We have no power over the emotions of others. Our sphere of influence resides in the process we use to get to outcomes ― that is what is within our control. The pendulum seems to have swung in everything-is-data-driven direction. But facts, or data points, do nothing without a story that communicates meaning.
Stories work because they're memorable and contain emotional information.
We tell stories all day long — to make sense of the world, and to connect with others. Integrity of storyteller and story are essential in business. To share ideas, present a strategy, and collaborate with a group we tell stories.
The decline and fall of content
If you're tired of hearing about content when we talk about communication, you are not alone. The word content is a catch-all shortcut that tends to include everything we say, publish, and share often to get attention.
Some estimates say that up to 70 percent of all business content is never read by its intended audience. Yet we still want to learn, understand, figure things out, and improve in the things we do. What we don't need is marketing fluff.
We all need ― your customers included — access to information that is more appropriate to our situation and can help up make better decisions about the right product, service, or company. We want information that is easier to understand and helps us master what we're after ― photography, gardening, motorcycle maintenance.
Truth in storytelling
Sometimes quality entertainment is helpful as well. Utility and value go hand in hand.
For anything we write to resonate, it needs to speak to fundamental truths of human desire and ambition. Entrepreneur Peter Gruber wrote about the four truths of great stories#.
“Over the years, I’ve learned that the ability to articulate your story or that of your company is crucial in almost every phase of enterprise management,” he says. Stories inspire, educate, involve, and attract. Great stories connect with us emotionally and call us to action.
The four truths of great stories are:
1. Great stories are true to the audience.
Before they can go on a journey with you, people check to see if you get them. What are the beliefs, expectations, and needs of the people you are looking to attract? Then meet them where they are and start a conversation.
“Listeners give the storyteller their time, with the understanding that he will spend it wisely for them.” When we try stories out, we should observe for reactions — and be receptive to the emotional needs of our listeners and meeting them with integrity.
We underestimate the role of products in our storytelling. Fashion brands tell stories with their new product lines. Motorcycle companies build their story with their riders. People are the heroes, not the product, nor the company.
2. Great stories are true to the moment.
To be relevant and resonate, both the story and how you tell it must connect to the context of the current situation—in time and place. What's unique in this moment? The telling of a story changes based on the environment where you tell it.
We can be spontaneous and thoughtful at the same time.
3. Great stories are true to you.
The best stories are told with strong integrity from the teller. Sometimes this means saying things the audience doesn't expect or want to hear. Walking the talk is critical to be believable.
When you tell a story, whether it describes an actual experience or not, you must speak with conviction and authentic voice.
4. Great stories are true to a higher ideal.
The true power of a great story is that it delivers a moral or a lesson for the audience to take away with them. The emotional component of the story is the vehicle that makes that moral stick. We embrace the passion of great storytellers, and their belief.
Gruber has a story to illustrate the value of these four truths.
In the mid-1980s at PolyGram, Gruber produced a television series called Oceanquest, which took a team of expert divers and scientists around the world—from Antarctica to Baja California to Micronesia—to film their aquatic adventures.
One of the critical segments for the series was to explore the forbidden waters of Havana harbor. You can imagine the bureaucracy… and the sentiment. Both the U.S. and the Communist regime of Fidel Castro wanted nothing to do with it.
As luck had it, with support from former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig, Gruber and crew managed to get permission from the U.S. State Department. But Cuba was elusive. So they took a shot at it and sailed over.
Castro got intrigued and decided to visit briefly with the crew, which immediately asked for permission to film on site. “El Presidente will be here for ten minutes only,” replied the functionary. “But you are certainly free to tell your story. Just remember, no autographs and no gifts.”
Gruber ended up engaging the Cuban leader with a passionate story about the role of Havana in commerce, diplomacy, intrigue, and war. The story connected with Castro's enthusiasm for scuba and his environmental advocacy.
Traits the crew discovered when he spent four hours with them, observing and playing with the equipment. “The seas belong to all humankind,” said Gruber, “and so does history. You are the steward of Havana’s history, and it is up to you to share it with the world.”
To summarize — go for quality over quantity, alignment before action, signal above noise, and strategy and tactics that drive results.