It would be easy to write a post under this title that talked quite practically about the need for structure in a story. You know, a clear beginning, middle and end. Maybe I'll do a piece on that in the coming weeks, but:
1. You can find that kind of information all over the internet. 2. Structure alone doesn't make a story great.
Instead I want to try and detail the characteristics of a great story. The qualities that pull your listener or reader in and get them to engage. Granted, it's not an exhaustive list: there are many ways to tell a story. But - hopefully - if you can bare these ideas in mind, you'll be well on your way to effective storytelling that can help you to generate more sales.
Trust in the Teller
Every story needs a storyteller. And trust is the foundation of great storytelling. No matter who's doing the talking, our reaction to their story - like it or not - is tainted by our feelings towards them. You know it all to well as your irritating 'friend of a friend' brags on and you can't help but say to yourself over and over: "This is total BS"...
There are basics to ensuring that people can trust your story - don't over exaggerate, get your facts straight and stick to them, use a quietly confident tone of voice etc. But more significantly than that, you have to work hard in everything else you do as a brand or an individual to ensure you're building a solid track record of 'trustworthy' behavior. You can have the greatest story yet untold, but if your reputation lets you down it will never hit the big time.
TIP: Honestly assess where you or your brand is at in terms of your reputation. If you don't like what you see, click off this article and go put in the work to change it.
Narrative tension is the key to any well-told story. It's the secret sauce that keeps you invested in the plot line until the very end. Creating tension is all about organising your information in the most effective way to maximise your audience's desire to know what happens next.
The two biggest contributing factors to narrative tension are anticipation and uncertainty. The audience wants to feel like your story is going somewhere, and by throwing in a hint of doubt as to how it will all turn out, it makes it all the better*.
No truly great story goes in a straight line. No individual is free from error. Rather than conceal the imperfections in your individual or brand story, embrace them. Oh, and whatever you do, don't give away the punchline before the end - it's underwhelming for everyone involved.
TIP: Grab a notebook and create a timeline of events - good and bad - for your chosen story. Rearrange the information & try your story out on a confidante. Note how well they engage. Make amendments & repeat.
*N.B. More doubt ≠ better story. Keep your uncertainty proportionate.
The best stories affect us on a deeper level. It's also true that we tend to make purchasing decisions based on emotion first. We then post-rationalise the facts to reaffirm the decision we've already made.
When telling your story (particularly one you want to help generate sales) it's important that you think about it in emotional terms. How can you get your audience to feel something about what you're telling them? Now, this doesn't mean it has to become a Comic Relief Ad. It simply means getting familiar with the fundamental human emotional needs, understanding how we relate to them and learning to use them to dial up emotional stakes in your story. They are:
- Meaning & Purpose
We all need these things, and can all relate emotionally to stories where we see these needs being met or unmet. This makes us feel and feelings make us buy.
TIP: Begin to research the fundamental emotional needs and try to identify where they are leveraged in your favourite stories. The more you notice them, the more comfortable you become in using them.
Why is it that a 4min YouTube video can make you cry, and a 3hr movie can send you to sleep? It's not just about short attention spans, because you can happily binge 5hrs of Netflix series back to back. So what is it?
Pacing. It's crucially important in effective storytelling. In short it's the speed at which a story is told. But the key to making pace work for you it to understand where there's a need for speed and when to take it slower. Obviously this is somewhat informed by your medium, but pace can be adjusted through all manner of things from sentence length and paragraphing, to your use of tense and voice or simply just cutting the flab from your story. By playing around with pace you can significantly increase the effect of the narrative tension you've (hopefully) already built into your story. 👍
TIP: Practice. Practice. Practice. Only by telling your story over and over will you get a feel for what pacing works and when. Once you feel you have it nailed - stick to it. Superfluous detail, side notes or digressions are altering your pace and hurting your story.
Finally, please make sure your story is relevant. Be empathetic to your audience. Be conscious of the context in which it's being told.
We've all go things to do and places to be. This is particularly important when it comes to digital storytelling when you have literally micro-seconds to capture your audience's attention. If it's decided that what you have to say isn't relevant in that moment, you've lost them. Understanding context is enough for a whole new post so I won't harp on for now. But yes, having an amazing story to tell is great, but understanding the right time to tell it is equally as important!
TIP: Just pay attention.