Vaporous Storytelling

Too often when we have something important to say, maybe even crucial, we lose the audience quickly because we muddy the connection with meaningless language and inwardly focused obligatory references.

In simpler words, we lose the story.

For example, the Creative Story Studio team does a lot of message and positioning work with healthcare companies and we recently came across this communication:

In the disruptive and rapidly changing environment of healthcare, our hospital system is leading a paradigm shift in patient-centered care using data-driven models to pursue innovation in quality, service and compassion.

We challenge ourselves to think outside the box and color outside the lines, tearing down internal silos to achieve a higher level of collaboration in cross-functional teams. At the end of the day, that means our patients can trust us to be a partner of choice for them individually and for their families, extended families, significant others, and their network of friends.

Our dedicated physicians, physician extenders, clinical service providers, nurses, environmental services staff, food preparation specialists, board of directors, community volunteers, administrators (and other categories of internal stakeholders we can’t remember right now but are obliged to mention in all public communications for internal appeasement reasons) work tirelessly 24/7 to ensure our patients and their families have a 5-star experience in our newly remodeled facility, which is state-of-the-art with the most advanced cutting-edge technology.

More importantly, we are committed to positively moving the needle of medical delivery and the cycle of service in the care continuum to create easy access to the highest quality care close to home and that is personalized to each and every individual we have the privilege to serve. Oh, predictions are it’s going to be a rough flu season this year and we also give flu shots.

You’re right. This is not an actual communication. But, we crafted it from the real bits and pieces of narrative in the marketing and positioning materials from some pretty respectable healthcare systems.

Here we find a collection of common corporate clichés and vaporous writing. The words and phrases are not specific. They lack the power of connection and relevance. They communicate very little. The writers selected the language to try and establish a false sense of lofty importance. They have bulked up the narrative with obligatory insider appeasement language.

Depending on how one counts, this sample storytelling uses 225 words and yet manages to pack in about two dozen vaporous phrases.

For example, what does data-driven actually mean, especially to a consumer? What are cross-functional teams and why should a patient care? Why is the institutional and distant word “facility” such a favorite in healthcare to describe places where we supposedly practice patient-centered care? If we drive innovation or move the needle, what actually happens that might be meaningful to a customer? Nothing in hospitals and healthcare communications should ever be described as cutting-edge, unless we want to remind patients of the pain and suffering they might endure to be healed.

Compelling storytelling requires us to wrap our minds around the elephant in the room. We must consider how to consistently achieve the basic blocking and tackling of clarity in our communications. Sometimes we need to take a step back and eat our own cooking. In the perfect storm of busy schedules and limited bandwidth, where we feel at times like we are drinking from a firehose, each of us has an opportunity to cast ourselves and our companies in a better light by choosing words more wisely. Together, working collaboratively, if we blue-sky this, put a stake in the ground, go after the low-hanging fruit, and get some quick wins, we may be able to get traction toward a storytelling revolution in the healthcare communications space.

Whoops, we did it again. The preceding paragraph added at least a dozen more vaporous phrases to the list of examples we’re assembling here. Remember, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a cliché, a buzzword, corporate speak, and poor storytelling. Whoops, we did it again. Purge your vocabulary and focus your story.

Predictions are flu season is going to be rough this year. We give flu shots.

Problem. Solution. Subject, verb, object. Nice! Simplicity, focus, relevance and clarity are all solid building blocks on which to craft an effective story.

Jeff Cowart, Editor-in-Chief for Creative Story Studio, is an award-winning journalist, editor and writing coach who helps his clients tell their stories with authenticity.