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Five steps to using story to influence

"The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come." – Steve Jobs Sound appealing? Here are five steps to getting started with story.

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“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.” – Steve Jobs

Storytelling has been around for as long as humans have. In fact, it’s how we pass down crucial information between generations to ensure the survival of our species. Which is why it’s 22x more impactful than any other form of communication.

… and the power of authenticity

“In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.” – Howard Schultz.

Authenticity is about being genuine, vulnerable, and open. The best story characters in the world are well-rounded and human, which means they have flaws. That’s why we love them (often long after the story has finished).

Here are five simple steps to incorporate story and authenticity to your work and your writing.

1. Know your character

Think of three or four words to describe your favourite movie character. What makes them distinct? What makes you like them (and dislike them)?

Apply this exercise to yourself: if you were a character in a movie, how would people describe you? What makes you different from other characters?

2. Cut out the generic

As Dave Grohl once said, “No one is you and that is your biggest power”.

Ask yourself: If your 3-5 words could also be used to describe anyone else, change them. Get to something much more real and true.

Avoid words like: hard working, fun, clever

Use words more like: bulldozer, maverick, quirky

3. “Show, don’t tell” your character

In fiction and drama, our heroes do not tell us who they are, they show it in the way they react to situations and the choices they make. It’s the same for you.

Think about the language and behaviour of different characters. If you are true to your character, how would you communicate? (spoiler alert: it’s not corporate jargon).

A good starting point for this is to write as you’d say it:

1. Don’t try and sound smart

2. Use everyday language

3. Inject some personality: be human

4. Avoid lengthy sentences

5. Be vulnerable.

Ask yourself: How do you communicate with personality? How do you show your character in your writing?

4. Know the basic story types

Story plots are used to guide the audience’s reaction to the story. Once you know and understand these story plots, you can use them to influence how your audience feels about what you’re saying.

A few of the big story plots are:

  1. Origin stories: Help connects the dots between the past and future to show the main character’s ‘why’. The audience feels curiosity and understanding.
  2. Rags to riches: The main character acquires (and then loses) wealth, power or a partner… they regain it again when they become a better person. The audience feels empathy and empowerment.
  3. The quest: The main character sets out to acquire something important, facing many obstacles along the way. The audience feels restless and ready for the journey ahead.
  4. Rebirth: Something significant forces the main character to change their ways, making them a better person. The audience feels hope for a second chance.
  5. Overcoming the monster: The main character sets out to defeat a force for evil that’s threatening them or their home. The audience feels outrage and then achievement.

5. Develop your basic story plots

Now that you understand how each story makes the audience feel, think about stories that you can tell at certain opportunities. Your origin story, for example, is good for job interviews or your LinkedIn profile. Quest stories are good to rally a team towards a common purpose. And overcoming the monster stories are brilliant for taking people through change.

Start with your origin story and go from there (If it helps, just think of your favourite superhero).

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