Community//

3 Fundamental Truths About Good Storytelling

Lessons learned in 20+ years of storytelling for families and businesses.

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Iceberg in water photo by Derek Oyen
Photo by Derek Oyen

I’ve been helping people share stories about their lives and their companies for 20 years. As my team and I apply our story chops to projects of all shapes and sizes, we come back to the same three core principles again and again. I want to share them with you here, in the hopes that they will inspire you to start telling your great stories.

1. Anyone Can Tell Stories

Truly. It’s a practice that takes time, but we all have the skills required already. To become good at it just takes discipline. One thing that intimidates many people is they feel that others do it better. But this is true in every aspect of life: would you never pick up a tennis racket because you’re unlikely to be as good as Roger Federer or Serena Williams? Mostly, when people compare themselves to “storytellers,” they’re holding up the wrong role models anyway. There is a difference between somebody who loudly tells anecdotes at a cocktail party – which is not necessarily good storytelling – and somebody who relays a piece of information in a way that is memorable and moving, which is good storytelling. Most people think they should be the former and that only extroverts can tell stories… but we teach our clients a simple methodology that anyone can learn. We are storytelling experts not because we have access to some greater power or some preternatural gift or (just) loud voices. We’re experts at this because we’ve been practising it for years. You can be too, and today is the perfect day to begin.

2. Great Stories Run Deep

Life is like an iceberg: what we see all around us is such a small part of the full story. So much of ECHO’s work is about revealing at least some of the rest. It’s all about diving below the surface for those inevitable moments of conflict, for the emotion behind the plot points. This is true in our book projects for corporate clients and personal memoirs, and equally true in our digital work, our storytelling training work, and our brand story work.

In our meeting room, we have our favourite Maya Angelou quote printed and mounted five feet high: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.” Angelou knew that what connects us more than anything else is emotions. Sharing how we felt about key moments in our personal or company history are so critical to building those bonds between you and your audience.

It’s why we take our clients on a journey that guides them through intimate, honest questions. It’s easier to skim the surface but if your goal is to connect deeply with your audience, whether it’s your customers, your employees, or your grandchildren, the effort to go deeper will pay off in exponentially rewarding ways.

3. Tough Stories Are True Stories

Clients are often fearful of appearing vulnerable, upsetting shareholders or muddying their communication messages. They’re used to burying “negative” things in favour of unrealistically positive marketing. This may be good PR, but it’s lousy storytelling. We understand that revealing a time when you stumbled can be a little scary. But if you describe a time when you or your team worked to overcome something, your audience will root for you. Even better, they’ll relate to you. After engaging with your authentic story, they’ll feel that you’re more trustworthy, credible, strong and inspiring than if you’d pretended your story was “it was good, it got better, the end.” Deep down, you know your audience wouldn’t believe that anyway.

For instance, one of our clients made it big many years ago. Like, $1 billion big. His company got an infusion of private capital, access to new markets, and unfettered growth that all added up to … bankruptcy. Ultimately he started over and rebuilt the business. Sure, they screwed up. But if you were looking to hire a firm with talent, grit, resilience and the honesty to own up to past mistakes, wouldn’t this story make you pick up the phone? As it happens, it made a lot of people pick up the phone. They recently hit the $1 billion mark again, and are set to post another year of record revenues as well as being named one of the Best Places to Work in Baton Rouge for the third year running.

Now that’s a happy ending.

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