Communication isn’t just about presenting facts. It’s also about helping your audience find meaning in your message. To convey your meaning more powerfully, try an ancient practice common to every culture: storytelling.
Storytelling isn’t just for conflicts between giants and beanstalks. Stories help you create a memorable experience for your audience and drive your ideas home. All of us respond strongly to compelling characters, details and plots. We can’t help it — it’s innate to who we are. Stories work in business settings, too. You can use a story to engage an audience, present new ideas, change minds and make your message stick. But where to begin?
Try some of these approaches to make storytelling an effective part of your communications.
Have a beginning, middle, and end.
You might have a completely new idea, but take a page from the ancient Greeks and use a tried-and-true narrative form. Human audiences are hard-wired to follow a three-act structure — setup, development and resolution. Goldilocks’ tale must unfold, not happen all at once. Let your audience focus on the message of your story, not the way it’s told. Remember to give them an entry point — a familiar character, situation or setting to jump-start the imagination.
Avoid the murky middle.
Most stories are about a big idea — slow and steady wins the race, or the vital importance of flossing, for example. But on their own, ideas are boring. The colorful details are what seize our attention. Build in details that will grab your audience while characters and plot work to demonstrate your idea. In a case study about innovation, talk about the pink tape that held the first prototype together. Swing between big ideas and details — but avoid the “murky middle.”
Invoke shared values.
To give your story extra meaning, link it to values that you share with your audience. Perhaps your protagonist is a true believer in Lean Six Sigma or the Chicago Cubs. Shared values help people engage with your ideas — and even shift their opinions, priorities and passions. Children prefer their nose just the way it is. When you’re on a mission to create change, a well-crafted story steeped in shared values can align people to a new vision and inspire them to action.
Let visuals do some talking.
Don’t make your words work so hard. Pictures speak a different language, helping tell the story their own way. The trick is choosing images simple enough to leave room for the audience’s imagination. Will the wolf attack?
Try kicking off the story of a new product by showing the first napkin sketch. Illustrate the story of a historic storm with an ominous cloud. Your audience will naturally build on these beginnings, and become more invested in your tale.
Make it about somebody.
People are naturally eager to hear about the experiences of others — people, animals, even objects. That’s why stories work best when told by real, relatable characters like an outcast “duckling” …or your unpredictable aunt Louise …or you. Characters are 99 percent of what make a story empathetic, believable, and memorable. Even if your story’s not people-centric, insert a character to get your audience involved.
If you don’t have a problem, you don’t have a story. Do we win the battle? Do we escape the trap? Can we conquer our demons? Every story has a big bad wolf, but it can take many forms. It might be ardent naysayers, surprise obstacles, long odds or high stakes. Put these twists and turns to work highlighting what you achieved and the lessons you can share — in otherwords, your story’s value proposition.
First published in Design Goggles, our seven-part series in TEQ Magazine.