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Great Healthcare Stories Meet These 3 Rules: Do Yours?

Several weeks ago a client asked me to write an educational article about – of all things – Oculoplastic surgery.

If you’re like me, you’d have been sweating bullets because I’d never heard of the term before nor did I know what it meant. How in the world was I supposed to write an article about something that sounded so completely uninspiring…like plastic?

Businessman sleeping at the presentation

But as I started to research the topic, I discovered that this was really quite a fascinating subject.

It’s a specialized form of eye surgery that corrects terrible injuries, deformities or other problems that involve the eye area.

Usually it involves some type of re-construction of the tissue around the eye. But still. The challenge remained. How would I make it interesting enough for people to want to read.

Around the same time, I was reading a book called ‘Tell to Win” by Peter Guber.

It talks about the importance of story-telling in the business world – basically a story about story-telling.

Peter Guber is a film executive who personally produced movies such as Rainman, Batman, The Color Purple, Soul Surfer and many more. I figured that if anyone could tell me how to write a story about Oculoplastic surgery it would have to be him.

I came to a section in the book titled, “How to build your story,” and I leaned in. Here’s what it said:

#1. Get your audience’s attention with a challenge

To write an interesting article about Oculoplastic surgery I had to find a story with a challenge that would electrify my audience immediately. So I started looking for real-life stories on the Internet that had anything to do with the subject.

once upon a time

After a really, really long time my research paid off. Here’s the opening line of a story I found, and later used in my article:

“An 86-year-old man showed up at the hospital with the handle of a pair of pruning shears stuck in his eye socket…”

What is the key challenge your patients or customers are facing right now? Is it obesity? Or perhaps difficulty understanding Obamacare? Is it the fear that medical bills will kill them?

Whatever the challenge, find a story that will resonate with your audience. In that story they will be able to identify with the character because they themselves are going through the same experience.

#2. Give your audience an emotional experience by narrating the struggle to overcome that challenge

I was certain I had got their attention. But now I had to keep them leaning in through the rest of the story. I knew there would be parts that wouldn’t be that exciting, like where I’d have to explain the actual medical procedure.

The only way to keep the audience plugged in was to get them excited about the struggle.

Hold On

So I continued to narrate the story…

“The Arizona man had been working in his yard July 30 when the accident happened. He wasn’t sure if he had dropped a pair of pruning shears and fallen face-first onto the handle when he went to retrieve them. The handle drove into his eye socket and down into his neck. By the time he was taken to the trauma center, even the surgeons had no idea how much of his eyeball had been damaged. They couldn’t even open his eyelid.”

At this point in my article, I felt I could take a break from the narrative without losing the audience’s attention. I figured that by now they were too emotionally invested in the story to leave without finding out what happened to the man from Arizona.

So I went on to explain the medical procedure with a little more detail and then gave examples of situations that might require this type of surgery. I had to be careful not to get too wordy here, otherwise the audience might just skip the middle and go straight to the end. It’s a delicate balance between story-telling and teaching.

#3. Galvanize your audience’s response with an eye-opening resolution that calls them to action

It was looking good. I felt that my audience would put up with the technicalities of Oculoplastic surgery just to find out what happened to the man from Arizona. So I gave it to them:

“When they cut into the wall, the surgeons could clearly see the handle. The surgeon-in-charge was able to loosen it with his finger and a tong-like instrument called Kocher forceps. Once the handle was loose, doctors could remove the entire handle from the face. It turned out that the handle had compressed the eyeball in and pushed it up in the socket (think about squeezing a rubber ball), but it remained attached. Luckily enough, the eyeball was not ruptured or lacerated.”

I finished off the article by inviting the audience to listen to a podcast on this subject. I don’t know how many people will end up listening to it, but I do know they will never forget what Oculoplastic surgery is – even if they can’t spell it.

In Other Words…

Always stick to this three-part story structure that audiences expect. This is the secret sauce not just for award-winning movies but for award-winning healthcare stories.

Remember that your audience is not going to be interested if they don’t sense some kind of compelling challenge right from the beginning. They will not connect if they’re not excited by the middle of the struggle. And they certainly won’t remember the story if they don’t feel stirred or inspired by the final resolution.

The reason why this structure works perfectly for healthcare is because the industry is full of meaningful stories. It is after all, the business of life and death. Whether the story is posted on your blog, an infographic or captured on YouTube, stick with this model and yours will be a winning story.

Join Me

On September 11th, 2013, I will be speaking about this very subject at Content Marketing World, in Cleveland Ohio. If you’re a healthcare marketer and are planning to attend the conference, please consider joining my session titled, “A Step-by-step Eye-opening Method for Telling Compelling Healthcare Stories.” Go here to grab your ticket now.


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