Storytelling, Communication

By Ramz Shalbak

How many stories do you hear or watch every day whether it’s your favorite morning radio show or a five-second ad before a YouTube video? I am sure you would recall at least one.

Human beings have used storytelling for centuries as part of their communication behavior. Stories reflect personal experiences, feelings, cultures, and identities for different purposes, which unfold the power that stories have in persuading, informing, influencing, and motivating an action. Recently, the power of stories and storytelling gained recognition in the field of public relations, communication, and marketing. Let’s explore the importance of effective storytelling for a professional communicator.

In a 1992 study, Heath and Toth emphasized on the importance of understanding and utilizing stories in public relations saying that the reason “perspectives become widely believed is because they are embedded into stories that are told over and over through interpersonal conversation and mass media”. Nowadays, communication and public relations strategists use storytelling in all sectors as a tool to reach out to the public and influence their behavior and perhaps motivate change.

So why is storytelling important in Professional Communication?

Studies have shown that an effective use of storytelling has a direct impact on the recipient’s brain as it activates more areas than mere facts. Besides, stories are up to 22 times more memorable than facts or figures alone, which makes stories key to a successful product, service, or a brand awareness campaign. Therefore, storytelling is important to communication strategists because it enables companies and organizations to connect with their target audience and influence the audience’s feelings, ideas, behavior, and attitude in a desired way to achieve a certain goal if effectively utilized.

But what makes a communication professional a storyteller?

Successful communicators are storytellers who are able to utilize the available data on their audience’s behaviors to create persuasive content and employ well-crafted stories that capture the attention of the audience. Thus, to be an influential communicator, you need to know how to use words, images, motions, and sounds in the right balance to engage the audience in your story, while at the same time they are learning about your product, service, or brand.

Know your audience because one size doesn’t fit all:

It is vital to know who your target audience is and what their characteristics, behaviors, preferences, and choices are. Also, never take your audience for granted, but keep learning about them because their data is key. Communication strategists should be able to identify significant insights to develop powerful stories that serve their goals. For example, when advertising for a car brand like Volkswagen, the choice of the car model in the story may differ based on the demographic group you are targeting, where they live, their income level, and what they do in life. If you are able to answer few or all these questions, you increase the effectiveness of the story you are telling, and therefore, your audience is more likely to react to it in the pattern you expect.

Stay truthful:

Stay true to your brand and vision. It is very easy for storytellers to get carried away with their stories and shift from the core message of the brand behind their stories. Therefore, it is essential to ensure consistency with your brand and to always find a way to connect with the core message.

Choose a character your audience can identify to:

The audience likes to find an emotional connection with their favorite brands and to find themselves in the stories. Therefore, a good communication professional can personalize his/her message through a character that the audience may identify with. In the same example mentioned above on Volkswagen, your audience may identify with different choices of characters based on their identities and own characteristics.

Learn from successful examples, but be authentic:

There are many people who use storytelling in ways that proved to be successful, so why not learn from them? Well, this doesn’t mean copying their story and pasting your brand on it but rather finding an inspiration in their success. Being up-to-date with the new trends and successful examples is crucial to finding your own voice in a creative atmosphere.

Different channel, different toolkit:

The channel you are using to convey a story is an important factor to an effective engagement. Of course, it would have been much easier to just use the same story and format across all platforms. But luckily and unfortunately, your audience reacts and engages differently in each platform. In this digital age, more tools and platforms are available for companies and organizations to express themselves and tell their stories. Therefore, communication strategists should be familiar with platforms, appropriate toolkits, and how audiences act and react to them.

Resources:

Heath, R., & Toth, E. (1992). Rhetorical and critical approaches to public relations. 1992. New York & London: Routledge. What is storytelling. Retrieved from http://www.storynet.org/resources/whatisstorytelling.html

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