There’s recently been a surge of noise around the idea of storytelling for business. Everybody claims to be a “storyteller” now, although few are actually doing it well.
As a legitimate storyteller (meaning someone who gets paid to tell stories – real and imagined), I’m sharing some fundamental ideas and tips to help you improve your storytelling. These ideas apply whether you’re working on an explainer video or a social media campaign. The rules of good storytelling are pliable – you can bend them as you wish. But once you break them, you’re in danger.
- Your target audience should identify with your protagonist in a meaningful way. The purpose of storytelling is to evoke a feeling, teach a lesson or inspire action. That means that the person experiencing your story needs to identify with your main character in some way. In his book on screenwriting, Blake Snyder calls this “saving the cat” – giving your main character a redeeming quality or event that makes people root for him or her. When crafting your story, think about what you want the audience to feel. Think about the characteristics of your audience and how the problem you solve makes them feel. Bring those things alive in your main character.
- You need a beginning, middle and end. Like a movie with an unsatisfying arc, you simply can’t have a great story without a clear beginning, middle and end. The beginning should be a statement of the problem, and the main character should have a clear position or feeling about it. In the middle, the main character should change. S/he should learn something or discover something (like, say, your product or service) that creates a shift. Then you need a strong ending. Tie up the loose ends and show your audience how your main character benefits from your product or service.
- You need high stakes. Memorable stories have important things at stake. The damsel who will die if the superhero doesn’t save her makes you care. The higher the stakes (without drifting into unrealistic territory), the better.
- Your ending is valuable real estate. The ending is where it all comes together. If you’re trying to sell something, this is where you insert a subtle call to action that suggests that your solution is right and that the viewer or reader should take action. If you’re attempting to inspire sharing or a feeling, you want to be sure your story ties up in a way that’s satisfying and consistent with your overall theme.
Storytelling is part science and part art. The most important thing to remember is that stories should always be honest and flow from your truth.
Lisa Nicole Bell is an award-winning producer and entrepreneur. She currently serves as the CEO of Inspired Life Media Group, a content development company that produces and distributes content for television and the web.
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