Monthly Archives: December 2018

2018’s biggest stories: why did we love them?

So what were the biggest stories of 2018? Well, Brexit obviously, Trump probably and, I dunno, maybe North Korea? Serious stuff, big issues and yep, plenty of Google searches across the year.*

But let’s throw in some alternatives: switch out North Korea for “Royal Wedding” and see what happens.

Yep, Meghan and Harry’s big day massively eclipses even Trump, the most famous man on the planet. Now let’s add another of the summer’s big stories: ITV’s Love Island!

Wow. We really got into Love Island this summer. A longer lasting spike, a much bigger average score than all the others. Finally, let’s blow all the rest away and add in the 2018 World Cup:

So there you go, the World Cup, Love Island and Royal Wedding were by far the biggest of 2018’s big stories.

Why did we find them so fascinating? Because they are fundamental life stories.

Meghan and Harry: a classic Boy Meets Girl story. We are programmed on a deep, evolutionary level to pay attention to Boy Meets Girl stories because without them, none of us would be here.

Love Island: on the face of it, another version of Boy Meets Girl. But look deeper. Yes, we shared stories about Jack and Dani’s romance, but we were far more interested in the ups and downs of Meghan, Wes and Samira; far more interested in who was real and who was fake.

World Cup: yes it’s sport, but it’s so much more. The hero of the tournament was Gareth Southgate. We followed his journey: from the boy who missed a penalty and let his country down in 1996 to the man who led a team and made his country proud in 2018.

Fundamental life stories thrill us because they show us what it means to love, what it means to trust each other and what it means to grow up and face challenges.

So, if you want to tell a thrilling story about your work, think how you can shape it into a fundamental life story. What could your story tell us about:

  • Love and being loved (or at least, being respected)?
  • Who is true, who is fake and how we trust each other?
  • How we grow up, face challenges and become stronger?

More storytelling tips here – or a free guide to better writing here.

1,000 TED talks later… here are some of their QUIRKS

I’m working on titles for my next book proposal – on storytelling. My would-be editor says I should look at TED talks, to see how their titles draw viewers in. Scanning a database of over 1,000 TED talks (titles and short blurb), I’ve spotted some themes. I’ll call them TED’s QUIRKS.

Questions (and answers). How many question marks would you find in the titles/blurb for 1,000+ TED talks? Answer: over 300. For example; “Is this our final century?”, “Is anatomy destiny?” or “Medicine’s future?” You’ll also find 207 whats, 128 whys, 78 whens, 68 wheres, but just wait til you see how many hows

Useful info. There are far more hows (84 in titles, 581 in blurb) than questions. This reflects TED’s “ideas worth sharing” mission: nothing says “here lies useful information” than a handy how. “How technology will transform us” has come a bit of a TED trope by now. Also striving for usefulness are talks about habits (for happiness), laws (that choke creativity) and rules (for editing your life). TEDsters are also fond of calls to useful action: unlock (the intelligence), pay attention (to penguins), or embrace (your inner girl).

Ironies. Many talks grab your attention by suggesting a situation opposite to what you’d expect: “schools kill creativity” (TED’s top talk, by Sir Ken Robinson), “the opportunity of adversity”, “Black Men Ski”, or dedicating a whole TED talk to “how to tie your shoes.” Irony here acts like a puzzle – and you have to watch the talk to resolve it.

Relatable. You is the most used word in popular talks. The commonest pronouns in titles are our, we and us. The second and third most used words in TED talks are happiness and brain. Successful talks deal with topics which can be easily and deeply understood, according to an analysis by Sebastian Wernicke. Similar “let’s look closer at stuff we all take for granted” topics include psychology, food, ethics, anatomy, choices, strategies, beliefs and emotions.

Knowledgeable. The beauty of TED is experts sharing their knowledge for free. The hook goes like this: “[name of expert] on, makes, shows, helps, takes, explains [subject]” This way, you know what knowledge you’re going to get in five to eight words. But no matter how clever the speaker is, the text is short, clear and simple with no polysyllabic academic waffle.

Scale: greatest, deepest, newest or fastest are all meant to inspire wonder, like my personal favourite TED talk “Hans Rosling shows the best stats you’ve ever seen.” Human, world and global – all regulars in top TED titles – carry out the same task: making us feel connected to something bigger.

More tips on how to write well in my new free course Write Stuff or check out these learning tools.

And when it came to likes, shares and comments on TED talks, this was Sebastian Wernicke’s breakdown:

Most emailed: informative and persuasive ideas

Most favourited: fascinating, ingenious, funny, jaw-dropping, emotional.

Most commented: courageous, inspiring actions, beautiful