Stories both real and imaginary have moved people for millennia. It's a safe bet that storytelling followed close on the development of spoken language as a way to celebrate achievements, explain the physical world, teach skills and pass on wisdom. In the process storytelling helped to create a sense of identity and cement tribal bonds.
Stories are as powerful and enduring today. That's why human interest stories still dominate news headlines online and in print. Just consider the accounts of real people and their misadventures in the banking and financial services industries. While the Royal Commission is months from handing down their report and recommendations, banks are undoubtedly thinking hard about reforms alreadly after publication of stories chronciling the human damage caused by unconscionable banking practices.
It's these stories that engage the public and build pressure for reform. More than 10 years on, who can forget the heartbreaking contributions of stolen children to the Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families?
Good corporate writers have always known the value of storytelling, particularly in media releases and articles. Stories built around real people are useful for promoting ideas and achievements in many formats including online case studies and video, reports and presentations. Message matters also heard how the story of a hypothetical customer and her struggle with an energy supplier recently generated considerable interest at a conference presentation. While the customer was an invention, her story illustrated important points more clearly and with greater impact than a recitation of facts.
What makes a powerful story?
Finding a real life hero is a good start. Recommendations from the people working directly with clients impacted by new policies/technologies/reforms can be very useful in linking up with someone prepared to speak candidly on the record about their experiences. They must feel comfortable and understand how their words will be used before they are likely to open up in a conversation and offer the human insights that will make a story zing. Creating rapport is essential but may take time. There must be respect throughout and the hero's approval when words from the heart to be publicly broadcast.
Speaking of which, quotable quotes are to be treasured, tweaked sometimes but never sanitised by the imposition of corporate messaging.
Hypothetical human scenarios are much more creatively challenging for the corporate writer. Message matters recommends keeping it simple and sticking to natural speech rhythms in manufactured quotes.
As well as a hero a story needs a narrative arc, just as suggested in Hollywood scriptwriting 101. The hero's journey is always a sound model: Ben/Belinda was experiencing problems, then he/she discovered ... then life changed. Sounds simple, but if done well is always a winner.
Storytelling around real people or hypothetical scenarios works well if the writing is relaxed and much more informal than in 'straight'
corporate communication. It's okay to be emotional, especially when using quotes, which can sometimes make corporate bigwigs uneasy. The challenge for the corporate writer is to convince them that storytelling can be a potent communication tool. Your stories will be ephemeral compared with those of Robin Hood and King Arthur but may still change minds and influence behaviour.
Call Message matters on 0414 482 021 for more advice on storytelling.