Tell Me A Story
Last month I attended a storytelling event. I’m a fan of podcasts like “The Moth”, but before last month, I had never attended an open mic session. The participants had just completed a six-week workshop and their stories were as diverse and interesting as the speakers themselves. As the evening progressed, I was surprised to find myself as much intrigued by the techniques the narrators used to engage the audience as with the content of the stories.
In marketing literature, a great deal has been written about using “the narrative” to personalize presentations in order to make them more engaging and memorable. Proponents suggest that the story format is an effective way to deliver factual material and to convey the human element, – a critical link in building a connection with the audience.
Beyond demonstrating competence and experience, presentations, and interviews in particular, are about leaving a positive and lasting impression, and about laying a foundation for a successful partnership. The challenges of combining storytelling and marketing are first, how to do it in a way that doesn’t appear contrived, and second, how to craft a story that sounds both professional and personal. It may take some planning and practice, but I think these challenges can be met.
After the event, I cornered one of the story tellers to ask about the techniques she learned in the course. While not all of them were applicable to the design profession, I think some could be used with great effect.
The most important thing I learned: The stories that people remember are the ones that make them think. A critical component in developing a compelling storyline - one that lingers - is to establish that something of importance is at stake. The “stake” creates the emotional pull in the story that gives the listener a reason to care about the outcome. The “stake” should be properly set up and involve something dramatic as part of the buildup. The idea is to make the listener wonder about how the narrator will solve the problem and to care about the outcome. At its best, it puts the listener in the story by making him think about what he would have done in a similar situation.
I also learned that:
- the challenging part of storytelling is to lay out all the facts without telling the listener what to think.
- using a “transformative moment” can add drama to the narrative.
- describing obstacles that were encountered is a good story telling devise as well. Sharing the bumps in the road creates empathy in the listener while, importantly, shedding light on how the client was helped.
While some of these takeaways offer an interesting and different perspective, they also reinforce what I know from experience – a good story stays with you.