After 28 years with NBC News, host Brian Williams hosted his final episode of “The 11th Hour With Brian Williams” last week and, of course, wrote his own goodbye. His signature words, along with all the words from his years of journalistic reporting, represent a high level of compositional rhetoric. Varietythe media and entertainment industry magazine, puts it best with its description of his “knack for making guests look good and his zeal for well-turned-phrase and on-the-moment storytelling”.
Let’s look at five of Williams’ storytelling techniques and how you can use them as a template for creating your own story.
1. Outward Focus
In stark contrast to the oversized personalities that dominate the media – and in stark contrast to the business world where people deliver stories that are only about themselves and their business and not about the public – Williams has always been humble to a fault. In his farewell, he reinforced this view:
To my colleagues, my love and my thanks, and I repeat, everyone I have worked with has made me better at what I do.
To the guests of this show…it’s always been about you. Otherwise, I’d be staring at the camera for an hour, five nights a week, and nobody wants to see that.
Whenever you craft your narrative, do as much, if not more, about your audience as you do about yourself. Engage your audience by telling them what’s in it for them.
In stark contrast to the frenetic pace of other news programs where news stories and advertisements collide in machine-gun syncopation, and where, if there is any attempt at continuity, it is with an inordinately long match at the next item. , Williams often used a succinct and sophisticated way of saying “Stay tuned…”
When introducing a movie or music video relevant to a particular story, his usual example was to say, “We’ll talk more about that on the other side…”
Or, when he came across an advertisement while interviewing guests, he would say, “Our guests have graciously agreed to stay with us…”
In your story, be sure to create a narrative in which each element clearly blends into the next in what is called a Story Arc.
3. Well-turned sentences
VarietyWilliams’ description of creative language acknowledged his frequent use of analogies. He did it again in his farewell when he said:
After 28 years of peacock logos on much of what I own, it’s my choice now to leap without a net into the great unknown.
Analogies, or comparisons of seemingly dissimilar topics, help explain concepts. Think of a one-stop-shop to explain a full-service agency.
Williams often referred to quotes or literary works to illuminate his subject. For example, in his farewell, he referenced the small town in the perpetually revived Christmas movie, It’s a wonderful life:
It feels like I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning in Bedford Falls.
You can refer to familiar literary tropes to reinforce your subject. For example, an executive trying to open a new market for a new product might encourage audiences to take an opportunistic risk by quoting the popular line from the movie field of dreams:
If you build it, they will come.
Readers of this article know that I consider comedy to be the Bermuda Triangle of rhetoric. Even professional comedians cannot guarantee laughs. Still, Brian Williams made the humor work with his whimsical Friday night signature:
Have a good weekend unless you have other plans.
He did not use this trope in his farewell, but he concluded by returning to his audience:
And you…well, without you, there’s no us.
I put a book on this post with a focus on audience to reinforce that factor in every communication you do. Continuity is equally important, a challenge these days when slide decks are mixed up. Brian Williams’ other three techniques – humor, references, and well-turned sentences – are the icing on the cake, and if you deploy them, they can make your story