The essence of being human.
For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, stories have been the most fundamental communication method. A story in its simplest form is a connection of cause and effect. And that is exactly how we think. We think in narratives all day long, whether it’s about our work, buying groceries, or fighting with our partners.
Whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. When we’re busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called the insula cortex, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, anger, fear or frustration.
So, how do we get an audience to pay attention to our stories and messages in a world inundated with “information?” Use a winning story framework to engage your target audience.
Here are a few tried and true ideas:
1. Challenge – Action – Transformation.
It’s classic: identify a problem; take action; resolve the problem. One of the most popular story frameworks, it’s really the basis for just about all storytelling, from The Odyssey to James Bond to 100 years of advertising. As children, we love stories like this. And guess what? So do adults. Option: Problem – Solution – Reasoning.
First, there must be something difficult or dangerous to overcome – a challenge, a threat, an obstacle, a mystery. Second, an individual or group of people must act decisively to address the challenge or difficulty. Third, the world must be a changed (better) place as a result of their actions. In short; challenge, action, transformation
2. Now – Later – Bridge.
Here’s your world as it exists (now), imagine what it would be like to make things better (later) when the problem is solved, and here’s how we’re going to get there. Again, a simple setup, and it can work for all kinds of communications – blogs, email, social media updates, speeches, etc.
Of course, the basis of a good story may well include many smaller challenges, along with diversions and uncertainties. But ultimately, a narrative’s momentum must carry it from the before state – where the challenge looms large – to a changed world through human action.
3. Features – Advantages – Benefits.
Specifically for product oriented stories, this framework outlines briefly what you or your product can do (features), why this is helpful (advantages) and what it means for the audience (benefits). This approach highlights one of my favorite bits of advice on business writing: Focus on benefits, not features. Benefits are what people are looking for.
Whether you’re working on a brand story, a case study, a marketing campaign, or talking at a conference, these suggestions for stories will not only engage your audience… but win them over:
- Reveal something personal and unknown about the person or brand, or it’s going to be boring.
- Tap into a specific emotion – fear, desire, anger, or happiness – or it won’t move people to action.
- Take people on a journey where there is a transformation between the beginning, middle, and the end, or it’s not a story.
- Identify the moral or message you want to impart, and find inspiration in life experiences. People want to relate and will.
- Use the 4 Cs. Clear. Concise. Compelling. Credible. These four words will keep you focused on your goals and the benefits to the audience. Keep the writing clear and concise, find a compelling angle to write from, and write with credibility so that what you’re promising can be trusted.
If you think that simple storytelling is, well, too simple, you’d be wrong. Studies show that the simple story is more successful than the complicated one. We may convince ourselves that stories have to be complex and detailed to be interesting. The truth is, the simpler a story, the more likely it will stick.
Using simple language and low complexity in the story is the best way to activate regions of the brain that make us truly relate to what’s happening. So try, for example, to reduce the number of adjectives or complicated nouns in your writing and exchange them with more simple, yet heartfelt language.
For all these reasons and with all these techniques, communicators will continue telling stories – because it’s part of what makes us human… and it’s about connection. And that’s why it’s the most persuasive tool you can use.