For years we have been bombarded with the message—whether we are in business, part of an NGO, or in public service—that we need to tell a story to better convey our message. Storytelling has for years been the holy grail for getting people excited about your topic, whatever your topic may be.
In all honesty, I’ve been a bit skeptical. It seems hard to develop stories. And with the day-to-day tasks that we all try to manage it is even harder to find the time to churn out stories like Netflix churns out reality series.
My Kindle is filled with books on how to create stories within the business world but for some reason, the examples given and the situations presented have seldom proved relevant.
Thankfully I’ve found a simpler way.
However, there are three prerequisites that need to be fulfilled before you even start to think about using storytelling in your organization—authenticity, simplicity, and a call to action.
If you aren’t willing to be completely authentic and portray the main character (you, your boss, or someone you are writing about) then you might as well just skip the story. Go bowling, swimming, or grab a drink with your friend instead. The reason is that authenticity is what makes us relate to a character and FEEL with him or her. Making people feel something is an absolute necessity in a story.
It’s amazing how quickly we jump to the next thing that grabs our attention. Studies show that humans have an average attention span of eight seconds. If you are still reading this, you are probably eager to find a simpler way to come up with stories. I will try not to disappoint.
What our ever-decreasing attention span means is that we have to create super simple stories. There is no room for complexity or for trying to cram several angles into the same story. Instead, you need to simplify and keep your stories short. Or at least short-ish. If your story is longer than 1,000 words then cut it down. Be ruthless.
Call to Action
There needs to be a clear reason for you to tell the story. What is it you want your audience to think, feel, and do? What action do you want them to take? If you first commit to these prerequisites, then you have a good foundation to stand on.
Structure and framework are the keys to writing a good organizational story within a decent timeframe (unless you’re Stephen King). Here is how I go about it.
6 Elements of a Good Story
Let’s dive into them one at a time.
The job of the hook is simply to grab the attention of your audience. Think headline and the first few sentences or paragraphs. In your hook, you should capture your audience’s struggles or desires. What is it they want to get away from or what do they want to achieve? In corporate and organizational storytelling, you have to provide your audience with a reason to read beyond pure entertainment. Making sure you quickly explain what they will gain is critical.
When you’ve grabbed the attention you need to start to relate to your reader, listener, and viewer. You can do this by talking about something the main character has struggled with. This point is crucial. You need to overcome a problem because, without this, there is no story. Talk about the old you or the old version of your main character and what his or her day looked like with the struggles he/she faced. Be vivid and paint pictures with your words.
When you have established the problem the next step is to raise the stakes. Turn up the heat. Build up to the crescendo. A few ways of doing this is by presenting a series of events that point toward the need to act. Ensure your character is pushed against the wall and forced to make a decision that will either make them face a bad destiny or make a radical change.
What happened? What did your character do? Is it a sad or happy story? Whatever you do, try and make it unexpected. But in short, this is the outcome of your character’s struggles. The trigger was all about building tension and this part is where we release that tension and allow the audience to land.
Up until now, the story structure is pretty similar to a normal drama structure. But here we start to differ a bit. In corporate storytelling or storytelling with a purpose beyond entertainment, you need to be forthcoming with the lesson. The so what? What was the main learning for our character? By stating this we point out the takeaway we want our audience to leave with. What is the lesson learned?
If the job of the lesson was to provide your audience with an insight then the job of the conclusion is to move the audience into action. What is it that you want them to do? What is the call to action, to use marketing and communications lingo? Is it to buy your product, vote for you, donate to your cause?
And there we have it. It doesn’t need to be any harder than that. For me, the goal was to relieve you from spending the next few weekends reading books on storytelling. Now you just have to write the stuff.