How to Tell a Good Story

We often get bogged down in the numbers when we talk to our clients.  They’re business folks and therefore we need to talk to ROI, segmentation schemes, bottom-line financials, etc. And yes, that information is necessary, but it shouldn’t necessarily be the focus of every conversation, particularly when we’re presenting findings and insights.  It’s like assuming every movie we see or every novel we read should be a bulleted list of events.  No, the story matters much more than we think.  Even though they might be resistant to the notion, business folks are still human and they respond to the story being told more than they would admit to others or to themselves.  Story telling is imperative to the success of any work you do.  Great stories succeed because they are able to capture the imagination of important audiences. They draw people in.

1. Understand That Attention Spans Are Short

People have little time. As a result, attention spans are getting shorter by the day. Do everything you can to keep your story from plodding along at the same pace and pitch. Mix the serious with funny, dialogue with thought, high energy with no movement, etc.  Telling the story is as much about the performance as it is about details.  Without the performative aspects, there are only facts and facts by themselves don’t make the case.

2. Believe In the Story You Are Telling

If the story doesn’t mean anything to you personally, don’t tell it. It won’t come across as genuine and your audience will know it. A great story is true. Not necessarily because it’s factual, but because it’s consistent and authentic. Clients, like consumers, are too good at sniffing out inconsistencies for you to get away with a story that’s just slapped on.

3. Be Targeted

Great stories are rarely aimed at everyone. When they are, they rarely stick with anyone.  Be aware that there are some people in the audience who won’t get it no matter what you have to say.  Those who do, however, will become advocates. Average people have too many different points of view, to many opinions and too many competing agendas to come at a problem with a completely clear mind. If you need to water down your story to appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no one.

4. See the Story in Scenes

It’s hard to memorize a story word for word. One of the biggest problems people run into when presenting is that it sounds contrived and forced.  That will kill the message quicker than anything.  Break your story into blocks of time. Think in themes and use visual material to jog your memory about the theme you want to address rather than reciting something you’ve committed to memory.

Great stories are trusted and trust is probably the single most important part of getting anyone to act on insights. No research succeeds in telling a story unless he has earned the credibility to tell that story.  And that is largely accomplished in how the story is told, not just in the pedigree they bring to the table.

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