Practicum: Tell a F*cking Story

Communication should be clear and concise, but most importantly, it should be compelling. For instance, when a building is on fire, you don’t say, “Hello, everyone. It’s going to get uncomfortably warm in here. Allow me to elaborate…” and you sure as hell don’t attempt to start a dialogue on the subject. When a building is on fire, one always says the right thing because one always knows what others need to hear. The message is clear within, and so becomes clear without. Every message isn’t so easily summed up, of course, thankfully, because we’d all require constant sedation.

Most communication is subtle, and most people are trying too hard. It’s obvious that you couldn’t take the burning building approach to selling something, by running around screaming, “BUY THIS!!!” While that’s a clear, concise message, it isn’t compelling. Neither the message, the sender, nor the scenario are meaningful to the audience. Everyone’s favorite subject is themselves. If they can’t see themselves in the intent, they won’t project themselves into the outcome.

Communication requires you to say something worthwhile, but also to provide the necessary space for the audience to create meaning. As French composer Claude Debussy said, “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” The most important aspect of communication is silence. Or, more properly: emptiness. Paradoxically, the most effective part of your message is often what you don’t say.

The true enjoyment of listening to a story is imagining for oneself the parts that are left untold. There the listener is free to complete the world the teller has described and become the hero of it. Emptiness is the other half of the dialogue, where the observer is responding internally. It’s the moment in which the meaning of the message is born. Emptiness is challenging. It’s uncomfortable. It creates tension, drama, and conflict; and nothing is more compelling than conflict.

Mythology, the collective story of humanity, is so compelling for this exact reason. It raises questions with no adequate answers. That we are eternally bound together, yet perpetually divided by the human condition in inexplicable and awe inspiring — tension, drama, conflict. Silence has such power over us that we’ve actually given it a persona: God*. Stillness, patience, and objectivity are nearly lost arts. The less you say, the closer you come to the divine. Use this omnipotent tool to your advantage.

Explore your message / brand / whatever through dedicated contemplation. What’s it about? What’s it mean? If you can spit these answers out quickly, start over. No one’s going to give a shit about something you can thoughtlessly recite. Meaning is elusive, it’s enshrouded in mystery, and that’s why it’s compelling. Your message doesn’t have to be mysterious, complex, long, or deep, but it should be connected, in some way, to something meaningful. When I shout, “FIRE!” your family, friends, dog, and weekend plans all flash before your eyes in an instant and you don’t want to lose them, so you move your ass. That’s meaningful.

Finally, you must have fucking respect for your audience. You must fucking think about their needs. You must be fucking responsive to their desires. You must show them fucking empathy. Creativity can either be making love to an audience or masturbating in front of them. Given the choice, which do you think they’d prefer? (Actually, don’t answer that.) If you foolishly allow your awkwardness, urgency, laziness, and / or greed to drive the conversation, you’re ignoring their intellects, and that’s neither respectful nor enjoyable. The need for effective communication is one of the very few, narrow corridors through which artistic expression and commercial enterprise cross paths. Good art, rare though it is, always rewards the observer for meeting it half way. Your brand can do the same… if you’re confident enough to let it.

*This is only an analogy, relax.

Authored by Jason Richburg
GFDA Copywriter and Curriculum Director — Authors of “Do the F*cking Work: Lowbrow Advice for High-Level Creativity” Follow us on IG @GoodDsgnAdvice — Authors of “Do the F*cking Work: Lowbrow Advice for High-Level Creativity” Follow us on IG @GoodDsgnAdvice