Storytelling seems to be a buzzword these days. Everywhere you go, you hear about how important it is to tell your story. But what actually do they mean when they say that?
On the bobWP blog, we talk a lot about the tech side of business. We want to help you master those widgets and plugins. We are passionate about giving you the tools—the right tools—to confidently build and manage your WordPress blog or website.
But we also know that the tech component is just one piece of the puzzle. You can have the sharpest, most attractive and appealing site in the world but if you don’t have useful and interesting content, your readers don’t have a reason to stick around.
Because when is the last time you heard someone say, “Boy, BobWP’s home page is so pretty that I don’t really care that he has nothing worthwhile to say.”
That would be never.
One fact still holds true.
Content is huge.
And the way you deliver it makes the difference between people abandoning your site or bookmarking your posts, engaging with the community and eagerly returning to your site.
One tool to make your content irresistible is storytelling. As a blog content coach, I made a living showing business owners how to make their blogs do three things. I called them the 3 E’s: educate, engage and entertain.
And what a coincidence. That is exactly what good stories do.
In future posts, I’ll be talking more about the specifics: storytelling formats and formulas, how to appeal to the senses to make your stories memorable, ways to teach our readers through stories. But for now, I’m starting with a broad overview— the when, where and why of storytelling.
Why tell stories?
We tell stories to connect with our readers as fellow humans beings, to touch them at the gut level. We tell stories because they create the imagery and sensory details that help our customers remember us: who we are, what we stand for, even why they should do business with us.
The purpose of storytelling is not just to entertain; we can play a video game or watch a TV reality show for that.
(Well, not Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Maybe not that one.)
We tell stories to make a point: about our business, about what we believe to be true, about life itself. And the more intimately our readers and potential customers feel they know us, the more likely they will be to consider entering into a business relationship with us.
But don’t you have to make stuff up to write a story, you ask.
A satisfying story can come from real life. Authors of some of the best nonfiction stuff out there—memoirs, biographies of successful industry leaders, how-to business books—know how to tell a story that keeps us on the edge of our chairs and coming back for more, like those tortilla chips you can’t get enough of at your favorite Mexican restaurant.
What’s your story?
The best stories, whether based on fiction or reality, make our reader say, yeah, I’ve done that, said that, felt that before. Or, I have that exact same problem and I’ve been itching to get rid of it.
We hang in through the whole blog post because we need to know the ending.
But most of all, we need to know the point of the story.
What if you have no story?
Don’t worry. You have a story. Unless your business popped into existence from a planetary void, part of the messy big bang, you have a story.
In fact, you are sitting on a lot of good stories. Whatever business you are in—web design, sales consulting, business coaching, speaking, ‘lawyering,’ selling shoes or something else— you have stories just waiting to be told.
Whether in a blog post, on your about page or on your business’s static website, there are a bucketful of ways to weave storytelling into your online content.
5 ways to infuse storytelling into your online content
1. Tell us a story that has a point.
If you are a random creative as I am, if your mind wanders and one idea triggers another, and another and another, you might want to nail down the point of your story before you start. Because as one of my favorite southern writers, Flannery O’Connor, famously said:
“A story is a full action with a point.”
Your point is your theme, your story’s reason for being. Scribble it down. Keep it on a sticky note on your computer screen so it is staring you in the face as you write. Scrawl it in big, angry letters, all capitals if you must, so you can’t escape its gaze.
You may be solving a problem for your reader, in which case the solution you arrived at is your point. It’s the takeaway for me, your reader—something I can pick up, tuck under my arm, and use to make my own miserable existence better.
Without a point, you are just wandering in the desert. And no one, not one single one of us, is foolish enough to follow you for that. We have plenty of our own days of drought and meandering through the meaningless mazes of life.
2. Find something extraordinary in the ordinary.
What if a messy winter storm and an extended power outage on your little island brought you an a-ha moment, a piece of self discovery about building an online community , one that you just needed to share?
Maybe it was a shiny nugget you picked up on on a mundane trip to the grocery store to grab a jar of marinara sauce.
Or that time in Starbucks when that guy at the next table said something so profound that you just had to scribble it down and it became a standing quote in your next blog post.
3. Send a major character packing.
Go ahead, do it. To make it more intriguing, let’s make that character the brand new baby in someone’s family. In your family.
Using the analogies of teenager (our longstanding, successful marketing business) and baby (our attention-hungry, needy new venture), I wrote a blog post about our decision to cut the strings on our second business.
Because our readers either had their own children or had been a sibling in a family, they could instantly relate. Our over-achieving adolescent child stood in the corner and glared at us as all our attention was directed to the new baby, who always needed something: food, a diaper change, a bandaid when he fell.
As the story ended, we, the parents, decided to give the little one away to focus all our energies on our gifted but neglected older daughter, the business we had nurtured for 17 years. Months later, people were still asking us, “So, how’s the teenager doing?”
They remembered the blog post because of the story.
4. Introduce a new sub-plot.
Your business travels along in the same way the plot of a story does. One thing happens, which causes another thing to happen, and on it moves, often quite predictably.
But sometimes there is a new development. You might call it a sub-plot or a plot twist. It could be a new product or service you are launching. Or maybe you have hired a new crackerjack of a manager who comes to your company with his or her own backstory.
These are prime opportunities to tell more stories.
5. Teach us with a parable that extracts a universal truth from a real-life event.
A parable? Couldn’t I start with something easier, you say.
The nice thing about a parable is that it helps us see the concept clearly, in a non-threatening way, without naming people and real companies.
When you get the hang of them, they are really quite simple. Just take a real life event and place it in a new setting, with new characters. As my friends Danny Brown and Brian Crouch discovered, the lessons are so much easier to grasp.
It’s your turn now.
What if you made a list of all the things about your business that could be material for a story?
Are you getting ready to birth a new product or service?
Do we know the stories behind some of your key staff (or you)?
Do you have a business mascot and what is the story behind that? What about your business name?
Can you share a story you already told that brought your readers closer to you and your business?