Recognise those two little waifs in this lovely picture (©Sarah Frank) ?
Of course you do. It’s Hansel and Gretel, trotting off to meet their fate in a big black cauldron in the kitchen of a cottage cunningly constructed of candy sticks and gingerbread.
So what is it about this story — or any other fairy story — that means you remember it from all those years ago?
It’s my journalistic belief that all good stories — whether in a children’s book, a news bulletin or a business website — depend upon four principles. Happily, they all begin with P.
Let me share some thoughts on the first P — leaving you more able to tell stories in your business, and communicate so much more powerfully with your clients, your customers, your staff and your stakeholders.
(And in my next three short articles, I’ll share thoughts on the others. Spoiler Alert — I don’t like to be a tease — they are: Pictures … Place … and Peril!)
So. The first P stands for … People
People relate to people. People do business with People. People make the world go around. Whichever cliche you choose, it’s living, breathing, blood-pumping people who lie at the heart of all the greatest stories.
Stories from our childhood bed. Stories from the Bible or Koran. Stories from history. And yes, stories from the news.
The first impulse of any journalist when tasked with telling a story about, say, hospital waiting lists is … to find a person who’s on one.
If it’s a really complicated story about data protection regulations, the reporter will be off to track down the victim of a breach.
A local campaign to cut the speed limit on a country road? Look! That journalist’s already on the phone to the organiser asking to speak to the person who had the accident that triggered the campaign.
Let’s apply that to your business.
You run a cloud-based web solutions software firm? Hmm, not much of a story there yet. But what about the person who founded it? What drove her to do so? How much risk did she take to get there? How many hours has she put in? There’s the beginning of your story.
You’ve just launched a new product that (whisper it) is a bit similar to your rival’s? Where’s the story that will make it different? Track down the person who designed/built/prototyped (you fill in the gap) your product. How proud were they when they nailed it! Tell their story. Own that story.
Let’s say your audience is internal — it’s your 75 staff, who you just know are going to be bored rigid by the new Health and Safety protocols you’re about to announce. You know what to do. Find someone whose working life will be safer as a result. Tell that story. Then share the details of those protocols.
It’s not self-indulgent. It’s not vain. But it does require effort.
There’s another word that journalists use for these people at the heart of their storytelling. It’s a word you know and use all the time too.
So if it helps to change your mindset, replace the la-de-da phrase ‘story telling’ with the in-your-face phrase ‘case-study hunting’ … and you’re on the way to engaging much more powerfully with your audiences.
You don’t need two doomed children in a deep dark forest to capture your audience with a good story.