Storytelling, at its most elemental, is just free-form puzzling.
You collect X amount of information, identify the strongest points that drive your argument, discard half of it, and find a way to fit the remaining pieces together into a flow that holds attention. While this definition presents a straightforward process, even seasoned writers struggle to connect the dots.
The difference? At least for me, I accept that I will come to walls, but also that I’ll find a way to figure a way around them. That, of course, comes with practice and continuous learning.
With that in mind, I’m always asked how I pull my stories together, so I thought I’d break down my thought process on an article I wrote about Kris Singleton from Omni Hotels and Resorts for Sync Magazine. By analyzing craft, you can create stronger stories.
Let’s look at the article paragraph by paragraph.
Author and leadership expert John C. Maxwell once said, “Growth is the great separator between those who succeed and those who do not.”
1. For the lede, paragraph 1, I start with a quote to set the tone. I love doing this when appropriate, because a strong quote can create a solid framework on which to build. The key to making this work is finding one that molds to your story.
This particular line basically summarizes what I’m going to be talking about. Not just some random quote that came up on search results.
Case in point: Omni Hotels & Resorts Chief information officer Kris Singleton, who boasts twenty-seven successful years in IT. Before coming to Omni, Singleton served in leading roles as the VP of business solutions at MGM Mirage, CIO at Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, and CIO for The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. As she has accepted more challenges for her own personal expansion and value, technology itself continues to stretch, taking on new forms and playing new roles. Over many years and office titles, these two correlative partners have catalyzed one another, pushing comfort zones and creating new boundaries.
2. By starting off with “Case in point,” I’m creating a dramatic moment in the text that connects the quote to my subject. In this paragraph, I pair Kris’s growth with that of technology. These are the roots that will allow two story stems to expand in two different directions, while simultaneously twisting around each other. Each pushing the other. I actually see this visually in my mind during my mental planning phase.
I also highlight her qualities in the beginning, so we can meet Kris and find out her credentials. This basically give us reason to care about the story, because her credibility leads us to believe her experiences are valuable lessons, as she is a successful person. For this reason, we invest a little bit of interest and read on.
While Singleton was making the switch from a fourteen-year run with Hallmark Cards to hospitality in the early 2000s, the industry was beginning to embrace technology. Hotels started outfitting themselves with state-of-the-art electronics, going so far as to equip rooms with PCs and tablet devices. “In the early days, guests saw their stays in hotels as unique opportunities to experience devices and amenities not readily available at home,” she says. With tech life cycles running only about three months, however, hotels ran the risk of looking outdated, leaving a bad impression on guests, unless they continuously updated their offerings.
3. This first sentence meets Kris and technology on the ground in transitional periods. I love the symmetry between the two and really enjoyed the push-and-pull dynamic I felt between the two while writing this.
From here, I have the floor to explain just how tech was changing with a quote from Kris that fits nicely into the dialogue and explains the point I’m trying to make.
Then this quote from Kris commenting about the hospitality industry completes the transition of her movement between industries. In one full swoop, we do several things. First, we get a first-person perspective that explains the situation in a strong quote. Second, we are given the first opportunity to see her as someone important in that industry. Third, we recognize her as somewhat of a pioneer, someone changing the history of technology. We’ve just raised her up another level in the reader’s mind.
Finally, I present one problem hotels were having.
Singleton faced the opposite problem after joining The Cosmopolitan just six months after its opening. “We overcomplicated the in-room technology experience for technology’s sake versus what the guest really wanted,” she says. “We looked for ways to provide an intuitive and seamless experience to the guest’s in-room utilization of the neat factors in the room.” Visitors complained of being three days into a stay before they could figure out how to work the lights. Singleton, who oversaw the technology strategy for the hotel and other property-associated amenities, returned to the basics: ensuring TVs turned on and lights operated as expected.
4. Up to this point, all I’ve really done is define the setting and the characters (Kris and technology) and describe one challenge the industry had. Here, I focus on Kris and flesh out her specific challenge.
Struggle is the heart of story.
It’s what we care about. We want to see characters neck-deep in quicksand, so we can see how they get out of it. By presenting the challenges at the time, we set Kris up to be a heroine and commit the reader. Again, I use a quote that gives us a first-person, detailed description. This allows the reader to sort of step into the situation. Then we see her taking action, and this helps define her character for us.
It also shows that Kris takes ownership of the situation.
Even while Singleton was at Kimpton, she continued to be inspired by The Cosmopolitan’s culture initiative and reinvention of the Vegas experience. More than that, the change offered interaction with Deutsche Bank. She wanted that personal development that came from working with Wall Street executives, presenting to a sophisticated board, and understanding the different nuances of a bank-owned public company. Additionally, she liked the idea of learning how to turn a struggling business into a money-making one while keeping brand strategy in mind.
5. As Kris has moved from company to company, we see the change in tech and how she’s handled specific situations. We get even more personal by learning her desires and goals when she transferred from Cosmo to Kimpton. We also learn a powerful truth about her, and, in my mind, a point of her success: She isn’t someone just blindly going about her work, floating aimlessly. She considers what her efforts mean to her and what she hopes to learn from them. This powerful statement is that she is a person who wants to put herself into a situation that will force her to grow. This says so much about her. I love to write about this kind of story and this kind of person. It’s inspiring.
We return to reality by introducing the very real fact that the business is struggling, so her road ahead looks harrowing. This adds dramatic tension, thereby increasing reader involvement.
“Kimpton and The Cosmopolitan both grew me from a technologist to a collaborator and business executive,” Singleton says. “That was able to then catapult me into the position now here at Omni, which has given me the exposure of both being a technical, tactical executor, but also the well-rounded executive with strong communication and interpersonal skills.
6. This quote tracks her personal growth, and we learn that her triple-threat skill set positions Kris apart from her peers. Now that we know who she is, where she’s been, and why she’s qualified, I can introduce Omni.
In 2014, she joined Omni, following the company’s acquisition of several resort properties and a value increase nearing $2 billion. The hotel chain was behind as it related to technology versions. But with Omni’s focus on the guest experience, and a business environment driven by IT, the leadership recognized that it needed innovation. “Now, everyone expects to be able to connect to their own content,” Singleton says. “That’s a big transition and big change that has impacted the strategy and the business implementation of technology throughout the hotel, not just in the room.”
7. We find out the state of the company when she arrived: behind and needing to catch up to the technology. Yet, another obstacle she must overcome, another tension builder, another set of questions planted in the reader’s mind. “How did she win? What did she do? What can I learn from this?”
Again, I use a quote from her that sums up the situation and gives her voice to the article.
Being at Omni allows Singleton the unprecedented ability to work with the executive team to define brand strategies, goals, and initiatives—and how tech can enable that. “It’s been just a fantastic opportunity for me with Omni to keep my hand in the technology, but still also work with the executive team on more strategic-enabling opportunities,” she says.
8. We return to this idea of growth and present her as an optimist, team player, and pioneer in the industry.
Happiness, cooperation, and innovation. Three amazing qualities of an exceptional leader that endear her, if only in a small way, to the reader.
After a sixty-day assessment, Singleton found the hotel chain lacking a few core foundational elements, including an enterprise data warehouse, which affords the brand a core information-management foundation, and the tools for accessing and creating business intelligence and dashboards. Also, the company needed to create a customer data model and implement some business-intelligence tools. “Now we’re starting to roll that up and down through the business, and we’re seeing great traction in people having access to information that before might have taken them months to get to the point of making a decision. Now they can decide in hours, days at the most,” she says.
9. We get back to specifics about her work with a 60-day assessment. I like this because it again demonstrates exactly how she handled herself in unfamiliar territory, how she got her bearings, found inner resolve to produce external results.
I also list the company’s needs. Then, I opt for a quote that explains her team’s most recent actions and catches up to the present moment. Until now, it was all dealing with the past. Now we are here. The timing has changed.
Singleton also is proactively updating core systems: financial systems, forecasting and budgeting tools, and property management, point-of-sale, and sales and catering systems. While she has her eye on next-gen technology, especially cloud and mobile, she’s more focused on creating a sound foundation.
While Singleton’s previous experiences had equipped her with the requisite skills to usher Omni into an advanced technological era, her new employment presented a different kind of challenge. During an assessment with human resources after six months in the position, Singleton discovered her coworkers thought highly of her innovation, business acumen, and communications. Where she fell short: culture. From the outset, Singleton expected this. But, recognizing the amalgamation of technology and business, she immediately jumped at the chance to develop a new side of herself. As a result, Singleton went to work building rapport with her peers and has taken on the mantra, “People, process, technology.”
10. Just when we think that Kris has nailed it at Omni, this paragraph tells us the story isn’t over. Despite all of her successes, there’s an area that presents her with another growth opportunity. This is interesting because we’re winding down the article, yet presenting another problem…One obviously unsolvable in one more paragraph. This opens up our minds to the idea that we’re in the middle of it with her, that after we finish reading the article, Kris and her team will still be out there, working on improving: both Omni and themselves.
“My focus,” she says, “is how I continue to add value and enable business opportunities through technology innovation.”
11. I end with a quote from her, that’s carries us forward with her focus for the future. A subtle way to cut out of the article, step out of the latest challenge she’s facing, and look towards the future (both figuratively and literally).
So, if I had to pick, what’s the one lesson I’d want you to take away from this?
You can highlight your company by way of celebrating your employees. By talking about Kris, her talents, her goals, her contributions, we learn about what matters to Omni.
What an amazing way to humanize your business.
Other Points to Keep in Mind:
- Voice: As this is written for a professional magazine that goes out to the top VPs nationwide, I kept the tone more formal and professional. You’ll notice the difference with the content on my own blog, which uses more colorful language, a conversational tone.
- Because there is limited word count for this article, the writing is tight. Meaning each word serves a purpose. There is no fluff, no allowance for superfluous language.
- This is a quick but informative read. A lot of details in a small amount of space.
- What makes a great article is it’s ability to answer questions the reader might have about that specific angle of a topic. The more questions it answers, the more satisfied a reader leaves the experience. With this article, we find out how Kris got started, what specific objectives she has for herself in different positions, how she comes to a problem, her focus in those situations, the specific challenges she faced, the specifics she used to overcome them, how she did it, and what she’s looking to do for the future. It’s a decent story of her growth from then to now and how that will continue for tomorrow.
- What I love is that by seeing the challenges and the focus of Kris, we really get an idea of who she is. Her strength, her perseverance, the way she handles difficult situations.