5 basic ingredients for a powerful story

You have a new product offering and want to let your customers and potential customers know about it. You open your editor to write and begin. But whatever you try it sounds boring or we-of-toilet-duck-ish. What to do? Storytelling!

Perhaps it would be an idea to first describe the struggle that preceded the new offer? Or how the surprising question from one customer led to the insight that you have something to offer for a specific issue? Or do you let the customer speak for himself?

In short, a factual explanation is soon less interesting than the story behind it, the quest, the struggle, the success. In other words, start storytelling in good Dutch.

A story or an opinion?

Four groups of employees from a large organization will give a presentation to the Executive Board and a delegation of the Supervisory Board about an issue that they think is not going well in the organization. Each group has one issue to present. In the afternoon the groups meet in a rural hotel to prepare what they will present in the evening.

Together with two other trainers, I guide the groups and we suggest that they open with a story that makes the issue they want to discuss concrete. Not immediately slides with all kinds of data or an opinion on the table, but first the human dimension. Three out of four groups think this is a good idea. They quickly find an appealing, recognizable story that represents exactly what they want to discuss. The fourth group thinks this is nonsense and will immediately raise the issue and open the conversation. Stories are for children and it only takes time to begin such a detour.

In the evening, when everyone trickles into the room, there is some tension. The Board of Directors saunters through the crowd a bit nervously and takes a shy look behind their table. Clearly not completely confident about what is to come and with a member of the Supervisory Board watching, there is even more pressure.

The power of a story at work

The first group begins. One of the group members opens with: ‘I would like to take you back to May 3, 2021 when Robin had the last working day …’ The story gradually unfolds. Everyone listens carefully. Everyone is nodding and humping. The central issue is noted on a flip chart for later discussion. Group two and three, same.

The fourth group sets out and puts forward a strong position. Group four is quickly questioned critically about their research, and the breadth and depth of their complaint. Instead of a presentation to the group, a debate with side paths arises about the technical side of all kinds of details. The conversation ends and the fourth issue also appears on the flipchart, although no one looks forward to resuming that conversation.

The power of a story at work: presenting an opinion quickly arouses resistance and turns your audience into a critical audience. A story about a human being of flesh and blood turns the audience into listeners who sympathize and follow the storyline. This means that telling a story may take more time, but you save friction and resistance (and therefore time) through the collective that arises. You can always discuss the matter factually afterwards, but only after a connection has been established between everyone.

How do you make a story?

If it seems to you to capture what you have to say in a story or to open with a story, then the question is how do you come up with stories. And what is a story that grabs and holds attention?

In Storytelling in practice. Creative writing for a brand (affiliate) Maarten van der Meulen gives all kinds of advice about storytelling. His central point is that you look for events and people that evoke emotions and thus create a connection.

That means that the people in your story must be recognizable and must experience something that captivates. Something that makes you curious about the progress. The description of a story by Cron used in the book fits in nicely with this:

A story is how what happens affects someone who is trying to achieve what turns out to be a difficult goal and how he or she (they) changes as a result.

5 basic ingredients for storytelling

Van der Meulen mentions 5 basic ingredients for storytelling:

  1. Communicate from the *why*. In other words, in less management jargon: what is the most essential reason for a brand or product to exist? Any story that has to do with the essence of the matter is most likely a compelling story. The origin or growth probably contains interesting stories. Like the story about Old Timers licorice or Tony’s Chocolonely.
  2. Have a good storyline. An engaging storyline, or plot, holds the attention. The book lists a number of archetypal plots that you can use. And even if your audience knows the ending of a story, the road to it can still be fascinating.
  3. Tell about setbacks and dilemmas. Friction and plot and character developments provide identification and tension. Good news or mere praise is less interesting than a plot twist.
  4. Write from characters. By letting a character go through a development or having opposing characters (decisive protagonist and calm, wise mentor) an interesting dynamic is created.
  5. Communicate with the right means. Depending on what you want to achieve with whom you choose a platform and you use the unique properties of that platform.

In practice?

The title of Van der Meulen’s book is Storytelling in Practice and the book lives up to that. You read step-by-step how to build a story and you will find a number of thinking exercises at the end of each block. Such as questions that you can ask employees or customers in search of a story, or an observation exercise to find stories in everyday life.

The writing exercises are interesting to do. They are scattered throughout the book so look for them if you want to practice telling the same story differently.

  • rewrite part of your story in slow motion
  • rewrite part of your story in staccato
  • rewrite the ending to three different endings

The explanation of tone of voice and explanation of the Brand Personality Spectrum can help you determine whether the story style suits you or your brand.

You will also find many examples of stories scattered throughout the book. The examples come a bit late, in the introduction the essence of a story could have been illustrated with a story, but afterwards a variety of stories, sometimes as much as three pages of text. In addition, interesting choices such as Club Brugge, who in a Winnie the Pooh-like verse make it clear to supporters that club love is beautiful, but there are limits to it.

The book closes with a recommendation to make a number of revisions, as each text could be improved. The revisions range from re-examining the storyline and character to spelling rules or advising you to proofread your text. Perhaps the latter is the most important and useful to do quickly, before you further refine your text.

In a number of places you can go to the site next to the book to continue reading, so there’s no shortage of inspiration.

What is the key to a good story?storytelling in practice

The book Storytelling in practice. Creative writing for a brand (affiliate) ‘coaches’ you as a writer through the process of writing a good story. Sometimes the coaching is a bit schooly, ‘After reading this chapter you can …’ But step-by-step you work on storyline, creating a persona of your character and tone and style.

The story doesn’t have that one key to success, like Made to Stick by the Heaths with the letters SUCCESS do or the crass one-liner like Don’t give them 4. Give them 2 + 2, but is a thorough, complete writing aid.


Source: Frankwatching by www.frankwatching.com.

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