I was afraid. Standing at a lectern in downtown Manhattan before a room full of experts, I was easily the youngest person there. I was sure they could see me sweating. I prayed for the end before I said my first word. But then, I closed my eyes, took a breath, and began to talk about the future, a day in the automated office, when computers were connected. And when I was done, people came up to ask questions about our office automation architecture. The 20-something budding marketer from HP with the soaking wet collar had connected.
Is there anything more viscerally connecting than a story? It’s how humans have expressed themselves, convinced, controlled, enrolled, sold, and created value for millenia.
And yet, in marketing materials, we keep seeing, “The GM-X is an innovative solution for enterprise-ready network service stacks that ensures rapid deployment, cost savings, and the infinite connectivity of a cloud-based architecture.”
In the New York Times, “Storytelling Your Way to a Better Job or a Stronger Start-Up” reminds us that stories persuade. They also generate a happy hormone, oxytocin, in the brain. Researchers diagrammed Super Bowl commercials based on storytelling elements and successfully predicted their outcome. The key elements? It’s what we learned in high school:
It probably sounds familiar from middle-school English class: Act 1, scene setting; Act 2, rising action; Act 3, the turning point; Act 4, the falling action; and Act 5, the denouement or release. Variations of this include fewer or more stages, but they all follow the same pattern.
In business writing, especially in email and on the web, we don’t have much time to get the reader’s attention. But then, neither does a Super Bowl commercial. The Times article cites Hemingway’s six-word story: ““For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” So we really have no excuses.
How do we tell a story? We have to remember the basics, then practice the ancient art.
Most important, I think is to tell the story, rather than telling about the story. We tend to judge, categorize, summarize but a judgment ends the narrative and kills the tension.
We also shy away from feelings, when feelings are the best way to connect, establish trust, and build empathy.
It doesn’t come naturally, at least for me. I find I have to remind myself to connect. The way that young, sweaty kid from HP did in New York.
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