“Six Parts to a Story”
Something happens when we hear stories. Something very good happens when we tell stories. Are you ready to harness the power of storytelling for your business, your volunteer, your personal life?
A career in sales, marketing, alliance-building, general management and ultimately corporate communications and speechwriting has proven to me, over and over, that you will be better understood and get better outcomes when you become a quality storyteller.
In the first post in this three-part series, I shared the power of stories. Stories bring human dimension and emotion to our narrative, making the abstract relatable. Stories reach into our subconscious mind and stimulate parts of the brain that facts can’t reach.
In the second and third installments, you’ll get six tips to becoming a better storyteller. Today I’ll give you three to help get in your audience’s head and anticipate what will motivate them. In my final post I will share three more guidelines on presenting your message effectively in person, in print and online.
There’s a simple shorthand I use when I’m leading seminars on message development, storytelling and public speaking: Messages need to be audience-focused and benefit-led to achieve the messenger’s objectives. These first three steps will help you focus on your audience and the benefits they want from you.
Step One: Know Your Audience
Get back to basics. Who are you addressing and why are they listening to, watching or reading what you are publishing?
If the connection is impersonal, as with advertising or a press release, you need to have a persona in mind. If you are giving a presentation or a speech, or are sending out a blast mail, this is easier because you have a discrete, real audience filled with people you can know individually or collectively. Do your homework, then, and think about their demographics, their motivation, the professional and “political” roles they play in their organization, their perspective toward you and their initial inclination toward the topic you are bringing to them.
Step Two: Develop Your Themes
When you know who’s paying attention (or who you want to notice you so they will start to pay attention) you can develop a hypothesis about what your audience expects out of your interaction. You can even plan ahead and ask — some of 3C Communications’ most valued work is helping clients understand how their audience sees them and what they want from the interaction.
Think about some products or services. Do people buy insurance, or invest in peace of mind? Do you buy the convertible, or the feel of the sun on your face on a summer day? A day at the amusement park, or the chance to reconnect with loved ones and make memories that contribute to a shared history, a common narrative? Do you purchase technology for your company, or enable your people to deliver faster, more intelligent outcomes? Thinking like this gets you the key themes that will become the “red thread” through your narrative and stories.
DO PEOPLE INVEST IN INSURANCE OR PEACE OF MIND?
A theme is a word or phrase that captures your key values for the audience. It’s the “security” the insurance-buyer seeks, or the “easy to do business with” vibe you want to give off and live up to. It’s “faster decision-making for better results” instead of business intelligence; it’s “falling in love all over again” or “she’ll think of you every time she sees it,” not an expensive piece of jewelry. It captures the feeling or emotion you’re driving, not the physical thing or abstract concept you’re selling.
A while back I worked with the legal group responsible for enforcing advertising standards inside of a major entertainment company. When we started working together they described their work as approving advertisements, and shared an extensive list of company and government rules with which they had to ensure compliance before clearing a spot for air. They were tired of having a reputation as the team that always said no and wanted to be more appreciated by the rest of the business.
We broke down what their customers — network salespeople, advertisers and their agencies and law firms — really wanted and repositioned the legal team as subject-matter experts, educators and partners in “getting to yes.” By changing the way they talked about themselves, and backing it up with proactive outreach to their internal and external clients, we turned their work into a collaborative, even enjoyable, part of the creative process instead of a hindrance or roadblock on the last mile to getting a spot broadcast.
Their themes included “satisfied advertisers,” “streamlined from storyboard to airwaves” and “lawyer-proofing on-air content” (i.e., helping the media company and its advertisers not get sued). These were the things their audience wanted, so we presented the group’s value as delivering these benefits.
What are your key themes that your audience wants? Answer the classic question, “What’s in it for me?” from your audience’s perspective.
Step Three: Establish Your Call to Action
This is where you enter the picture. Now it’s time for you to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” from your perspective. For each communication you put out — poster or email or conversation or speech ‑ you should have an ask, a request you make of the audience. Is it as direct as “Buy now”? More subtle, like “take the time to investigate more” or “give me the go-ahead to run a pilot”? Is it simply “look at this issue from a different perspective”? You know your sales cycle, how you ask for referrals and what you think your customers need to know — this is where you make it explicit and then craft your appeal to ensure you get a yes when you make your call to action.
When you know your audience, develop themes based on their needs and spend time thinking about what you want from the interaction, you lay the foundation for communication. Our next three steps will help you find, develop and tell stories that take your themes and bring them to life for your audience — helping you achieve your objectives by helping them achieve theirs.