When we wanted to sharpen our skills around storytelling, we met with a very experienced TV producer. You may ask why this is relevant to a healthcare strategy consultancy; surely this is the preserve of journalists, writers and those making TV programmes? Well, we like to do things a little differently at Strategic North. Telling a story ensures you tailor your content to your audience and make engagement a priority at all times. As a company we aim to help our clients build inspiring, joined up, strategic stories; shaping and filtering a mountain of content and data into a focussed message for them. So, what did we learn?
They engage and persuade the audience by immediately hooking them in. Think of any film or TV show that you like from Toy Story and Batman, to the X-Factor and BBC News; all the principles apply. Stories grab people's attention, are memorable, join up thinking into a clear, cohesive message, and they inspire a response.
1. Start with the audience
Knowing your audience is key. Centring your story around your audience (not yourself!) helps to focus your story and remove any less important information which might be of interest to you, but in fact detracts from your main message.
Planning any communication without thinking about the audience is like writing a love letter and addressing it 'To Whom It May Concern'. Which is why we're always looking for new ways to help clients understand who their audience are, because you are not the hero of the story, your audience is!
2. Every storyteller should have the end in mind
Define the one big question that your story must address, and build throughout your story with the ultimate aim of answering this question. As part of doing this you must explain "what's in it for me?" to the audience; make it personal by shaping the content to them. What do you want the audience to understand, feel or do?
When applying this to business, you need to think hard about what the real story question is; for example, when pitching for funding it might be less about the facts of the opportunity, and more about the credibility of the pitch team or those who will deliver it.
3. Have a strong start and a definitive end
Have a limited number of clear messages, always building towards answering the story question. Don't fully answer the story question until the end – a definitive end is what keeps the audience engaged for the entire story. However keep in mind what you want the audience to think/feel/do at the end of your piece – this will help you shape your story.
It is important to draw your audience in from the start; think of famous opening lines that do this, one of our favourites is from Pride and Prejudice "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." This statement also precisely positions the story that is about to unfold.
Your end should always emphasise the most important point; this is what reps do when detailing, and there is a good reason for this – it is what stays with people.
4. Conflict/challenge help with a good story
Explain the risk associated with not doing what you are recommending in your story. An element of jeopardy can really engage the audience.
Hollywood action movies classically employ this technique, and films such as Star Wars to Finding Nemo demonstrate it well.
In business it could be a 'burning platform' that you decide to do something about, for example losing share to a competitor, the entry of new competitor, or a change in payer policy.
It is typical that many large companies today are drowning in data – we're in an era of information overload. It can be a challenge to 'see the wood for the trees' and pull out and connect the important insights to tell a compelling story.
When developing a strategy that needs to be communicated and embraced by colleagues, who may not have been on the same 'strategy creation journey' as yourself, some of these storytelling principles can be really useful. We have found that applying these story telling techniques helps to join up the different elements of the strategy, crystallise the heart of the strategy, clarify the main message and enables the selection of only the most relevant supporting evidence. Ultimately telling an inspiring story that engages others and inspires them into action.
For more information about how storytelling can help you and your business, get in touch. We run 90 minute Lunch & Learn sessions for teams on 'Harnessing the power of strategic storytelling'.