Why has storytelling become such a popular business buzzword? The answer is common sense. Once, when information was scarce, we put our highest value on acquiring as much as it as we could get our hands on. (Remember those old koans: “Knowledge is Power” or “The Truth is Out There”?) Now, there’s no need for Mulder and Scully: the truth is just a Google search away.
Today, our task — as business people, citizens, family members and adults — is to link together all this information in a way that creates meaning. By “telling a story”, we can motivate our key audiences to action — to buy our product, support our cause or, increasingly, to support us in bringing our dreams of the future to life. This is the reason that storytelling has become so popular. Without stories, the meanings of our lives evaporate into the deluge of data.
OK, great, so you know you need a story. But not just one. When we tell the same story over and over again, we risk more than just becoming a cliche — we become literally out of touch with the dynamic, ever-changing nature of our time. So our stories need to change too. Our stories need to be fluid, improvisational. They need to exist in relationship to the dynamic digital world.
You can improve your Strategic Storytelling by thinking of your story as a relationship between three things: YOU, your CONTENT and YOUR AUDIENCE.
To understand this better, consider this example:
Imagine you’re at a networking meeting and the person beside you shakes your hand and says “Hi, I’m the President of the United States.” You look at this person. They don’t look like President Obama, who you are pretty sure is still in office. You excuse yourself for a minute and check Wikipedia. Nope, not this person, who is looking at you and smiling.
What do you conclude? This person is lying to you. You, the audience, have determined that the story falls somewhere between the content of what was said and the person who said it. If the person cracks a smile and says something like “Got ya!”, you’ll understand that the story was a joke. If the person stares at you with conviction and insists that they are actually President of the United States, you have enough of an excuse to leave them behind and go get another drink.
Stories told online act in the same way. Consider the way you read LinkedIn articles. At the same moment you are reading this, somewhere in your mind, you are considering “what is the author’s agenda here?” (Full disclosure: I want clients to hire me for my strategic storytelling and intimate facilitation work.) To figure out my agenda, you look for cues — how I write, my picture, whether this post is popular or liked by other people you respect.
This is neither good or bad: this is human nature. As storytellers, the key is to consider the audience’s relationship to the content first! By creating dynamic relationships in your story, your audience is more likely to find itself engaged by what you’re saying and, accordingly, more authentic. In other words, don’t give it all away. Engage the audience by allowing them to in your story, using their own ideas, beliefs and preconceptions to determine their own conclusions.
Three ways for you to create dynamic stories with impact:
- Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Ask yourself: what idea or emotion will most resonate with my target audience. In this way, you will begin exploring your relationship with your audience from the beginning, creating content that is more likely to connect.
- Be prepared for your story to change. Dynamic stories need dynamic criteria for evaluation. When you sit down to write, know that what you’re writing is the first draft of something unexpected. By integrating audience feedback in real time, you can feel out a more appropriate direction.
- Think from the heart first. It may surprise you to think about, but actually, most people don’t read or engage with stories because they want the facts. When people say “tell me what happened”, they often mean “tell me what it feels like to be where it happened. Accordingly, a dynamic story should make clear the tone and feeling it wants to convey to the audience, because these emotions will resonate most strongly. The emotional structure of your story can act as a template into which you slot the facts, helping you create order out of a mess of overwhelming information.
By thinking of your story as a relationship, you’ll find it easier to create engaging stories that respect and engage the audience. Furthermore, as you more deeply understand this relationship, you’ll be able to explore new ways of deepening it — not just new stories, but also new products and services.
In the near future, businesses will stop thinking themselves as manufacturers or service providers and start thinking of themselves as story providers, engaging in a dynamic relationship with their target audiences.