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Let Your Human Speak! How to Capture an Authentic Testimonial.

Matt and I were recently asked to stand up and speak to a group of 70-100 people about a service our family receives from a local outreach ministry. It was meant to be off the cuff; Nothing too prepared.


Our only directive was talk about what this service means to you. So, that’s what we did.


Not surprisingly, we both got pretty choked up. But as I looked around, I noticed we weren’t the only ones with misty eyes. In fact, I could feel something happening in the room. There was a palpable, emotional weight shifting and moving through us to the volunteers and back again. It was a moment we will remember for a long time, and I believe the volunteers will too.

But, why?


Why are some testimonials moving and memorable while others are easily forgotten? The difference lies in style and approach. We’ll get to that in a moment.


First, let’s look at the actual definition of testimonial. It’s defined as a formal statement testifying to someone's character and qualifications. I’ve seen all different styles of testimonials that technically fit this bill. I’m sure you’ve seen more than a few on TV, in your newsfeeds or heard them on the radio.


For the purposes of this post, let’s pick on attorneys and legal firms.


Law firms and attorneys use testimonials all the time. A person wearing a sling or cast sits in a large boardroom or against a green screen. He looks directly into the camera and says something like, Joe took on the big insurance company and got me a huge settlement. If you’re in a car accident, Joe’s got your back. Thanks, Joe.


Is this a statement testifying to someone’s character and qualifications? Yes. Is it emotionally impactful and memorable? Not really.


The style and approach is what makes this type of testimonial a complete dud. The real person comes across as an actor reading lines instead of a human telling his/her story. It’s void of authenticity and emotion.


Now, think back on our testimonial.


I did talk some about the service itself, but I always circled back to talking about the volunteers or the families served by the volunteers. We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, so we spoke from our hearts. There were no cue cards, or talking points to hit and no one questioning us or leading us. The place where we addressed our audience was very familiar and comforting to us. It’s somewhere we frequent, and it was directly related to our testimony.


And, I’m not patting us on the back in the slightest. If anyone deserves a back pat, it’s the ministry staff. They recognized that our story would resonate on a higher emotional level if they let us speak, in a space we felt comfortable, and with only a simple introduction as a family with a story to tell.


Here’s how to translate this approach to your next testimonial piece.


You're In The Passenger Seat — Let the human speak! You have to be the passenger in this scenario. I get that this can be a challenge. You probably have a goal in mind for this content and a direction you want to take it. But, your real person is the driver. Don’t treat it like an interview. Let him tell his story. It’s ok to offer guidance along the way, but don’t be too quick to jump in and grab the wheel.


Listen first! Jot down moments you feel need to be expanded on for emotional impact and revisit them after the person is completely finished telling the story. That’s critical. Don’t constantly interject and interrupt a train of thought. Once the story is finished, here’s one way to approach follow ups.


I want to go back and talk about ‘X’. I heard you say this. I’m wondering how did that make you feel? If you get a one word answer, it’s ok to follow up with ‘why’? Why did that make you feel … (insert descriptor here — relieved, excited, scared)?


Set the Tone — Tone is critical to a successful testimonial piece. It has to feel authentic. This is a real person sharing a real story about how your brand evoked a change in him or reinforced a belief about your business.


First, consider the location. Put the person in his natural habitat. Do you think Joe lawyer’s client feels comfortable sitting in a giant empty boardroom or placed in front of a green screen? I doubt it. The more comfortable your subject is the more likely he is to open up and share more deeply. If there is a location that speaks to the individual’s story, that’s where you want to be. Also, light the interview to reflect the tone of the story. Think about it ahead of time. This way, you’re not rushed and can plan accordingly.


In post production, editing, music and sound design all play a role in building emotion. They can signal a change to the viewer, a climax in the story, or a resolution. The right post production can take a good testimonial and make it great.


Lose the Word Testimonial — I realize I have said it multiple times now, but I assure you that’s purely for the sake of my commentary. There’s no need to script it or say it in your creative. The word signals “advertisement” to most people. If you have a YouTube Channel or a space on your website, consider referring to it as Stories, Success Stories, Hear from Our Customers, In Their Own Words.


So if you see a testimonial opportunity, reign in your desire to stage and control. You're the passenger, not the driver! Let the human element guide your creativity and keep production true to the personal story.


You’re sure to end up with something moving and memorable.

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