Storytelling goes back millions of years into our history. Stories were ways to remember and share important ideas. Our brains respond differently to stories than to facts, so storytelling is an important tool for thought leaders. These ten tips will help your storytelling become more effective.
- You have to tell the right story
Your story has to make an emotional connection with your audience. It has to be important to both them and to you. This means that you have to understand your audience: you need to know what matters to them, and what problems they are trying to solve. You then have to tell a story that is personal, true, and not contrived, but which goes right to the heart of your customers’ problem.
- Using the right structure can help you to build trust
The most powerful structure for a story is to give it a beginning, a middle and a very definite end. When we listen to a story with this structure, our brains release oxytocin, the ‘trust hormone’. In other words, using this structure will help to build trust with your audience, and ensure that you are seen as reliable.
- Metaphors can help your audience to engage more fully
Using metaphors and other descriptive language helps your audience to imagine the situation more clearly. They will experience the story more fully, using more areas of the brain. Hearing facts only activates the language processing part of the brain; engaging emotionally and imaginatively involves much more of the brain. This, in turn, makes the story more memorable.
- Remember that a picture can tell a thousand words—but make sure it is the right thousand
If you are trying to explain the story behind data, then a well-chosen graph or other form of data visualisation can help. The right picture can make things clearer, but the wrong one can turn off your audience completely. When choosing, keep it simple, and ensure that the picture will help your audience, not confuse them.
- Stories need heroes, and that is your customers, not you
All the best stories have a hero—and the audience wants the hero to win. In your stories, your user or customer needs to be the hero. Your company is, at best, a bit-part player who gets to help the hero to solve a problem.
- Keep both your story and your language simple
The most memorable stories are simple. This also makes them easier to retell and share with others. It is also helpful to keep your language simple and particularly, to avoid clichés. Research shows that we tend to simply screen clichés out: we don’t even notice them, and we certainly don’t remember them. If you want your story to be remembered, it has to stand out.
- Be authentic, in both your style and your stories
It is important to develop your own ‘voice’, both your style, and the type of stories that you tell. To make a good emotional connection with your audience, what you are writing needs to matter to you, and both the subject and style need to come across as genuine. If you don’t care about it, nobody else will either.
- Stories and facts are not an either/or
Stories don’t have to be fact-free zones. You can—and should—both tell a story, and include facts, and use your story to drive home your facts. Research shows that when you combine statistics with a story, your audience will remember around 65–70%, which is considerably higher than you might expect.
- Make sure your story makes a point
You are not telling stories for the sake of it. The joy of stories is that they help us to make difficult points—why you shouldn’t lie or exaggerate, for example, in the story of the boy who cried ‘Wolf!’—without having to moralise. When you tell a story, you are not telling someone what to do, but you do need to make a point.
- Remember that the end of the story doesn’t have to be ‘living happily ever after’
The obvious end to stories is everyone living happily ever after. But this does not have to be the case. Stories can also be a call to action, while still having the ‘beginning, middle and end’ structure. The problem to avoid is leading your audience to ask ‘But what happened next?’, so you need a clear finish point that rounds off your story neatly.