Everyone loves a good story.
From the cave paintings in Lascaux, depicting the cautionary tales of ancient herders and hunters, to kids and counselors at sleep-away camps sitting around the fire pit telling ghost stories, the art of storytelling is one of the oldest methods of explaining the world and sharing ideas.
Telling stories is also fundamentally necessary to our very existence, according to Robert McKee, a screenwriter and writing coach.
“A culture cannot evolve without honest, powerful storytelling,” says McKee, whose former students include over 60 Academy Award Winners. “[Stories] fulfill a profound human need to grasp the patterns of living—not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience.”
And that’s the key. Knowing your story and being able to tell it in a compelling, effective way can be a powerful tool for anyone seeking to connect with an audience. How powerful? “Serial,” the Peabody Award-winning, 12-part weekly podcast about a real-life 1999 murder in Baltimore, was downloaded more than 40 million times in less than three months after its debut in October 2014.
Even science supports the fact that storytelling is one of the most powerful techniques we have as humans to communicate and motivate. According to Uri Hasson, a researcher at Princeton University who used MRI data to track brain activity during verbal communication, sharing a story “is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.” Storytelling, then, literally plants ideas in people’s minds.
Engage and inspire
Stories engage, inspire, and encourage people to think and act. But such benefits aren’t limited to Bill Murray movie producers, public radio sponsors, or neuroscience professors. Businesses small and large use storytelling, in a number of ways, to help improve awareness, increase customer loyalty, and boost sales.
In other words, by crafting an authentic and compelling story, and a set of unique, corresponding messages targeted for your audience, you can:
- “Show” your customers, rather than “tell” them, what your company does and why it matters to them.
- Position your company and yourself as an expert in your field and build trust among your audience members.
- Create memorable messaging that touches customers and prospects in a meaningful way.
- Focus your message, to avoid communicating unnecessary information and causing confusion.
Storytelling can help you make intimate, personal connections that resonate with an audience in ways that facts and features alone cannot do. Forming these types of relationships can boost customer attention and retention, as the people you reach begin to identify with your brand and share their experiences with others. Stories also can help an organization’s internal clients — its employees and stakeholders — to better understand its mission and vision, why it’s different from its competitors, and how to connect to one another.
3 ways to be compelling
As I mentioned, storytelling is one of the oldest methods of communicating, and it is also one of the simplest. Although an art form more than a science, there are nonetheless several key points to keep in mind for telling a compelling and effective tale:
- Share stories, not statistics, to engage an audience. Facts and information are “need-to-know”; stories are “must-have’s.”
- Stories can help humanize and personalize your company and products, transforming features into benefits. And don’t forget that your business exists because of “you” — tell your audience how and why you created it.
- Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and ask, “What would I want?” and “How does this make me feel?” Know the answers and, by all means, talk about them!
There are other factors to consider, as well, such as ensuring that your story is relevant to your target audience, learning tried-and-true storytelling techniques, and using various means and methods to reach as many people (in as many ways) as possible. But learning and practicing the basics should help you make a meaningful connection with the people you’d most like to join you around the campfire.