How to Craft a Compelling Story
Storytelling is a powerful way to share your brand, spread your messages and achieve your objectives. Unfortunately, telling an effective story is a tall order. Storytelling is both art and science. It requires commitment and effort. And it’s really easy to get it wrong.
Many aspiring storytellers get off on the wrong foot before they even get started. How? They mistakenly think the challenge at hand is figuring out what goes between “Once upon a time” and “the end”. In reality, what happens before and after your story is just as important as the story itself.
Before you create your story, you need to have a clear goal for it. Why are you telling it in the first place? Just to entertain? Probably not. Make sure you have a very specific mission in mind and build your story to accomplish it. You also have to consider what happens after your story is set. Who is telling it? Where will it be delivered? What form will it take? Who will be there to hear it? Can it be told more than once, and in more than one way? Your plans for sharing your story (and you should have plans for sharing) directly impact how you should craft it.
Once you’ve addressed the before and the after, you can focus on the story itself. This is where it really gets hard. Some of us are natural born storytellers. For others, the sledding is a little tougher. There are lots of attributes that make a story interesting, engaging and compelling. Below are a few to get you started:
You Need a Hero
And the hero is NOT you. Find a way for your customer, prospect, potential donor, etc. to be the one who saves the day. People like it when you make them a central character in the story you’re telling, particularly if they are the hero. Too often, we get self-centered when we tell stories. It quickly turns into a tale about how great we are, and why everyone else should care. Flip the script and put the people you want to persuade on center stage. Show them how they can solve the problem at hand, with your help of course.
Without Structure, It’s Not a Story
ave you mapped your story? Does it have a beginning and an end? A plot? Drama? Tension? Obstacles to overcome? Your story needs a structure, and it needs to incorporate the basic elements that everyone expects to encounter. Otherwise, you’re just talking, not telling. When developing your story, go Hollywood and create a storyboard. Take it frame by frame and build your own blockbuster.
Your Heart, Their Head
You need to link what’s in your heart to what’s in their head. Your story must resonate. To do that, you must deeply understand the recipient of your story. What are they thinking? What are their preconceptions? I’ve mentioned this before, but Seth Godin says that everyone is basically looking for proof that they were right in the first place. How you fit your idea into their existing belief structure goes a along way toward making your story compelling AND persuasive.
For as long as stories have been told, pictures have been a compelling way to tell them. Most people need help visualizing concepts. My sons won’t touch a book that doesn’t have big, bold pictures. Most of us never grow up in that way. You have to make sure that you are using imagery, and that the imagery you employ (pictures, graphs, video) supports and enhances the story you’re trying to tell.
Be True to You
Your story has to be consistent and congruent with your organization. When people think you are being real, honest and transparent with them, they are much more likely to listen with interest to what you have to say. Writer Kurt Vonnegut once said that the truth is a very powerful thing, “because no one is expecting it.” Make sure you know who you are and what you’re all about it. And let that shine through as you tell your story.
More Costanza, Less Costner
George Costanza’s strategy was “to go out on top” and leave them wanting more. Meanwhile, Kevin Costner has a history of making movies that are at least an hour longer than they need to be. Too many individuals and organizations bring the proverbial kitchen sink with them, and are still talking long after everyone has stopped listening. To this day, I don’t know how Dances with Wolves ends. For once, George has it right. Go out while you’re on top!
In addition, it also helps a lot if you study your craft. This means seeking out effective presenters and watching how they wow a crowd. Analyzing some of your favorite stories to better understand why they catch and keep your attention. Practicing your own story until you have mastered the telling of it. I could keep going here, but this is enough to chew on at the moment. In future posts, I’ll offer additional tips and also share some favorite exercises I use to shape compelling stories.
Are you telling compelling stories? If so, what’s worked for you?
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