Five reasons to tell better stories

One of the defining challenges for business, and for business leaders, is now “explaining yourself to the Internet”. How do you get people to recognize and appreciate your unique value in the global maelstrom of competing claims and distractions? At an even more basic level, how do you explain to yourself (and to your own staff) what it is that makes you special?

Social media strategists will provide plenty of advice of course but the most effective strategy of all is millennia old. You need to tell great stories.

Why? Here are a few good reasons:

#1: Stories attract and hold attention

Attention is the single most precious commodity of the Internet Age. Everyone wants it and no one’s got enough of it. As individuals we manage this situation by being very, very quick to reject “attention thieves” who fail to quickly establish their relevance. The truly cool thing about a well-told story is that humans have an in-built bias towards listening to them. Once we’ve recognized that a story is being told we have an inherent need to listen until the story is resolved.

#2: Stories are efficient communication tools

At a high level there are really no new stories out there, so as soon as someone grasps what kind of story you are telling they can immediately fill in many of the blanks from well-known templates. This is crucially important in a time-poor world where people are typically reluctant to invest even a few minutes in coming to grips with the new and unfamiliar.

A story can be a laser drill, quickly embedding in the mind of the listener the reasons why you might matter to them.

#3: Stories are powerful filters

When you “put on” a story it provides a filter through which you see the world and the world sees you. If your story resonates with a hearer they, be they prospective customer, staff, partner, investor or other collaborator, will be inclined to move closer. If your story is not to their liking they will move on, and much time will be saved.

#4: Muddy or confused stories will alienate your audience

If you are unable to tell a clear and true story about yourself your audience (be it an audience you have or an audience you want) will tend to move on as soon as a more satisfying storyteller appears.

#5: Stories are where change starts

The stories we tell don’t just inform our audience, they inform us. A compelling, well-told story directs our attention to those things we most value or fear. Changing the story can change beliefs about what is important and deserving of future focus.

Gandhi is famously quoted as saying, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”

Great storiesThere’s one big BUT however. Your story has to be true.

On the Internet people generally believe what they see but doubt what they hear. In other words people will pay great credence to evidence of action but will give comparatively little weight to mere words. This matters because the Internet makes everything visible. Nothing will kill a brand more quickly than a claim of greatness proven hollow by real-world actions.

A compelling and well-told story backed by evidence stands every chance of being picked up and amplified by the various social media channels. A story told in apparent contradiction of real world behaviours is just marketing. And nobody pays any attention to marketing any more.

Barry Thomas

Barry Thomas

Chief Technical Officer
As AltusQ’s CTO Barry is mostly a "back room guy" but he also works with clients on questions of technology, story telling and social media.

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