• Isabel Johnston

The art of telling a story …

Freelance life is in full swing and in the first month of 2019 I’ve been lucky enough to meet an incredible bunch of people. With many of them I’ve discussed the importance of telling a story. Whether you’re a small business or a large corporate, sell products or a service – communications should all be the same. It’s about telling an interesting story.

Simply put – people love people. They want read and hear about things that bring products or services to life.

A common mistake is that we often get so engrossed in what we do, that we send out the same message about our service and product. It is factual. It tells the audience what it is we do, but doesn’t come across in a way that resonates with us as people.

The school example - Repetitive email messages

I’ll give you an example. This is from my son’s school. I love his school by the way, but similar to many other schools, companies or independent business owners – they have a lot of messages to convey. Every week I get a lot of emails from school. But one that bugs me, is the one I got on the first Friday in September about nits. Lovely topic … I know. Are you itching already?!

With a snazzy headline ‘once a week, take a peek’ …. They send me the exact same email every Friday. So far, I’ve had 22 emails on the exact same day of the week, saying the exact same thing. I now recognise the heading – it’s a snazzy headline and all that … but I stopped opening it after week three.

The thing is … it’s a factual email. It tells me to check my son’s head for nits to avoid them spreading across school. I’d guess that the open rate following the first week would have dropped by around 90 per cent. The captive audience reduces. Your audience switches off.

Because, while it’s the information I need, it doesn’t resonate with me. It doesn’t tell me a story. It doesn’t get me to take action.

So, what could they have done?

· Firstly, think about your audience: in the first weeks of a new school term, you’ll have a set of new, engaged parents whose children have just started school. They will be reading everything they get thoroughly and ask questions. Think about how to set them off on the right foot and keep them engaged. You also need to consider the parents that have seen this email around 40 times already last year – so your experienced parents.

· Think of your key messages: to be fair ... they have this nailed…. Check your child’s hair at least once a week. If you see anything suspiciously itchy looking, read the attached leaflet and follow its instructions

· Tell the STORY: this is the one that makes you stop, think and take action. More often than not your story has to involve a person. A case study. Something hitting my emotional and personal feelings. Often referred to as ‘the feel good factor’ or in this case … the ‘feel yuck factor’ (the thought of animals in your hair surely freaks anyone out?!)

Case study approach In our example …. Show me mum or dad after a day at work washing their boy’s hair as he screams in the bath. Give me a quote from them or even better a photo of them battling nit-combs, head lice on the bathroom floor, washing all their boy’s teddies, changing the bed sheets, washing them at 10pm at night in order to be ready for the next day. See them then commence the same routine with any siblings and themselves. Tell me how the process took hours. Quote me the mum or dad’s words about how upset they were, when the boy came home two weeks later with another creature in their hair because his class-mate’s parents hadn’t checked them. Play on my guilt, my emotions, my “freak-out about actual animals living in my child’s hair”. Show me what happens if I don’t spend two minutes of my day, once a week, to take a quick peek.

This is telling a story. You can tell a story about everything. Anything. People want to read about people.

Think before your post We like facts. We know that we need to hear or read a message on average seven times, before we remember, resonate or understand it. We get bombarded with messages. Anyone can write facts, but consider your audience. Consider what resonates with them. And think about what action you’d like them to take.

Yes, it will take longer to prepare than your ‘straight-forward’ quick communications …. BUT it will attract a more engaged audience and resonate with them better. It’s worth the investment in you want your message to be heard, understood and actions to be taken.

If you need ideas to tell your story, please do get in touch!