At bedtime, my children love when I tell a ‘Jacob and Anna’ story – an adventure, made-up on the spot, that stars them. They have ridden dragons, been shrunk to the size of an ant, met elves, and orbited the moon. On my good days, the stories are imaginative and funny. When I’m tired, the stories don’t flow so well but no matter, my kids still enjoy hearing them.
We are hooked on stories. Ever been up late at night, flipped into a movie you’ve seen before but still need to watch until the end? Or picked up a trashy novel, started reading and then felt compelled to finish? We love telling and hearing stories. Perhaps part of the reason is that it helps us to understand the world or perhaps stories afford an escape.
And, we remember stories. If I give you a series of disconnected facts, you may not retain them. If those same facts form a narrative arc, then each beat of the story reminds us of and reinforces the next beat, helping us to remember.
So why does story matter? So what? Narrative gives us a structure for our communications and it gives us a starting point for connecting with our audience, be they clients, prospects, or others.
If we setup our communications with a narrative structure (beginning, middle, and end), then we have a better chance of connecting with our audience because we’re all hard-wired to engage with stories. An interesting beginning or hook asks a question and demands an answer. Suddenly, your audience is interested in the story. They want to go on a journey with you. You take them somewhere (the middle of the story) and provide a satisfying conclusion (end of the story).
How do we use story in creating compelling communications? When building a website, consider the journey that you want visitors to take. Where do they start, what do they see along the way, and where do they end? Perhaps you are promoting a service – so visitors might start, via Google search, on an inside page of your site describing that service. Then they might learn more about the service and end on a contact form or sign up page.
A promotional video can be put together like a boring PowerPoint, a series of facts and charts. Or, it can tell a story, even follow a protagonist on a journey. Which have you found more compelling? The most popular documentaries follow the protagonist as she moves through a story. It’s not fiction but it’s structured in the same way because it pulls us in. The same works for promotional videos.
What story to tell? Start with your own history. To ourselves, this may feel boring or stale, but our histories are a goldmine. Telling our own stories, gives us a human point of connection with our audience and gives us something that no one else has. We’re always looking for differentiators from our competitors and our histories give us that. Told as stories, our experiences, challenges, and successes, have a structure that our audiences understand and engage with. Being personal, our histories make us more accessible and give us credibility.
We are overwhelmed by the deluge of information and besieged by competing messages. Narrative structure captures your audience and helps them understand and retain your message. Personal stories connect and reinforce your message.