Every once in a while I read an article or listen to a lecture that really sweeps me off my feet. I try to determine the unique element that keeps me so focused on the information I’m getting, and I think one of the most important ingredients of this success recipe is good storytelling. So, what does the word “storytelling” mean? Why is it so important? How can we use it? I took these questions for a little online reading aside my coffee and I’d like to share with you my insights.
So, what is storytelling?
When I want to define something to myself and to other people, firstly I search the term on Wikipedia. So, here’s what I got:
Storytelling is the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, often with improvisation, theatrics, or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and instilling moral values. Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters and narrative point of view. The term ‘storytelling’ is used in a narrow sense to refer specifically to oral storytelling and also in a looser sense to refer to techniques used in other media to unfold or disclose the narrative of a story.
Well, a bit general, but, as you can see, the emphasized text explains that the elements of storytelling are plot, characters and narrative point of view. These are principles that we should stick to if we want to succeed at storytelling.
Examples & Inspiration
A storyteller isn’t always this old man who gathers everybody around the bonfire and tells them stories about the mythology. Storytellers can be comedians, designers, musicians.
For example, the beauty about Louis CK’s jokes is that you don’t feel you’re listening to a joke, you feel like you’re listening to a very funny story by a friend. The joke is real and you can relate to Louis’ point of view. Plus, the characters and the environment are familiar — he often talks about himself or his family, and describes the whole “scene”.
Why should I invest in telling a story?
Storytelling makes your message much more relatable and clear to the other side. A piece of information, when told as a story, is much more interesting and likely to capture the audience’s attention, than the same information when presented as plain data. The personal perspective of telling a story establishes trust between the storyteller and the audience, and motivates them, and — I think this is the most wonderful aspect about it — it involves the audience’s right side of the brain. This side of the brain controls our emotions and is more likely to be persuaded. Many experiments show that we often decide not from a rational place (left side of the brain), but from an emotional place (right side of the brain). Therefore, by approaching people’s emotional side, we’re more likely to convince them that our message is genuine.
Storytelling and design
Many products use the elements of storytelling to build a better and deeper relationship with their users. A good story creates a better connection between the user and the product’s goal — given a story, the user will be more focused and feel more obligated to complete the task. Not to mention how fun is an addition of a good story to a product. For instance, check out Bellroy’s wallet – there’s much more than an ad there.
How to do it?
I’ve searched for tips, read articles, took a quick crash course in storytelling and got you 7 major tips to become better at storytelling:
1. Use graphics
The human mind processes visuals much faster than text. A beautiful way to deliver a large amount of boring data is using infographics, which are a graphical and quick way to represent data.
2. Bring your own story
No two people think the exact same way, and thus no two people tell a story the exact same way. Bring your own perspective and your own personal touch for the story. By being personal you build trust and connection with your audience.
3. Use “What if…”
I watched an awesome storytelling course by “Pixar in a Box”, and in one of the chapters they tell you to think of a movie you like as a “What if…” question. For instance — Spider Man will be “What if some guy was bitten by a spider and then gets spider abilities?”. Thinking in a “What if…” format opens up your creativity and imagination. Try to convert your favorite movie to a “What if…” question.
4. Keep it short
Do you know that feeling when you’re sitting with someone who tells you a story that you’ve already got the point of, and doesn’t stop talking even though you really really want her/him to? Great. Don’t be that person when you’re telling your story. Be focused on what’s relevant. If we’re talking about visual storytelling, use design principles to create that focus — right colors, shapes, grid…
5. Create a narrative
Remember, a story has a plot — from its beginning to its end. Make your audience a part of that plot. This could be used by many elements such as a timeline, a game or a character accompanying the audience.
6. Get inspired by the great storytellers
When I studied this subject, I stumbled upon a lot of information and tips by Pixar studios. When you think about it, Pixar studios are amazing in telling a story, and they can teach us so much about it.
7. Give value
Ask yourself what does your story give to your audience — A tool for handling things better, an emotional feeling, a new perspective on life? Keep that in your head while telling your story.
Let’s sum it up
Being a good storyteller is a skill that’s really worth working on, whether we’re talking about design, presentation, and even simple social skills. There are many ways to improve this skill, and they will all finally create a better product. Try to look in a more storytelling-ish way on things and it will finally make your products better, in a way.
Have you seen any examples of a product that uses a good storytelling? Tell me about it in the comments!