How Good Storytelling Works

Presenting a good story

The term ‘storytelling’ is on everyone’s lips today, in marketing, social media strategies and in presentations. Storytelling is exactly what it sounds like: it is the simple act of telling a story. The significance of the term is that, as interesting as isolated facts, theories and statistics may be, a good story is always more memorable. The goal is therefore to secure new and above all enduring interest. This works when a story is so embellished that the audience hangs on every word, captivated, from the first presentation onwards.

Above all, storytelling is about expressing your own message and the information you want to convey through allegory and images in order to raise your profile and create links between ideas. Stories are retained in people’s minds more than hard facts – and the trick is to link one with the other.

What does a good story need?

A hero, or in certain cases, an antihero who acts as the focus of the story is indispensable for effective storytelling. This hero is typically faced with an apparently insurmountable task. The fire breathing dragon who guards the princess in classical literature can be today’s business, scientific or economic problem. The important thing is to create an emotional anchor that ensures that the focus of the story always stays in the back of the listener’s mind. Visual tools such as images or short films help to retain the audience’s attention and encourages them to internalize the key elements of the crisis. Just as relevant is the way in which the conflict is depicted – this should not only be emotionally charged, but be multi-layered and multi-faceted so that a large target group can identify with it, or at least can accept it at face value.

The quest to overcome these difficulties forms the main body of the story. The hero completes his mission and finds a way to “rescue the princess.” In order to achieve this, he naturally needs external assistance – and this is precisely where the “sales process” comes into play. Whether you are advocating a particular viewpoint, raising awareness of an idea, or selling a product, this narrative phase is the right time to do so. At this point you have the full attention of your public, whom you can lead in a particular direction because they are already emotionally involved in the story. In storytelling, the crisis functions as an opportunity: the antihero, the insignificant knight, finally has the opportunity to show his true qualities.

What does that mean for my message?

The power that good storytelling holds over an audience shows that a sophisticated narrative design should form the basis of every campaign and every presentation. Only by exploring the individual elements of the story in a clear, distinct manner can you draw people into your orbit. Of course, it isn’t exactly easy to encapsulate dry, scientific topics in good stories: but there is always someone who is passionate about any subject matter. This passion is exactly what you should be looking to convey. For that reason, one of the best approaches for effective storytelling is to use your knowledge, your passion, and your experience to make the story come to life. Knowledge transfer works best when it uses emotions, so share your personal feelings with your audience.

Every topic, no matter how abstract it may appear, has a defined relationship to real life at some point, otherwise no one would be interested at all. You should position precisely this practical aspect at the forefront of your presentation, to break it down into its most important elements and create an exciting story from it. A change of perspective, adopting the point of view of a consumer can help to find the right approach and ensure that the presenter’s viewpoint is as close to the audience as possible. In a presentation, the speaker acts as a storyteller – and that should be reflected in the delivery style as well. Changes in vocal style and pitch, pauses for effect and emphatic gestures all turn a good story into an exciting experience.

As the use of the analogy of the knight and the princess in this text shows, references to stories that are already well known work particularly well. Tropes that are well known to the masses through cultural and social structures are an effective way to create a collective consciousness and an automatic attachment to the core of narrative themes. Finally, it’s important to ensure you don’t forget the happy ending – at the end, everyone is awaiting the moment when the heroic knight marries the princess.

Examples of effective storytelling

  • Axe – the antihero who still manages to get the girl

  • Nike – the “Everyday Joe” who can “Just Do It”

  • Protonet Startup: A young, new business with a central theme of “independence” that raised €200,000 via crowdfunding in 48 minutes
  • Facebook page: Humans of New York – real people tell real stories and become a social media phenomenon

Author: beamium