Storytelling Basics: Keep it Simple and Sincere

December 20, 2016 Nerissa Martin

storytelling

While most of our customers were away from the office celebrating Thanksgiving late in November, the Success Team at Uberflip was busy reflecting on the year past and the year to come.

We were invited to hang out at Steelcase’s office in Toronto's financial district (where they film Suits) to talk accomplishments, goals, and hear from Gale Moutrey, the company’s VP of Communications.

Gale has been at Steelcase since 1984, and in that time has watched trends come, go and stay. Plus, she’s Sam’s mom, so we were extra excited.

She explained an old principle in communications that’s getting new attention, called ‘Quantum Storytelling’. In simple terms, Quantum Storytelling is less about the story, and more about the audience.

Here the word ‘audience’ is almost too broad. For content marketers, quantum storytelling means creating content with a story that the reader, or consumer, can see themselves in – this is essential to any story. 

Another Way of Saying the Same Thing

Yes, you think to yourself, this feels familiar.

And you’re right – at the core, quantum storytelling is another way to think of knowing and targeting an audience.

So you’re already doing this, right? You’ve already figured out your target audience and are keeping them engaged by creating content that speaks directly to them?

The problem with creating content that an individual person can relate to is that content will by default exclude other people. And this might mean excluding people we don’t want to exclude, or not hitting the right target. Or including less-than-ideal leads.

Doing the Right Research

At Steelcase, Gale had us use a tool (no, not an app) that we decided was something like a pegboard. The exercise was designed to get us thinking about our workspace and how each of us felt about important things, like privacy.

My results looked something like:

After everyone’s peg boards were hung up, we all understood Steelcase’s story and mission, and we understood quantum storytelling.

Gale had given us a way to think about our office design and furniture (what Steelcase does) in ways that helped us understand the connection between people, place, and performance.

Storytelling Made Simple

How does this fit in with how we create content? Gale and her team at Steelcase created a mini-book, Storytelling Made Simple, that makes it… simple.

In it, storytelling is broken down into three steps: Prepare, Practice, and Present. Here’s a breakdown of each step, and how you can use it to create great content.

Step One: Prepare, or Get Ready

Telling great stories is about pulling in and engaging the audience – forming a story that people connect with and want to share.

As with any piece of content, creating great content requires preparation. You must know what matters to your audience, the information they’re looking for and questions they have.

You need to know what they want to hear, and how the information they have and don’t have may change their assumptions and biases. With the right research, the other steps come together easily.

Remember: If you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready, ok?

Step Two: Practice, or Get It Together

Gale believes a crucial step to great storytelling is practice, even though this piece of advice appears to be for communicators who are going to speak to an audience, anyone who creates content can get some value out of practice.

Consider the context. Sometimes people are so focused on the story or presentation they overlook that they may need to say / do something beforehand.

This idea can be applied to content you create for a blog or online resource as well: don’t be so focused on what you’re trying to say that you forget about context.

This could be a larger context, such as a major technological development that has the potential to completely change your industry or something on a smaller scale like a development that will impact a small group of your clients.

Another example of advice that falls under ‘practice’ is being careful with humor. Sometimes it’s good to check with coworkers before releasing something that may cross a boundary, but often what’s actually funny comes down to instinct and the willingness to laugh at anything (including yourself).

Step Three: Present, or Serve Content

Just because we work in content marketing doesn’t mean we’re not constantly learning about how we can ‘do’ content better.

This is where we creative types shine – in attracting and keeping a reader’s attention without resorting to over-the-top antics while providing useful and relevant information.

I think the best piece of advice from Storytelling Made Simple is in this paragraph: “People can smell a fake, so if it’s not natural for you, don’t do it.”

It doesn’t happen all the time, but most often the type of content that gets shared, reposted, and imitated is authentic content. It’s the reason ‘Story Time’ exists on YouTube.

Bringing authenticity to talking about content brings us back around to quantum storytelling – in short, being able to really connect with your audience means being able to honestly connect to experience.

Sticky Stories: Putting It All Together

Every great story is prepared, practiced, and presented. Each step in the process is going to look different for you and your audience, depending on the story, how you’re telling it, and who’s listening.

But without honesty, your stories won’t connect. Regardless of whether or not you complete each step in the process, you have to be authentic with your message. Otherwise…

Get more insight on how to create compelling content in The Ultimate Guide to Content Creation eBook.

About the Author

Nerissa Martin

Nerissa is a freelance writer who spent nearly two years on the Customer Success team at Uberflip, managing the Knowledge Base and helping customers with Hubs and Flipbooks. Now she helps marketers connect to audiences with content that relieves, empowers, excites and inspires.

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