The Power of Storytelling 2019

Sam Colebrook

Content Strategy Director

The streets of Bucharest are a patchwork quilt of architecture. The different cultures and generations that have occupied Romania echo through its buildings, acting as a stark reminder that humans are complex creatures. And as a fitting backdrop to the questions of identity raised at The Power of Storytelling 2019; a two-day gathering of journalists and authors to discuss the healing power of stories.

Here we explore how the tales from #Story19 translate for brand storytellers and how they can help us make stronger, more meaningful connections with our audiences.

Treat your audience like patients

Physician Lipi Roy introduced the idea of doctors as storytellers, explaining that establishing a patient’s prognosis is like finding the beginning of their story; their diagnosis the middle and their treatment (hopefully) the end.

According to Roy, on day one, medical school students are taught two critical lessons:

1. Always listen to your patient

2. Your patient will be your best teacher

This is true for all content creators. Your audience will teach you everything you’ll need to know in order to connect with them. Whether through social, search intent, focus groups, or surveys, listening to them will deepen your understanding and prevent you jumping to the wrong assumptions.

Nothing cuts through like narrative

The Financial Times’ Robin Kwong called for “journalism that not only provides facts but also empathy as a service”. In a world saturated with data and shrinking attention spans, emotional storytelling has never been more important.

But a story doesn’t only grab our attention, it physically alters our brain’s chemistry. Jonathan Gottschall explains that our minds are wanderers by nature, daydreaming for eight hours a day on average. However, tests show that when we engage with a narrative we are transfixed and mirror the emotions being presented to us. It is in these moments of empathy that we are most engaged… and the most suggestable.

Cookbooks aren't for people who cook

Longform podcast founder Aaron Lammer explains that “cookbooks aren’t for people who cook, they’re for people who wish to cook”.

We need to remember that our audiences are aspirational. We should be creating content targeted at who they want to be as much as around who they are.

Stories are about the reader not the author

Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Jacqui Banasynski closed the conference explaining that writers should avoid over-use of the first-person pronoun (“I”) and first-person-plural (“we”), as this organisation-focused writing can alienate the reader.

A story needs to share truths and values with its audience if we want them to empathise, so it’s the writer’s role to keep the audience at the centre of everything they create.

It was clear from all speakers that we need to connect on a human level with our audiences now more than ever; to recognise that audiences are multidimensional, occupying the space between standard demographic profiles.

If we want them to listen to us, we need to listen to them first.

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