We are, by our very nature, storytelling creatures. It’s how we’ve been connecting since the Stone Age when we sat around campfires sharing our stories as a way of showing vulnerability and intimacy – and we’re hardwired for it.
According to Forbes, storytelling ‘the new strategic imperative of business’. Think about what happens in your mind when someone starts talking about statistics. Now compare that to what happens when they start telling you a story. Immediately you make yourself the lead character – how would I feel if that were me? How would I have responded? And there you have an emotional connection.
Looking at the explosion of social media and reality TV, not only are we storytelling creatures, we’re suckers for real stories – full of ups, downs and lessons learned. In the business world, regardless of whether you’re putting together a pitch presentation, vying for venture capital funding or presenting to the Board – your primary objective should be to get people emotionally connected enough to your message to take action. To help you get started as an epic storyteller – here are my three top rules:
MAKE IT REAL
Stories are so much more impactful when they are real – especially if they happened to you. A speaker I work with once said, “You don’t tell and retell a great story, you live and re-live it”. It’s hard to live and re-live a story that isn’t yours, however, we don’t always have the opportunity to take inspiration from our own lives. I recently coached a CEO who had to present at an industry convention, she needed to share how the digital revolution had fundamentally changed their consumer. Instead of jumping into some hard-core statistics, we took a different approach. She said “I want to introduce you to Emma…”
Emma wakes to the sound of her iPhone alarm. She quickly checks the weather forecast and emails before getting out of bed. She reads the news on her iPad, drops the kids at school while listening to a favourite podcast, orders the weeks groceries online… and on the story went. Every single statistic was covered by Emma’s journey and at the end the question was posed: “Who here has a day that resembles that?” Everyone put up their hand. In under 3 minutes, she had the room convinced that digital devices have completely reinvented our lives. Compare that to 10 minutes spent going through statistics and figures – which is the most compelling?
MAKE IT COMPELLING
Some of us are born with the ability to tell a really great story, but it usually requires three pints and a shot of tequila. For the rest of us (and where alcohol isn’t an option), the answer is to sharpen your skills. The key to a compelling story is energy. If you’re speaking in front of people, start by using your whole body. Remember the ‘live and re-live’ rule – how would you tell this story if you were literally re-living it? How would you use your hands? How would you move your body? How would your voice change? In the most recent studies, body language accounts for a huge 55 per cent of how a message is received, so harness its power and start literally taking up more space.
If your story is going to be consumed on a digital device rather than in person – look at using video as a storytelling tool. With video content predicted to account for 80 per cent of internet traffic by 2019, customers are sending a clear message. Don’t tell me, show me. And if you want me to amplify your story by sharing it – tell me on a platform where I’m already actively sharing content. It might be Snapchat, it might be Instagram stories – look to where your target market is already hanging out and start a conversation.
(If you want to learn more about powerful ways to use your body – Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy delivered an incredible TED Talk on the topic of ‘power posing’).
MAKE IT ACTIONABLE
This is one of the biggest mistakes I see from great storytellers. The story ends – there’s an eager and engaged audience – ready to take action – and then – nothing. The most effective stories are the ones that finish with a simple request.
I recently watched a documentary about the alarming decrease in the whale population. It lasted an hour and, by the end, I was willing to do anything in my power to help. The credits rolled and that was it – no way for me to turn my new-found passion into action. Compare that with the Dolphin Safe label campaign. In this case the action was simple – only buy cans of tuna containing this label. A simple request that has permanently changed my buying behaviour.
I interviewed Daniel Flynn the Founder of social enterprise Thankyou a months ago on my podcast. He was telling me about the beginnings of Thankyou – when he knew the core to it’s success would be to get products stocked by a major retailer. He set up a meeting with 7/11 and – in the two weeks before the meeting – ran a social media campaign asking consumers to do one simple thing. To let 7/11 know that if they stocked Thankyou products – they would buy them. Within one day, 7/11’s social channels were flooded with support and within a few weeks – their products were stocked in 7/11s around the country.
The key to creating real engagement – the type of engagement that actually leads to action – is deceptively simple. Tell compelling stories – on the right platforms – and make simple requests. In a world where we’re overloaded with information. Epic storytelling will continue to be the only key to cutting through the noise.
Julie Masters is a globally recognised expert in influence, authority and thought leadership. She is the CEO and Founder of Influence Nation and Founder of ODE Management – responsible for launching and managing the careers of some of the worlds most respected thought leaders. Julie is also the host of the soon to be launched weekly podcast Inside Influence. An exploration into what it takes to find and own your voice – and then use it to drive a conversation, an idea, an industry or a Nation. To subscribe check out iTunes or http://juliemasters.com/inside-influence/.