Pitching your personal story for video

“Guess what he’s done now?”

Five words that mean you are in for the worst three hours you’ve had since… when? Oh yeah. Since the last get-together with this same friend. Oh well. You know from painful previous experience that the first hour is just going to be her rambling without any pause for your opinion. Might as well order a king-sized mojito right off the bat.

Let her think the soft tears trickling down your cheek are tears of sympathy. She doesn’t need to know how excruciating this is for you. You’d like to care about any of it. You feel you really ought to care, but you just can’t. There is not one little fiber in your being that responds even on the subatomic scale.

Honest people will admit they’ve been here. Really honest people will admit they’ve probably dragged unwilling people here. Both sorts are the kind who have learned from experience, and might be hesitant about using video to bring a personal story to life. The hesitation will be proportional to their need for outside financial backing for the venture.

Love is a story as old as time, but your personal details can make it resonate with audiences in new ways

Love is a story as old as time, but your personal details can make it resonate with audiences in new ways

Take heart. It’s very likely that your story is interesting on its own. The key is to give potential backers two things: relevance and resonance.

Relevance

“What’s in it for me? Why should I care?” factor. It’s the element that makes your story interesting, that gets people going right from the start. How soon you bring relevance in depends on the length of your project. People who know they’re seeing an independent film will expect there to be a slightly slower plot development than people watching a half-hour television special. The emphasis is on slightly. In neither case should the first third of the presentation be a static camera shot of you boiling up grits for breakfast. Andy Warhol pretty much wore the whole “emphasize the mundane” thing into the ground.

Resonance

Getting people to identify with, and feel empathy for, the main character or characters of the story. You hook them on the mental level with relevance, then you keep them engaged on the emotional level through resonance.

When pitching a personal story video, you have to prove that you have abundant material to meet both these benchmarks. What you really need is an honest, objective pair of eyes (or several) to look at the story thoroughly and help highlight the areas of relevance and resonance. Personal stories can be tricky, because they are personal to you at least, even if they don’t involve you directly.

Back to The Story

Let’s say you want to tell the story of your grandmother who emigrated to the U.S. and built a new life for herself, working menial jobs until she could open up a small pickle stand at a farmer’s market. You may be enthralled by details of babushkas that smelled of mothballs, a single room that always smelled of cabbage soup, and the harsh smell of the ammonia that she had to add to the water as she scrubbed floors in an office building late at night.

Not just another story: Your grandmother has a powerful tale to tell when you emphasize relevance and resonance

Not just another story: Your grandmother has a powerful tale to tell when you emphasize relevance and resonance

To you, these are clear pictures because your grandmother told you about them so often, and let you smell those babushkas and help her cook cabbage soup. To a potential backer for the video, they will twist around the mind like cobwebs, fuzzing up the overall presentation and bogging it down until there’s no path left but: “Sorry, not interested.”

If you approach a production company like Hencar, we’ll try to help you draw out the details that will pique the imagination. We’ll ask you a lot of detailed questions. Why did she leave Russia? Because her husband of two years was abusive, and she had nowhere else to turn because divorce was unheard of in Russia at that time. She had to make a new life for herself because her family would never have taken her back.

There. Relevance. A story of someone overcoming personal horrors and showing the courage to begin a new life.

The resonance? The resonance comes when you tell us about how she used to cry herself to sleep when she dragged herself home at dawn after a night of washing floors by hand. She was sad because she had no friends and no support for her first few years in America. Resonance hits again when you tells us that after four years of heavy toil, she realized she had saved enough money to open her own pickle stand, and that she could make enough to think about moving out of that dingy room in the boarding house into a two room apartment—a luxury she had only dreamed of!

The smell of mothballs and cabbage? These can be woven in as supporting elements, but we’d recommend leaving them out of the initial pitch. The key to understanding and using relevance and resonance to full effect is to get honest feedback from others. At Hencar we know these personal stories are really manifestations of your personal dreams, and we think they deserve the broadest audience possible. If you’re committed to telling the story, we’re committed to making sure it’s heard.