There are many reasons why we say storytelling is the most effective — most persuasive and compelling — way to engage with others and inspire them to act.
For example, a good story is hard to resist. Consider the success of the weekly podcast “Serial,” which recounted the incidents surrounding a real-life 1999 murder in Baltimore. The first season of the 12-part, audio-only series was downloaded more than 40 million times in less than three months.
That means many — many, many — people took time out of their busy schedules to listen to one woman narrate a story, for upwards of an hour at a time, week after week, just to find out whodunnit. That’s what we mean by effective engagement through storytelling.
In other words, storytelling, like marketing, is the art of getting people to care about, and choose to listen to, what you have to say. Here are three tried-and-true tips from storytelling sure to help you boost your ability to engage with your audience.
Don’t deliver ‘just the facts’
At the core of every story are the basic facts: details about the setting, the cast of characters, the sequence of events that take place, etc. The audience certainly needs these to comprehend a story. But a simple catalog doesn’t really inspire a connection between writer and reader.
We feel much more engaged when we hear a narrative, rather than just the facts. Stories allow us to make sense out of the facts, and communicate why those facts are important. In other words, stories can help your audience feel a certain way about the features of your organization or its services, and they allow for shared experiences.
Stories keep them ‘listening’
And once an audience starts to pay attention, a good story can encourage them to keep coming back. Think about “Serial” again. Storytelling can help you make intimate, personal connections that resonate with an audience in ways that facts — ie, the features — alone cannot do.
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and ask, “What would I want?” and “How does this organization make me feel?” Know the answers and, by all means, talk about them. 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.
Turn values into action
In other words, storytelling is the art of translating feelings and emotions — as well as values and beliefs — into actions. We humans experience our values emotionally: they are what actually move us to act. Because stories allow us to express our values not as abstract facts or principles, but as lived experience, they have the power to move others to action as well.
Consider this: what’s more effective for convincing your child to behave? Telling him or her, “Don’t take candy from strangers because something bad might happen” or “Have you ever heard the story of Hansel & Gretel…”? The former often goes in one ear and out the other; the latter, on the other hand — especially when you get to the point in the story about being cooked and eaten — tends to make a lasting impression.
There are other factors to consider when incorporating stories in your marketing, 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 and begin to engage with and inspire your audience in new and powerful ways.