The wisdom of stories

When marketers and PR execs are always on message, they all start to sound the same. Because unless you’re putting your own company’s personality into it, there are only so many ways you can talk about your next generation solution that’s going to drive productivity through the 72 new features developed by your team of innovative experts. Asleep yet?

Generic vanilla doesn’t cut it. We have an oversupply. And adding a few fluffy descriptors only makes your messages more complex and stilted. Not more memorable. No, it’s by telling stories that you engage your readers. And at a recent #kaizenblog chat, we focused on what makes up a good story and where to start?

Some key thoughts here – and a few resources to help you hone your storytelling ability. Get it right and you’ll see greater response to your messages – people might actually remember them. They might enjoy them. Even better, they might share them. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have your team and executives stay on message – getting the right word out about your company. You don’t get results when everyone’s singing a different song after all. No, get your message out by being a great story teller. And helping everyone up and down the ladder do the same.

Coach Ellen St. George Godfrey, co moderator with @conversationage has a great recap that highlights the thoughts shared on why stories work and the elements of a great story. She notes one comment that stood out for me by @Paul_Preneau:

Stories connect all of us and our experiences together. They inspire, inform and influence ideas and actions.

And @RichBecker said that:

Great stories allow listener to see more than speaker tells. It’s how we relate and become immersed in something.

I added that to have a good story, you need  the key elements of a protagonist, conflict, steps to resolving the conflict and Key twists to overall plot. You end with the resolution – good or bad. And in your business – the stories you tell should either put your customer front and center, showing how your products and services improve their lives and businesses. Or you highlight conflicts customers and prospects would connect with and show via storytelling how you make things right in the world. Your business does make things better, right? Your stories should have a happy ending. And use the features and data points as the proof your buyer can use to justify their purchase to themselves and to their companies after they’ve made the emotional commitment.

I’d recommend grabbing Syd Field’s book on screenwriting (Affiliate Link). No, I’m not suggesting you work on your hollywood debut. But imagine what approaching your business story like it’s a movie. Syd teaches how every successful movie has the following – check it out the next time you watch a movie:

The set-up – background, character introduction, plot. About 10 minutes into the movie you get plot point one – the conflict. The lead character then spends the bulk of the time overcoming obstacles related to the conflict until you get to plot point two, which introduces a twist that takes things in a different direction. The final 10 to 20 minutes are then spent working towards the resolution.

While you don’t have two hours to get your business story out, thinking in terms of setting the stage, introducing a conflict and then resolving it quickly can help you frame your stories.  No scene in a movie is longer than a minute, thirty seconds; you can accomplish a lot in a very short period of time.

The key for your story to connect, is to strike a nerve, hit an emotion. Do so by understanding your reader and their pains first. Placing what your business does in the context of story makes it memorable. Use metaphors and analogies to get your message out. Make it human – no matter how technical or complex your business. Even more important, make it simple.

Few businesses weave their customers into what they do. Kids learn through stories. Oral history was passed from generation to generation by telling stories. Most B2B businesses involve large, expensive purchases and a long buying cycle. That gives you plenty of time to get your story out over several ‘acts.’

For an example of a great business story, read Tom Asacker’s Sandbox Wisdom – a book about brand building framed in a story about a CEO that lost touch and reconnected with his employees after spending a day with a 6 year old; by viewing the world through a child’s lens. Think about how powerful your message can be when woven into a story versus check out our next generation leading solution now! It requires more thought, certainly to create a story that teaches something – that leaves your reader a little better off. But don’t you owe that to them?

Jonathan Fields is sharing an interview he did with screenwriter Robert McKee in a series of six posts. (Parts Two and Three) All about telling stories. And to dive deep into learning how to tell compelling stories, McKee offers workshops and resources at his site Storylogue. While I’ve not taken any myself – yet – this looks to be a great place to do a deep dive. Or you could spend your evenings reading Greek mythology and thinking about how to apply it to your world. Or settle for telling us you’ve got the next next generation super widget I just gotta have.

And think about this, without a story, what wisdom are you imparting? What wisdom could you impart?

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