Are you sitting comfortably...?
Updated: Jan 10
Then I'll begin...
It’s fair to say I’ve spent a big chunk of my life telling tales.
I’ve been lucky enough to witness some of the greatest stories ever told and have seen first-hand some of the worst. As a journalist and programme editor I learnt the power of storytelling. Its ability to provoke a whole spectrum of emotions and to captivate and connect.
Stories bring people together through shared emotions. They create ties and connections. They allow people to believe and to trust and that’s why stories are one of the most powerful tools a business has at its disposal. When done well stories convince customers to trust you, to believe in you and ultimately, to buy from you.
But where do you start?
It’s easy to forget, when you’re creating business content, that you’re talking to people. Stories that are personal, convey emotion and are relatable are by far the most powerful and the ones that are likely to win business.
“… the story that shapes feelings about a product will become a large part of what people buy when they buy the product.
In 25 years, what people buy will be mostly stories, legends, emotion and lifestyle.”
Rolf Jensen, 1996
Of course, your customers want to know about your products or services, but what they’re really interested in is you. Ditching the day job on a whim, taking out scary bank loan after scary bank loan and the feeling you got when that first investor said ‘yes’. Your story and the language you use to tell it should stand out. Attract attention, be inspirational, show passion, commitment and flair - but above all – be human.
“Facts and figures and all the rational things that we think are important in the business world actually don’t stick in our minds at all…
… Stories create “sticky” memories.”
You have a story to tell, so how do you tell it? By being clear, concise and correct.
If there’s one thing I want my journalism students to remember it’s that.
In theory, the 3 C’s (being clear, concise and correct) are easy, they’re a little harder to put into practice. So, try this. If you have a complex message to share – think about how you’d explain it to a friend over a drink. And do just that. Cut out the jargon, get rid of the in-house language and make it simple. Remember you live and breathe this every single day, your target audience may not. They should understand your messaging immediately. If they need to ask questions or read over it again then I’m sorry to say you’ve failed.
Know your audience…
As a programme editor on Newsround, it was my job to explain complex issues to children. No mean feat, but one I achieved not by dumbing things down, but by understanding my audience and being able to relate to them. If you know who you’re talking to – their age, gender, hobbies and interests – then it’s much easier to have a ‘conversation’ with them. Your story then becomes relevant and relatable.
Go get the sledgehammer…
You’ve written your story. Would you want to read what you’ve written?
Would it interest you and keep you engaged until the very last word? If the answer is no – then why would anyone else? Remember your audience is absolutely overloaded with information. In this time-poor world you need to hit people with your message. Think sledgehammer, rather than chisel! Get straight to your point and make it obvious. Keep sentences short and their structure simple. And finally, make your content authentic and compelling.
Here’s one I did earlier…
It’s all very well giving you this information – but to prove my point that stories are the things you’ll remember I’m now going to tell you a story about a story I wrote…
When I agreed to write a pitch deck for an eco-building company, I have to admit I wondered whether I’d bitten off more than I could chew. In my panic came the realisation that my love of Phil and Kirsty and my slight obsession with Rightmove didn’t quite equip me with an in-depth knowledge of smart technology housebuilding. How then, was I going to convince investors that this was the company they should invest in?
I absorbed the company credentials and wowed at the amazing things they were doing. I learnt about air tightness, smart intelligence and NET Zero and I prepared myself to wax lyrical about their passion for sustainability. I had more information than I knew what to do with and was drowning in content, but, unlike me, I was completely lost for words.
Then it came to me. This company wasn’t investable because of its carbon footprint or its plans to single-handedly solve the UK’s housing crisis. Those things were obviously key, but the thing that made this company stand out and completely and utterly investable was its people. The CEO was young and driven and had insatiable passion for his cause. Brought up in cold, damp, rotting council houses he was determined to make things better and was doing just that. He cared about people and the planet and his story was one you really should read. So, the pitch deck became less about targets and profits, technologies and air tightness and more, much more, about people. And that (according to the board) was what won investors over time and time again.