Story is an essential part of everything we do in life and in communications. Whether you’re a junior account exec explaining changes on a scope of work to a client, or a creative director pitching a new TV spot, your work can live or die based on how well you tell your story. But what makes for a great story?
The best stories are ones that invite the audience to step onboard for the journey and engage them right away. That’s why the first minute of any presentation is the most crucial. It’s within this first minute that clients decide whether they will be passive clients or collaborative partners, observers or journeymen.
A great many minds have waxed philosophic about the power of storytelling to move people and change behavior. History’s greatest orators and speakers were, in essence, gifted storytellers and all of them told stories that followed these three basic principles:
- Make them laugh, make them cry, but most of all make them care. Every decision you will ever make is based on emotion, not on reason. PET scans of the human brain show that decisions are processed in the area of the brain that is responsible for emotion (aka the amygdala) and then rationalized afterward, using reason (aka the prefrontal cortex). A simple way to make your clients care is to show them how much you care by telling your story as if it’s the last thing you thought about before you went to bed and the first thing you thought about when you woke up.
- Give them a call to adventure, complete with twists and turns. When you tell your clients about the journey you and your team went on to get where you landed, you are inviting them to join you on that journey. You’re also reminding them that they’re just looking at the tip of an iceberg, peeking out above a vast foundation of valuable team insights and back-story below. Sharing your team’s thinking process invites your clients to become collaborators. It also helps get them out of the weeds of the little details and refocused on the bigger picture. If you show your clients that you’re thinking big, you’ll inspire them to join you there.
- Give them a big payoff. They’ve earned it. There is nothing more frustrating than investing in a good story and getting to the end only to find it’s a lackluster ending with no clear resolution. Consider your favorite movie or favorite book. The best endings are those in which the plot points are well placed and the entire audience arrives at what feels like the “right” ending together. Of course, a great storyteller always knows the ending in advance, but allows the audience to feel like they would’ve written the same ending themselves.
When you have a story worth telling, your clients won’t just want to hear it, they’ll want to become part of it. Understanding these few basic storytelling principles can open up a parallel universe where every presentation is a powerful story and every client is on that journey with you.
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