If you ask a child if they would like you to read a spreadsheet to them before bed, odds are they’re going to say no.
They would rather go straight to bed than listen to that.
But if you ask: “Would you like me to read you a story?” Well, they’ll be ready for it, any time of the day or night.
We all love the journey of a story. We remember them. We know exactly what the flow needs to be, what the important steps in the story are.
Even my four-year-old son will correct me if I’m making up a story and I haven’t hit the right elements that every story needs to have. He’ll say, “Oh, daddy, you didn’t make it hard enough for the dragon today. Don’t you remember that he’s supposed to do this and that before he can get to the end?”
He’ll tell me it was too easy. “You need to do the story again.”
We know these critical story elements from a very young age, which means we need to make sure that whenever we’re sharing information and ideas that we’re still using a storytelling format. It’s how the human brain engages and memorizes best.
That being said, there are a few best practices to follow when you’re writing stories. Here are a few to get you started:
1. Remember: You’re Engaging A Human, Not Doing Data Transfer
What the human brain needs is always big picture first, then details, then actions.
To get started with your business story you can ask yourself a couple questions:
- What is the background story behind this information?
- What’s the bigger context?
- How is this process going to benefit the reader or listener?
- What is the journey it’s going to help them on?
- How will it help their life?
Basically, you’re priming the reader’s brain to answer the question: “Why on earth should I read this?”
You need to create a journey through the information. Give people the contextual story at the start of a presentation or report. Then take them on a journey where A happens, which leads to B, and then eventually leads to C.
For example, you could say: “As you may remember, six months ago, we all got together and we were discussing this particular challenge.” Then describe the future you are all aiming towards. Finally describe the journey that will take you there, using your data and facts to support your story.
2. Provide An Action Step At The End
Once you’ve told your story, you can’t just default to a fairy tale “and they all lived happily ever after.” Nor can you say, “That’s it, any questions?”
You have to give people an action at the end. You have to give them a step to take in order to keep momentum going.
Start out with priming people for reading, then ending with what they need to do next. Think, “this is what you need to do about this. This is the next step of the journey after you’ve heard the process.”
3. Craft A Compelling Headline
One of the biggest keys to getting people to engage with your story is to make sure the headline grabs them in the first place.
If you gather process data, case studies, spreadsheets, and information to give to people, but you title the email “systems update 9.07,” no one is going to read it.
Your headline has to be the immediate reason they should read your document. It should generally be either a statement of action — this is what you’ll need to do when you finish reading this email — or how they will benefit from the information.
Once you’ve got the headline, then you can go through your email or document and just strip out anything that doesn’t help what you’ve set up.
Essentially, everything you do in a written story is going to come back to that central point, which is the main core feeling or action you want your reader to take away when they’ve finished.
Because we’re not robots. We are not ‘human doings’, we are human beings. We are emotional, even when we receive written information. We love reading stories that change our emotions.
If you can do this with your data, facts and ideas we will be compelled to listen.
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