In coaching film and fiction writers as well as speakers, marketers and entrepreneurs, I stand by the principle that stories are universal, and that the same qualities that make movies and novels emotionally captivating and persuasive apply to business stories as well.

It has also proven true that the biggest weaknesses I encounter with fictional stories and movie adaptations – too complicated, no clear hero or visible goal, not enough conflict or vivid detail – occur with equal frequency in speeches, webinars and non-fiction books.

But one storytelling issue all business leaders face is the exact opposite of the way it occurs for film and fiction writers. And that’s with the use of dialogue. 

Even after decades of working in Hollywood, I have almost never told a screenwriter, “This movie needs more dialogue.”

And in the business arena, I almost never hear myself say to an entrepreneur, “You need to cut down on all this dialogue.” 

Many beginning screenwriters mistakenly believe that movies are driven by what characters say, not what they do, and that audiences (and therefore agents and producers) are hungry for scenes filled with clever one-liners and long, meaningful speeches.     

Speakers and business leaders, on the other hand, often seem afraid of using dialogue at all, for fear it’ll sound corny, bore their audiences and prospects, or take time away from all the facts and promises that will move their prospects to take action.

But the truth about dialogue is this…

The foundation of any successful story is the hero’s desire, and the insurmountable obstacles that character has to overcome to achieve it. This is what we’re watching or imagining as we experience the story. 

Dialogue is designed to supplement that action. It reveals the characters’ thoughts and feelings, it connects them to each other, and it provides information and exposition that we don’t directly see. It also allows us to dig deeper into characters’ fears and desires, infer why they act as they do, and recognize how they stop themselves from getting what they want and need. 

But when the talk goes on too long, becomes repetitive, unnecessary, overly explanatory, clichéd or simply tells us what we could see instead, it dissipates the emotion of the story. (Or more accurately, it creates emotions best avoided, like boredom, frustration or unintended laughter.)

Whomever you’re trying to reach, good dialogue makes your stories seem real. It helps transport us into the world you’re portraying, no matter how removed that is from our everyday lives

And when done well – when it’s funny, sad, threatening, clever, insightful, surprising or sparklingly original – great dialogue will multiply the positive emotional experience your readers and audiences long for… whether you’re a screenwriter, novelist or growing your business.   

In next week’s newsletter I’ll go deeper into this topic by talking about something you always want to avoid: on-the-nose dialogue.