The Story Economy Blog

Let It Be

sand through handDoes anyone else have a problem letting it be? That there is a pretty rockin’ song about letting it be tells me I’m probably not the only one eager to hear those words of wisdom from Mother Mary.

Oh, by the way, I’m sorry I was away for so long. I was involved in a big project, which had me traveling a lot and working 24/7 in the last weeks of June and whole first half of July. I came home last week exhausted in every way. I actually contemplated writing a newsletter about exhaustion. But I didn’t even have the will to do that.

So, what’s with the letting it be talk? Well, there are a couple of things in my life I need to figure out how to let be (shades of my post: Is It What It Is Or Not?). We all have these things, right?

But it doesn’t have to be quite so gooey and soul-searching. Because what I want to share today is a lesson I recently learned around how to let a message just be what it needs to be. I think any marketer can appreciate this story. But it’s really directed at people who—like me—tend to form strong ideas about how certain messages should be delivered because it’s our job to do so. It boils down to this: how do you know when to back off?

Just Another Client Story

This example is actually pulled directly from a recent speechwriting project. I was writing for a company’s big yearly event, and I was paired with one of their top leaders to help with her presentation. She was used to giving talks. She’s super fun and engaging, and really comfortable on stage. But this was going to be a bigger audience and a bigger message. The stakes were higher for her, so she wanted some help. It was my job to help her figure out the content and structure. I’ve been doing these kinds of projects more and more, and I really love the challenge of helping people figure out how to tell the story they need to tell.

We had some great discussions and back-and-forth about her content, and what her key points could be. And after we talked several times, I came up with a plan: a certain way I thought she should structure her talk and tell her story. She was on board with it. Because she has a free associative style (that’s a nice way of saying “tangent-prone”) I thought that she could really benefit from having a script and using the teleprompter that was provided. Otherwise, I was worried she’d get off topic. (She was worried about this too.)

So I scripted out parts of her talk—it was all her story, just reorganized and carefully crafted. She was hesitant because she hadn’t worked this way before. But I assured her that we could make it work. It would still be her words and her message; it would just be less extemporaneous. She read through what I had written and thought it sounded right on target. Awesome, I thought. Done.

And then came rehearsal. It was, well . . . not great. She wasn’t feeling it—she was reading it, skipping around trying to ad-lib, and then getting lost because the structure didn’t work anymore. Suddenly, she was freaked out.

My first answer was just that she needed to practice. That’s what we do when we are trying to master something, right? I used to be a gymnast, and let me tell you, you don’t just suddenly master a new skill. You do like 20 of them. And then 30 more. And probably 50 more, just for the fun of it.

Grit through it and make it happen, because it’s what’s best for you: that was my initial instinct (it’s always my initial instinct). But once I was able to step back and take a look at this particular situation, I realized that having a script—even a script of her own words—was squashing this woman’s energy, because she never said things the same way twice. And that was part of her magic and what made people listen, even if it was a little rough around the edges sometimes. No matter how expertly I crafted something for her, it wasn’t going to be right. A perfectly timed phrase—that wasn’t really her style.

We both needed to let it be what it needed to be. But especially me.

So, after some panic and regrouping, we figured out how to bullet out her talk, in a way that looked crazy to me, but worked for her. And, of course, there’s a happy ending: she wound up doing a fantastic job at the event!

On the surface, this is basically just another story about serving a client. That’s what we all do in one way or another, right? It’s not a new or particularly insightful lesson: just do what your client needs.

But the more interesting lesson for me is around trying to hold on to messages too tightly and trying to control them because logic and experience tells you to. Letting a message just be what it is—that is sometimes counterintuitive for those of us in the message-crafting business. It can feel really risky to not put the right stamp on it.

The wisdom is all in knowing the difference between when it’s your job to stamp it, and when it’s your job to let it be.

And there is no set of rules for it. Just a song.

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