how effectively you’re managing your four sources of energy.

Survey says? I’m 30 percent energized (a.k.a. burned out). My four types of energy are all “fading.” As a former straight-A student, this did not bode well with me. I’ve flunked… in life?

The assessment includes suggestions for re-energizing my life, recommending I start at the physical level, which is the “foundation for the other dimensions of energy, and where it is easiest to make concrete changes.”

I’ve increased my workouts, and, unsurprisingly, they’ve helped lift my energy levels and keep stress and anxiety at bay.

But they haven’t magically changed my workplace.

Luckily, I currently happen to be reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, another written work generating major conversations. Sandberg discusses setting limits in her book, telling the story of a colleague who once told her that her boss “would never stop making demands on our time, so it was up to us to decide what we were willing to do. It was our responsibility to draw the line.”

Later, she says, “…long-term success at work often depends on not trying to meet every demand placed on us. The best way to make room for both life and career is to make choices deliberately – to set limits and stick to them.”

As a person of extremes, setting limits and achieving balance have never been a natural strength for me.

But now, after seeing how my extremes are affecting my energy levels, health, performance – my overall life – and understanding that limits are necessary, rather than an admission of incompetence, I’m going to attempt to pull back a bit and take the time to replenish my energies.

What about you? How do you set limits and re-energize?

You can’t change crazy

1348000005060_472236Every couple of years, I feel the need to switch jobs. Recently, I’ve begun to wonder if I suffer from a weird two-year itch. The cycle goes: happy honeymoon period during the first year, period of negative realizations about the culture, boss, etc. during months 12 to 18, then an overwhelming desire to flee by month 24.

Coming up on month 24, the thought to begin a job search has begun popping into my mind again. A few reasons: clients with low budgets and no desire to take risks (read: no ability for me to be creative, which I thrive on) and a very controlling, very moody boss with a it’s-my-way-or-the-highway approach to management. The icing on the cake: when he recently told me to “wear something sexy” when I met our client’s new CEO. So add “chauvinistic” to that list of adjectives above.

But here’s the thing. I love the work I do. I love my co-workers even more. I have a nice office. A decent salary. My commute is easy. The company is surrounded by good restaurants, stores and the best shoe repair guy I’ve ever trusted with my soles.

It occurred to me as I thought about this today that it’s not my boss or clients who are really the problem – it’s the way I’m letting both get to me. As my husband, who has an incredible way of putting things into perspective for me, said post-rant (by me) tonight, “You can’t change crazy.”

Replace “crazy” with any word – except “yourself” – and the statement still rings true.

Other than myself, I can’t change anyone or anything. All I can do is: a. accept it for what it is and choose to instead focus on the positives or b. change my situation. It’s really that simple.

So I’m going to attempt to cure my chronic itch by focusing on what I love about my job and what I’m grateful for. I’m going to focus my energy on continuing to do great work and learn. And I’ll see what happens, rather than become frustrated that I can’t control the outcome.

Why you gotta check yourself before you wreck yourself*

This summer was tough. I lost two women very close to me. And while the initial sting and pain of their loss has eased up a bit, fall has been an insanely busy time at the office. Trying to balance my unwieldy workload with fun-packed weekends has resulted in sheer exhaustion – and a serious loss of balance. I feel drained, like I’m in a Frida Kahlo painting, bleeding out everywhere.

On top of the run-down feeling, I was beginning to get unexplicably angry and sad. Becoming annoyed with co-workers and short with my husband. Noticing I was becoming more critical of myself and my work, along with letting my Type A-ness get out of control when it came to cleaning (I clean when stressed).

Needless to say, this past weekend was a time to check myself. Okay, to be honest, I didn’t plan to check myself; I crashed. I napped on Saturday afternoon in my PJs and zoned out like a zombie, watching football all day Sunday.

The good part? I remembered why it’s so important to give yourself time to just be – time to forget deadlines, tuck the to-do list away, catch up on some reading, take a yoga class or go for a run and get back in tune with myself.

Inspired by my two days of relaxing, I turned a critical eye to my calendar and began moving back plans, spacing them out a bit so that I can build in “check yourself” weekends between busy ones. I made sure I got to the gym a few times this week, and carved out time to blog (hence, this post). I’m already feeling lighter and back to my usual self, rather than the crazed maniac I was becoming.

Can you relate? Do you have to check yourself, or have you mastered balance? I’m always looking for tips!

*Ice Cube is so wise!