Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown is one of the most requested children’s books of all time. But it wasn’t always that way. It took time for parents, librarians and others to appreciate the rhyming sentence structures, rhythm, simple messages, and colorful images embedded in the book. Today,Good Night Moon has sold over 11 million copies, and there are valuable lessons from its rise from obscurity to best seller, especially as corporate storytellers work on their craft of creating more compelling documents and presentations.
No, storytelling isn’t just for children, and corporate storytelling isn’t just for marketing professionals. In fact, no matter what line of business (i.e. accounting, finance, operations, management or whatever), it’s critical to understand the best ways to persuade internal and external audiences of our stated point of view, whether by ethos, pathos or logos.
Hannah Keyser pens an interesting piece on Good Night Moon. For example, she writes how Good Night Moon’‘s sales in its first year started with 6000 books, but it wasn’t until the 70s that Good Night Moon sold more than 20,000 books per year. In the article we also learn that Margaret Wise Brown was a prolific author before publishing Good Night Moon, but didn’t have a lot of success in the marketplace with her early cuts at fiction.
These details are well and good, but what is of particular interest is things that made Good Night Moon—a narration that most of us grew up listening to, or reading to our children—so powerful in terms of storytelling. Of significant value is how we can apply some of these compelling techniques to our modern day documents, tomes, and presentations.
Pairing concepts and developing a rhythmic cadence
In Good Night Moon, adults and children are introduced to “bears and chairs,” “kittens and mittens,” and a “toy house and a young mouse.” Margaret Wise Brown makes it easy for the listener and especially young readers to associate concepts that are fun, easy to remember and rhyme. While it’s probably not recommended to rhyme words in corporate presentations—unless one wants to be accused of channeling Dr. Seuss—there are concepts we can use to pair concepts and make them easy to remember. One such method, the utilization of tri-colons in rhetoric, makes ideas easier to consume and comprehend.
There is also value in developing a rhythm to your prose or presentation, one that spends just the right amount of time on a paragraph or page, so as to not bog down readers and/or listeners in a topic, especially when there are subsequent ideas that should follow.
Constant Refinement is Your Friend
In Hannah Keyser’s article on Margaret Wise Brown, she details how Brown would first scribble out an idea for a book on the back of napkin, piece of paper or anything really; starting with a rough take on the concept and then continually refining.
There is merit to this approach, where one takes time to write an outline or key sentences, and then assembles, combines and edits them later to create a coherent and logical product. Margaret Wise Brown has stated that she spends twenty minutes on the draft and two years on the polishing. Of course, with the speed of business there isn’t necessarily time to spend two years on polishing a document, but there is much to be said for refining each word in a paragraph or replacing an image on a page so that it conveys exactly what you wish it to.
Keep the End Goal in Mind
In addition to the use of tri-colons to ensure key points are not lost on your audience, there’s beauty in the use of repetition, especially as it drives towards a goal. For example, in Good Night Moon, the term “good night” appears twenty times. When coupled with rhythmic and rhyming patterns found in the book, it’s quite easy to be lulled to the end state—which of course is a tired child (and sometimes adult!). Even reading the comments in Hannah Keyser’s article, one reader points out, “I read it to my daughter every night and I don’t know what it is, but my brain shuts down.”
As you build your story, keep in mind the end goal, which is usually to persuade, inspire, or invite the audience to take an action (and sometimes all three!). And remember, there is power in use of repetition, emphasizing key points time and again to drill them home and potentially change a preconceived notion or mental model.
So how do you tell better stories in a typical Goodnight Moon fashion? Develop that constant cadence and keep your messages simple and memorable. Also, make sure you’re delivering the final version of your prose or presentation—not your first or second draft. Last, drive your audience to a goal and make sure its reinforced with use of repetition.
Failure to adhere to these steps may result in your audience taking a nap on your dime, and this time, without the aid of a wonderfully illustrated children’s book.
Originally published in Social Media Today, September 9, 2015