“Storytelling” has long been a buzzword in the marketing and copywriting industries. Whether you love the term or shun it for its overuse, storytelling has remained popular for a good reason. Stories connect with audiences in ways that facts alone can’t. Good stories capture an audience’s attention, imagination, and heart. They can also compel an audience to act—to buy a product, subscribe to a service, or recommend a brand to a friend.
But it is one thing to boast the benefits of storytelling and another to create a truly good story. Writers and marketers know this well. Here are four fresh storytelling tips for your next project, thanks to Will Storr’s The Science of Storytelling[i] and How to Tell a Story by staff at The Moth.[ii]
#1: Make the stakes crystal-clear
Audiences need a reason to care about the story. Outlining the stakes clearly and early will capture your audience’s attention. Storr explains this as our evolutionary reaction to change—when something changes, we sit up and listen, as our survival used to depend on it.
Here’s a real-world example of defining stakes. We recently put together a case study on an innovative solution a Ph.D. student developed for collecting data. We could have just written, “he didn’t have time to collect data manually.” Instead, we explained that it would hold back his research by years, stalling his academic career and the time it took to develop a much-needed treatment pathway for seriously ill people. Explaining the stakes (years of a person’s life, science, public health) made for a much more interesting and compelling story.
#2: Don’t sacrifice detail for word count
Experts often say shorter copy is always better. This adage is true to an extent, but sometimes expanding the word count (judiciously) to flesh out a story pays off. Storr explains that details help ground a story—they help our brains better grasp what is going on.Including more information, such as a brief description of a place, allow the audience to see what makes the story unique and memorable.
#3: Let the audience in
It’s easy to tell a story in a way that forces audiences to make certain conclusions. However, this doesn’t make for a compelling story. The audience needs room to insert their perspective into the story. This could be as simple as crafting your story to allow the audience to be the heroes or not blatantly stating a conclusion.
#4: Spice it up with vulnerability
The Moth staff members see authenticity as vital to a good story. The audience will tune out if something feels fabricated. That’s why being vulnerable with a study, including flaws in processes and feelings such as fear or defeat, is important. They write:
“Our opinions may be different, but we all know excitement, disappointment, dreams, and regrets.” -Bowles et al, 2022
Maybe the team tried one solution, which was turned into a flop, before they got to the product they were selling. Mentioning their “failure” will help people remember their victory. Storr explains that flawed characters are the most compelling. They build solidarity and can convert audiences into becoming your brand’s allies and cheerleaders.
Highlighting stakes, incorporating grounding details and vulnerability, and including your audience make for more compelling storytelling. Try one or all four fresh takes the next time you write a case study, create a presentation for a conference, or give a toast at Thanksgiving dinner.
[i]Storr W. The Science of Storytelling: Why stories make us human and how to tell them better. Harry N. Abrams; 2020.
[ii]Bowles M, Bruns C, Hixson J, et al. How to tell a story: The essential guide to memorable storytelling from The Moth. Crown; 2022.