“We need help telling our story.”
I love hearing this from clients, because helping clients unlock their stories is one of my favorite parts of my job.
Who doesn’t love a good story? Storytelling is a fundamental part of how we live and relate to each other as humans. It brings us into deeper connection with one another, just like when we sit down together for a shared meal. Whether or not we realize it, we are telling stories all day, every day, in each conversation that we have with another person.
From a business perspective, storytelling can be one of the most powerful tools in our toolkit, if we know how to use it.
No matter what industry or sector you work in, meeting your goals hinges on your ability to reach people in some way—to inform them, persuade them, educate them, empower them, etc.—so that they are inspired to take an action, whether it’s buying your product, donating to your nonprofit, or funding your start-up (or even something simpler, like getting your boss to let you work remotely).
Often times, how you tell your story becomes the key differentiator that helps you stand apart from the competition and makes you worth remembering.
So how do we find and tell our stories? Here are some of the common elements to look for as you’re working on yours:
Needs and conflicts. Hunky-dory conditions usually don’t make fertile grounds for storytelling. Stories come into being when there is an element of conflict or struggle, an unmet need or desire. Think about the problem that your product solves, or the social challenge that your organization is addressing. Don’t breeze over this with your clients and constituents. They need to know what you do, but more importantly, they need to know why you do it and why it matters.
Transformation. If nothing has changed by the end of a story, then it’s probably not a story yet. Think about some classic story examples. At the beginning of the Book of Genesis, the earth is described as a “formless void” with darkness covering “the face of the deep.” Seven days later, there is sunlight, water, land, mountains, animals, and plant life. That’s transformation. In The Godfather, Michael Corleone starts out as a war hero who’s disillusioned with the business dealings of his mafia family. By the end, he becomes head of the family and proves himself to be even more ruthless than his father. Stories always contain an element of change. How you articulate the change in your own tale has the potential to be the most exciting part of your story.
Fundamental human truths. Great stories tap into universal truths—this is what allows you to build empathy and connect with your audience. If you work for a homeless shelter that is trying to win more donors, you might share the story of an existing donor who firmly believes that neighbors helping each other out is what makes a community strong. If you are trying to sell a home security system, you might feature a testimonial from a client saying nothing is more important to his sense of well-being than feeling safe and secure in his own home. Locating the fundamental human truth in your own story can be tricky, but it’s worth taking the time to do. Once you have it, that truth becomes the thread that ties all of the other elements of your story together and ultimately helps you make a strong connection with your audience.