Think back to the last story you told.
Depending on the definition used, it may mean mining through dozens of encounters and conversations, from explaining a technical concept to recalling a juicy conversation with a friend. Indeed, stories are so intertwined within human life that it is virtually impossible to convey an idea of more than a sentence or two without slipping into one.
Stories are central to changes in business, the emergence of new products and our own professional journeys. Our role in public relations is to translate events and developments into messages and mediums that audiences understand and want to engage with. Stories are how we meet the public where they are. But with so many floating around, coinciding with a limited collective attention span, three keys can open the door to next-level storytelling.
Management consultant Peg Neuhauser once conducted an experiment with an MBA class asked to assess the potential of certain types of wine production. Split into three groups, one was told a story about a traditional method of production, one that ended with the statement, “My father would be so proud to sip this wine.”
Another group was fed a story and statistics. The third received the statistics alone. Only the first group believed the winery would be successful, with the others stuck arguing about the right way forward.
Knowing what sticks
The first key, to borrow a term popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, is to focus on what sticks. It may sound like painfully obvious advice. But everyone in public relations, regardless of experience level, is all too familiar with the frustration of unanswered media pitches, or launches and events that fall short of ambitious goals. Often, though, the point isn’t that a story is told, but rather how.
Focusing on the details
The second key is to absorb lessons from good storytellers anywhere, anything from a TED Talk or compelling work of fiction recently read or even a politician with strong public speaking skills.
The substance of their words is not the point, but what lies in between. How are their ideas being delivered? Where in their message is the hook that pulls the audience in? These details are frequently as critical, if not more so, than the message itself as to how it resonates. Anything that engages emotion, particularly happiness and humor, while staying grounded in the facts, results in a strong outcome.
Bridging to your goal
The third key is to bridge your goals, or those of your clients, with those of your desired audience. This is a good guard against fluff in messaging. As much as possible, there should be one or two key takeaways, as opposed to several that may be forgotten. These should answer the question of “Why?”
Why is the message important, and why should audiences pay attention? This is especially true when you are telling your own story as a leader, speaking to your team or peers. The “why” of my personal story, from mentoring young women in my community to launching a boutique PR firm in the middle of a pandemic, is about the resilience inside all of us, and leading not only by example but through helping others ensure their own light shines.
Better stories make the world a more interesting place. They also help businesses deliver what their customers and members of the public need — and are a natural and straightforward method for reputation building.
Arguably, more compelling storytelling is what defines a next-level PR career, one that ensures our clients (and ourselves) are always at the center of where the action is.
This article originally appeared in PRSA Strategies & Tactics.