Storyselling: Why Storytelling Isn’t Enough for Effective Communication

Posted by on July 20, 2015

Five techniques you can learn and apply today

By Dione Martin

I’ve beenstorytelling image hearing – and talking – a lot about storytelling lately. One of my colleagues is taking a “Story” course at SMU. I was meeting with a client recently and was explaining the approach we’ll take for telling their story on their new website. And, a couple of weeks ago, I opened an email offering a “Storytelling for Communicators Workshop.” So, when I saw Dallas IABC’s monthly luncheon would focus on the topic, I had to sign up.

The presenter, Brad Cope, director of marketing at HMS Holding, has a new approach – one that goes beyond injecting “once upon a time” and following a narrative. He believes what’s lacking is “storyselling” – a component that entices audiences to read. His session focused on five secrets to full-solution storyselling starting with the introduction:

  1. Startling assertions. Use a shocking lead-in that demands attention. For example, “Titanic: Unsinkable ship sinks,” or “Tom Brady says he won’t watch Super Bowl.” According to Jason James’ article, “6 Tips to Creating Killer Introduction Paragraphs,” shocking revelations do well because we’re wired psychologically to respond to them.
  1. Bam. Bam. Bam. This technique utilizes a roundup lead featuring material that’s scattered over time or dispersing one idea geographically. Want to see how it’s done? A story about electromedicine might begin as follows:

At St. Barnabas Hospital in New York, Dr. Walter Fennimore is using a tiny brain-pacemaker for patients with drug-resistant epilepsy. Teams of nerve doctors at UCLA are helping accident victims regain use of limbs by using minute pulses of electricity. Meanwhile, in Paris, the U.S. Army is researching techniques of sending wounded soldiers to sleep without the use of drugs.

  1. Recap. Here, we tap into something cultural or historical to hook and pull audiences in. Take the same electromedicine story mentioned above. The introduction could begin something like this:

Passing small currents through the brain from electrodes attached to the head by a metal band may sound like something out of a Frankenstein movie, but that’s what’s happening at UCLA where teams of nerve doctors are helping accident victims.

  1. Profiles. Featuring small things about big people is another good way to lure an audience. Exhibit A: Did you know George Clooney likes bagels with honey for breakfast? (I just made that up, but you get the point.)
  1. Anecdotes. To give a story more dynamism, set a scene. Take HP, for example, which started in a garage. Brad explains, “If ‘did you hear…?’ precedes a story, that could be grounds for a great anecdote.”

While Brad first began using these tools at national magazines, he’s spent the last decade using them to deliver measurable results at B2C, B2B and B2G companies.

During the Q&A, one attendee offered another great tip from screenwriting guru and creative writing teacher, Robert McKee: conflict. McKee believes a story does not exist without this key element. Using controversy and weighing in on topics like politics, money, religion and health can generate conversation and increase engagement.

Do you have any tricks or techniques you use when storytelling – or storyselling?


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