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  • Elana Duffy

Being Remembered: your story in the future



Obituaries are fascinating. When you really get down to it, your last impression is very much like your first impression: you only get one chance to tell this story, so make it a good one.

Sure, it’s a gloomy topic, but it is a universal truth that there are two realities we all ultimately face: death and taxes. Beyond any personal losses we many have suffered lately, or our passionate awareness of war or crime or other sad affairs, it is undeniable that the first six weeks of 2016 have not been particularly great for prominent figures. David Bowie, The Eagles, Harry Potter fans and more were reading the obituaries of their favorite storytellers within only the first month of the year. They were great storytellers, as exemplified in the snippets released after their deaths. In American politics, this weekend saw the unexpected death of a Supreme Court Justice. Agree with him or not, Antonin Scalia’s death has incredibly significant impact on the current American political structure as well as the upcoming elections. The obituaries which followed were fascinating, because of the story they told of his life, his conservative record, and the impact he had … for good or for ill. In most cases, obituaries are actually a means of lifting us back up, of telling us one final story. What is an obituary, really, except a story of how to remember the person? Frequently it is written or at least imagined by the person before they die, allowing them a chance to cement themselves in the history of others’ minds.

Businesses also have obituaries, even if they don’t use that term. When a brand disappears, a company goes bankrupt, or gets folded into another company or culture through a merger or acquisition, the business leaders have that final opportunity to control how their story gets told. And businesses can also learn more from these stories, as sometimes a potential client opportunity dies in the first, second, or tenth interaction as well. The story should be told well each time to stay in the client’s mind. Whether the last statement applies to a person or a business, here are a few tips from the obit pages: Have a few different versions. In obituaries, you commonly see several versions: you have everything from the shortest which may only have burial arrangements all the way up to a full page article in the New York Times. Different elements of your life story may be involved as well, as we are seeing in the various takes on the death of the Supreme Court Justice with different voting records highlighted. There is not only one story to be told of you or your business, and not only one client to hear that story. You need several versions of different lengths and focus to make the right impression on the right person at the right time. Stick to the highlights… However you felt about David Bowie’s innovations in music or Justice Scalia’s conservative voting, most of what you will read on them now is all about the amazing things they accomplished, whom they were friends with, and what influence they had on others. Your first impression, and each impression you give after, should follow this pattern. Know what makes you, your friends and loved ones, or your business special. Have those facts at the ready about partnerships or who you know and influence and successes, and find quick ways to throw them into the conversation so you are remembered as a force of influence. …But don’t ignore reality. With a million adages on roses having thorns and things that look too good to be true, no one will believe you if the only picture you paint is of rainbows and unicorns. Flowing, daisy-meadow field-ridden obituaries of philanthropists and innovators are often discarded quickly, because people still need intrigue in order to remember the tale. You still need a plot to your story. Bowie encountered a great deal of hardship building up to where he was, as did Alan Rickman and, well, everyone. Especially in business, your best bet is to know where to throw in a twist, bringing reality back to the listener and making your story relate to them with the understanding that no one is perfect. Why are you interested in this business field? Is there a problem you saw that you are now solving? Talking about how it personally affected you, about that problem and the solution, can bring it home for a potential client and leave a well-constructed picture. Know what you’ll say before you need to say it. There are actually entire staffs in media outlets who write obituaries of famous people long before they are ever needed, having the files at the ready just in case they need to go to print in a hurry. You should be the same way, knowing your story so well that you can make a lasting first, second, or tenth impression every time. The best way to do this is to have a Master Story, from which you can pull the elements as you need them and change the story in the telling as you fine-tune, retell, and add to the story. Then you can have your 30 second pitch as clean as your ten minute slide presentation, and be prepared for anything. Your stories from your past, both the successes and the failures, can endure and have a powerful, positive effect if you tell them with focus and purpose. Memorialize them in the same way we see people honored in great stories told in the best obituaries. Obituaries can be tough to read. They make us miss someone, their art, their contributions, and can make us feel as though we somehow missed out. But if we step back a moment, we can see that the obituary page is more than a morbid list of who is gone. It is actually a section of personal stories commonly told in the best possible way. We can learn a great deal from these stories, including how to tell our own while still in the land of the living in order to continue as influencers, builders, and thinkers. Every first impression now may count towards your own obituary later, so make it a good one.

Elana Duffy is co-founder and COO of Present Tense LLC, a communications company dedicated to helping people express their ideas through better business storytelling. Working with everyone from authors to Fortune 500 companies, we provide a range of writing, editing, and training services. Lana is also a veteran of the US Army, a masters of engineering graduate, and a freelance writer in NYC, along with being the CEO and co-founder of Pathfinder, a "Yelp for veteran resources". She is the co-author of the first in the Present Tense “singles” short ebook series, 10/10, for sale on Amazon and other major retailers.

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