As long as human beings have been talking, they’ve been telling stories. Language itself probably evolved for social reasons — specifically, gossip, which is nothing more than telling stories about people — rather than for practical reasons like cooperating in the hunt, according to evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar.
Even in our modern world, we teach and learn through stories, from the fables and fairy tales our parents read to us at bedtime, to word problems in math class and parables in church, to case studies in business school. There’s something compelling and immensely human about telling a story. We’re drawn in when the story is about a particular person (what’s her name?) in a particular place (which big American city?) doing particular things — and we definitely want to know what happened next.
In fact, if you present hard data in the context of a story, it is 22 times more memorable, according to cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner.
See what I did there?
Here are seven steps to effectively using storytelling in your own online content.
Figure out the point of the story. Remember getting cornered by your tipsy Uncle Joe at Thanksgiving dinner? He kept yakking on and on about a bunch of people you’ve never met, and all you could think was “Why is he telling me this?” Don’t be Uncle Joe, tipsy or otherwise. Start with deciding what specific piece of information you want your reader to walk away with.
Set the scene and introduce your characters. Don’t talk about “a customer” at “a major corporation,” talk about Alana Atwood, who’s CIO at Miracleworkers Ltd.
Specify the complication. Good stories have some conflict to be overcome. Alana was struggling with a specific issue; for instance, that information in the database wasn’t being formatted in ways that were equally useful to sales and technical support. Lay out exactly what her problem was, and why it was a problem.
Finger the villain. The villain doesn’t have to be an actual person — in fact, if you’re talking about your customer or anyone on her team, it better not be. “Market forces,” “a sluggish economy,” and “outdated technology” are all fine villains.
Describe the turning point. Alana has to have that light bulb moment when she realizes that the benefits of making a substantial change outweigh the benefits, financial or practical, of sticking with the status quo.
Specify the resolution. Don’t go immediately into your sales pitch — start by describing, in general, how your solution benefited Alana and her company.
Ask questions. Engage potential customers by raising specific questions that will help them examine and evaluate their own situations.
Use these steps to develop your own stories — potential customers will be 22 times more likely to walk away with the information you want to communicate.