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Don't Be Eeyore

"Don't get your hopes up" is a lousy way to start anything.

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Years ago, I was a movie critic for a popular radio station in Nashville. This job came with a movie pass, and it was one of the coolest things I ever owned. I could walk into any AMC theater and watch as many movies as I wanted for free, anytime. Even if the sign said, “No Passes,” I still got in. I used the heck out of that thing.

I got to thinking about this when I saw an article with the headline “Movie theaters to open soon.”

Cool! Except then it said, “That’s more complicated than you think.”

Really? A little work, sure, but “complicated”? Eh, no. 

Pop some popcorn, dust the seats, bam, we’re watching Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo up on the wall.

Of course, I know there’s more to it.  The point I’m making is this: when you’re starting an email, a speech, an essay, a letter, a blog post, whatever -- don’t make things sound worse than they seem to the casual observer.

In other words, “Don’t get your hopes up” is a lousy opening.

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In fact, if your readers or listeners already have their hopes up, you have a rare advantage, so don't blow it. You can still tell ‘em the complexities you have in mind, but do so in the context of what they’re hoping for. Otherwise you’re just dragging down optimistic people, and that doesn’t make them sympathetic to your idea. It pushes them away.

Starting with a "down" line is like being the parent who takes his kid to meet Santa Claus and on the way out says, Ya know, son, we don’t have a chimney.

Movie theaters have challenges. Don’t we all! Tell me what they’re going to overcome as steps in a process to re-open – tell me what’s between me and the good thing I want, and characterize those things not as “stoppers” but as a normal part of life: obstacles we can overcome.

When I talk to people to help them reach a goal – better speechwriting, improved comms processes, whatever – I don’t say, “Here are all the problems between you and success. This is gonna be hard.”

I say, “To reach your goal, we’re going to work through several issues. Let me tell you what to expect so you overcome them and get to the goal faster.”

Don’t be like the guy who wrote the movie article who all but said something ridiculous: “There’s a chance we won’t have movies anymore!” Huh? What am I, four years old? Come on!

Here are a couple better headlines:

How Theater Owners Are Taking Steps to Open Again


Re-opening the Movies – obstacles we’ll overcome between now and the next premiere.

To bring 'em down is to drive 'em away. Don't do that.

Writing a hopeful opening isn’t any more difficult than writing a negative one. But you have to choose to do it that better way.

Especially now. If I want to be discouraged, I’ll leave the TV on all day. Used to be that every pundit on TV thought he was a can-do genius. Now most think it’s cool to be Eeyore, that depressed donkey from Winnie the Pooh. But here's the news: you can be a realist without being relentlessly depressing. And that's one more key to getting audiences to latch on and listen.

Hey! Don't be Eeyore.

I take on occasional one-on-one writing students. It's a good time for that. Let's talk. Email me.

Mike's Calendar
Topic Organization Date Location
Storytelling PSA Online Speechwriting School May 27 Online
PR Writing
IABC World Conference June 14-17 Chicago
Advanced Speechwriting PSA August 17 New York City

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Burke, VA  22015
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