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Putting stories at the heart of your communications

November 8, 2017

 

"Great stories happen to those who can tell them." Ira Glass

 

I’ve had the great fortune to work in a number of communications roles. I’ve been part of vast marketing campaigns, yearlong change projects and one-off press releases.

 

I’ve spread messages through speeches, three word tweets and fifty-pages reports.

 

The common rules ring true - understand your audience and communicate with clarity – but above all else; good storytelling is at the heart of all good communications.

 

Storytelling is an essential part of humanity. It defines how we learn about the world, how we perceive others and how we make decisions. It is an old-fashioned tool and all the more powerful for it.

 

All the information in the world can help persuade people, but it won’t inspire them to act or change without the vision allowed by a story – something that ignites the soul and has your audience invested in what you’re trying to say.

 

This is equally true for one off projects as it is for long-term strategies, and as relevant for bringing your employees on the journey as it is for your customers or the general public.

 

I’ve been guilty of overlooking its importance in the past. As comms professionals, we’re often put in the ‘just put it out’ position. Challenging that each time can become exhausting. As a result, the quality of communications suffers.

 

This might be because there is something of misconception about what constitutes storytelling.

 

There’s a misconception that stories need to be long and time-consuming. That isn’t true. Social media has shown the power of abbreviated storytelling. Harvard Business Review notes the Shakespearian tones of a Budweiser SuperBowl advert – a minute long story that captured the hearts of millions.

 

There’s also a growing belief that ‘people don’t read long articles’ anymore. This isn’t true either. Buzzfeed and BBC have seen growing hits on their longform articles. The success of TED talks and multi-episode podcasts (such as Serial) confirms that if you have good stories to tell, and tell them well, your audience will give you the time.

 

Investing in understanding your story and communicating it well pays off. Just as a failure to do so can hurt. Here are six tips I’ve picked up over the years that might help you to entice the heart of the story from your clients and colleagues:

 

1) Are you interested in it? If you, whether you’re a CEO or a comms professional, don’t think it is interesting, that should be a sign. If it’s important, find a way to help provide context. If it’s not important, should you be communicating it anyway?

 

2) Be genuine. Of course you should be honest, but also be yourself. Passion is a wonderful thing but it can’t be faked. I’d sooner read a self-effacing piece about the difficulties facing a brand, and how they are looking to overcome it, rather than a puff-piece.

 

3) Don’t just tell your audience what has happened. What’s next? It is good to be ambitious.

 

4) Nothing helps tell a story like a case study – and don’t be afraid to let that case study be the focus of your communications. They’ll help your audience to relate.

 

5) Here’s a big one - talk like human people talk. Whether that is for a speech or a press release, a story only engages if people can relate. Maybe don’t start that quote with a variation of “We are delighted…”

 

6) Facts can help solidify your argument. People make decisions emotionally (and, to varying degrees, unconsciously), and then let rational processes justify that decision with facts. We can use stories to win your reader’s interest and attention. When you back those stories up with facts, you’ll have won their trust.

 

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT

 

In the coming months I’ll be developing a series of ‘pick and mix’ storytelling workshops, alongside experts from across the communications sector.

 

Drop me a line if you’d like to know more. We can provide in-house training days, and will be booking workshops you can attend in 2018.

 

You can also register your interest online.

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