5 essential tips for great storytelling
Are you a natural storyteller? Do yarns spill from your lips like threads of gold? Keeping everyone captivated and entertained from the moment you open your mouth until you deliver a perfectly-timed ending?
Or are you more like the racehorse storyteller? Strong out the gates with a good stride, but known to stumble every now and again, and occasionally fall flat on your face while everyone watches in silent shock?
Truth, we’re all born storytellers! It's in our genetic make-up. We value story as a way to pass on information more than anything else. But it takes practice to get it bang on. Sometimes it comes out exactly as we want it to, and other times, we get lost along the way, lose confidence and totally mess it up.
I read a lot of celebrity interviews – not because I’m a gossip desperado (?!) – but because I want to know what's inside other people's heads. If a journalist wants to get to the true essence their subject, they don’t just compile a list of facts and achievements or discuss who their latest love crush is. They’ll take note of the language they use, their facial expressions, their reactions to other people, and their beliefs about things other than themselves; all of it comes together to reveal their true DNA.
And so it is with business. The brands we trust the most are those that tell their entire story – not just a list of information and qualifications. They tell stories about what they believe in and why, what makes them laugh, what lights them up, what makes them angry as hell, stories about what led them to what they do, their history, and the people in their business.
These stories can be told on many platforms and not all at once. It could be a few lines on Instagram about a lesson you just learned, a carefully crafted About page that shows what you're all about, or a heartfelt blog post about a challenge you've overcome. Put together, these stories create something that people can relate to and connect with.
Here’s five tips to help you nail the art of storytelling in your business.
1. Get familiar with your brand voice.
Defining your brand voice is something that will help you to tell good stories consistently. Having been a writer for some time, I thought I knew what my voice was, and I figured it would be easy to apply to Content Space, but it just didn’t feel right when I tried it. It didn’t feel like it fit. And that’s because my understanding of what my business is and what I want it to be has evolved massively from the branding exercises I did in the beginning months. Once I was 100% sure of my vision, and I’d re-done the branding, and knew exactly who my target audience was, it was much easier for me to feel what my brand voice should be. So, before you start telling stories, get your branding nailed. If you don’t, you’ll end up wasting time creating a load of content that is awkward and disjointed because you don’t know who you are, or who you’re telling your stories to.
2. Play with emotion
We are all emotional beings, driven by emotional needs, so it seems pretty obvious that stories that twang our heart strings are the ones we respond to the most. But, before you start writing about puppies, lost loves and heartache, you need to figure out what level of emotion is comfortable for you. Ask yourself: Do I want to talk about my personal life in my social media pages? Or my family? How much do I want people to know? What are my boundaries? Telling stories about yourself and your family will naturally have an emotional impact on your followers – it invites people into your life, and there’s a certain amount of vulnerability in that, which can be very attractive. But, hey, if you want to keep your personal life separate, that is totally fine as well. You can still talk passionately about your vision and beliefs, without talking about what you get up to on Saturday night or how much you love your children. Emotion can be excitement, passion and happiness, as well as fear, sadness or surprise. Ultimately, you want your reader to feel something. If you’re telling a story, try thinking first about what emotion you want people to feel, and build your story around that feeling.
3. Challenge and conflict
Good stories are about challenge and conflict, so don’t be afraid to put your struggles out there for all to see. You don’t need to know all the answers to have the right to tell a story – you can talk about a challenge you’ve faced, how difficult it was for you, how you were able to overcome it, as well share your triumph. And you know what, even if your story is more along the lines of: ‘I tried to do something, and it just went completely tits up’, well, that’s okay as well. It’s far easier for people to relate to flaws and failures than it is for them to hear about someone who gets it right first time.
If you’re telling a story on social media, you’ll need to get straight to the point. Don't swamp your followers with too many emotional stories either – longer posts demand much more of people’s time and attention, so it's best to mix it up with plenty of posts that are short, snappy, and easy to consume. If your story is for your blog or somewhere else, you can make it a bit longer. Give it some structure: a start, middle and an end. Start with an enticing beginning, build it up in the middle, and finish off with a satisfying conclusion.
Language is how you put shape and detail to your story. Set the scene by adding some detail about the characters in your story, as well as a bit of dialogue. Use adjectives to describe smells, sounds, tastes and feelings – transport your listener to exactly where you want them by opening up their senses. For me, too many adjectives feels a little flowery and excessive so I prefer language that doesn’t dictate the feeling or the emotion. I think it invites the reader to engage their brain and imagination a bit more. Whatever you choose, the beauty of telling a story is that there’s no right or wrong – just your way. And if you consistently do it your way and nobody else’s, it becomes a powerful way that people will recognise and remember you.