Why your audience want stories, not lectures

We’ve all been there. “Look at all these facts! These stats! These illuminating nuggets of academic wisdom!” and have been so impressed by the intellectual stock of our own argument that we’ve ended up writing something that reads like a cross between an encyclopedia and a sermon.

This, however, is not an effective way of communicating.

Despite solemnly pledging to give buzzwords the elbow from contentgroup, one in particular keeps sneaking its way into office dialogue, and for good reason.

The conversation around using storytelling as a communication tactic is in vogue right now. The world of marketing and communication is giving serious credence to the idea of using stories to inspire specific behaviour in their audience.

Brands are trading the use of ‘unattainable’ celebrities in advertising campaigns in favour of the ’real-life’ influencer, as the world cottons onto the fact that weaving relatability, emotion and personality into a neatly-told yarn is in fact, content gold.

A tale as old as time, the art of storytelling is nothing new. But, now more than ever, it’s helping communicators achieve their objectives.

Here’s how.

Although it might not feel like it as you’re being dragged along to the pub on a Friday night after a long week at work, humans are inherently social creatures that best relate to other people.

Storytelling prompts a neurological response which naturally enhances feelings of connection between teller and audience. Gabrielle Dolan, business storytelling expert and recent guest on contentgroup’s InTransition podcast suggests that the most compelling storytellers achieve genuine connection with their audience by combining these three characteristics:

  • Being vulnerable
  • Being authentic
  • Being unafraid of showing emotion

Sure, you can present a cocktail of facts, figures and statistics, shake it up and hope that it sticks, but add a compelling story into that mix and just like that, you’re onto something.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Great examples of storytelling

Here’s an example. Take a look at this Dove Men+Care storytelling campaign.

Here, Dove tells the story of an ordinary family who deals with the reality of a Dad serving overseas with the armed forces for months and months at a time. There’s a vulnerability in John opening up about the struggles of missing the birth of his son. There’s authenticity in plainly talking about the highs and lows that come with the life of service personnel, and there’s obvious emotion involved in describing the toll that this separation takes.

Here, Dove tells a story about something higher than the value of its products.

Through simple yet strategic storytelling, they are able to position themselves as a brand that understands the lives that their audience live.

Airbnb also uses strategic storytelling to bring to life its brand narrative.

Their iconic ‘wall and chain’ campaign tells the story of a man who felt tied to a past concept of home, having lived in a segregated Berlin before the Berlin wall came down. He felt tethered to his past, unable to explore until, thanks to his daughter, he found freedom and a capacity to ‘belong anywhere’ through the openness and sense of community encouraged by Airbnb.

These are just two simple examples of brands telling stories to (very implicitly) sell products and experiences.

But what does this mean for government communication?

As disruption (that will be another fifty cents for the buzzwords jar thanks) through communication remains difficult and governments compete for citizens’ attention, Gabrielle Dolan says that it is critical to draw on personal experiences, insisting that “day-to-day [stories] are the most powerful ones. They’re the ones that people relate to the most. Once people realise that, they realise that their life is rich in stories.”

Take contentgroup’s work with SafeWork NSW campaign Alive and Well. The entire premise of the campaign is to tell the stories of farmers – to talk about the times when they have encountered hardship, had accidents or near misses – so that other farmers can learn from them.

Storytelling in this instance facilitates a relatable and emotional connection between members of the farming community. In a way that statistics and facts alone could never achieve, the stories make people think that “if it can happen to them, it can happen to me.”

This is ultimately what will (and does) inspire action within Alive and Well’s audience.

Another important storytelling technique at play with this campaign is serialisation, which Alexander Jutkowitz, author, content marketing pioneer and recent guest on the Accidental Creative podcast defines as ”telling ongoing stories that have the same message at their core, but build on each other and reinforce value.”

For Alive and Well, the value being reinforced is the importance of taking farm safety seriously.

Finally, Dolan argues that delivering the story with clarity is imperative to success, so limiting yourself to one message per story allows you to be succinct and prevent overloading your audience.

She adds that you don’t need to beat your audience over the head with your key message, stating “you don’t want to be telling people the moral of the story…you should allow the audience to get the message.”

So, next time you’re presenting your audience with a barrage of facts and statistics and hoping they’ll pick up what you’re putting down, consider framing those numbers in a broader narrative.

Tell them a story, and let the power of personal experience do the work.

Have you seen any good examples of government storytelling recently?