Jun. 11th The power of storytelling: Did I tell you the one about….?
TAKEAWAY: Nothing like a good story to engage us, regardless of the subject. Usually there are people in those good stories.
The incredible power of storytelling.
A piece in London’t The Guardian reminds us of this.
“Narratives as powerful as the Bible, to ancient myths and Shakespeare’s prose, speak to the heart, teaching us how to relate to one another and guiding us into action.”
The article, which applauds advertising messages that connect via a story—-as in a new, award winning Gatorade campaign-—states that
“for a brand to appeal to consumers and replicate this empowering engagement, its content must tell a story, one that draws us in….”.
Anyone who ever taught knows how important it is to engage the audience, to take them with you on the journey, seducing and sustaining their interest all the way.
From my early days teaching high school English at Miami Senior High (1969), to years of full time university teaching (Miami-Dade College, Syracuse University, University of South Florida) and what seems like a lifetime of conducting conferences and seminars for professionals at Poynter and beyond, one thing has always been very clear in my mind:
one must engage the audience with stories that live in the periphery of every subject.
Indeed, the presentation or class may be about typography for newspapers, or the use of color and white space on a magazine page, but those subjects must be peppered with stories, and it is through those that we draw the audience, and that the messages connect and stay.
Everyone likes a story. The best teachers and presenters are usually fantastic storytellers. It is through those stories that real connections are made with the audience, and, in my view, that real learning takes place.
Observe the human condition
In order to be a good storyteller, however, it is important to be a keen observer of what’s around us, and, particularly, of the human condition.
Sometimes I am dealing with the subject of designing down market tabloids in a conference, but before I get to the 10 points to remember, I will include a story about a couple of die hard tabloid editors I have met along the way. I weave their personalities, their quotes and even the decor of their offices into the presentation, and the rest is easy, and connects more directly.
(Yes, one of the most notable tabloid editors I ever worked with had a clock on the wall of two copulating hippos—very appropriate to how that editor’s tabloid identified itself!)
In my opinion, there are people connections to almost every subject.
It is the presenter—-the storyteller—-that must identify the human side of the specific subject and tell the story that goes with it.
Quite often I find people in our industry who sat through one of my presentations, and they approach me, years later, and mention a specific character which I had woven into the presentation.
They remember Amanda, Carmen, Cacao and Betty.
Did I tell you about….?
Some memorable ones….
Amanda Kackle—-When discussing readers’ habits I often mention the case of Amanda the cartoon character, a matronly looking every man’s aunt, as it appears on Austria’s Kleine Zeitung. Amanda, who wears an apron, as if she just steps out of her kitchen for a moment to say something timely and funny, usually about the story of the day, is beloved by all. So, when we redesigned that newspaper we tried to create a younger and more svelte Amanda: it did not work. Amanda was fine as she was, and readers told us not to mess with her image, apron and all.
In one of our projects for a regional daily in Argentina, we came across Carmen the editor with a heart—-she photoshopped her friends who had gotten a little large, and even superimposed ties on the shirts of a friend whom she thought was not properly dressed at a party. “What’s the damage done if we just make these people look better?,” Carmen often asked.
We reminded her that we are not here to make anyone look better or worse, just simply to report what IS. But she meant well!
Cacao, the Brazilian newspaper society editor—-who insisted that his column sig be the biggest, even if all column sigs in the newspaper were to be standardized.
“There is really no party in this city if Cacao is NOT there to cover it,” he would shout. “So my columnist signature needs to be bigger than the rest.”
And, often in discussions about the whims of editors and others about the selection of type I mention the story of Betty, the publisher’s mistress, who would whisper into my ear that the publisher had confided to her (in the shower) that he preferred one font over another as in “I think he will go for Helvetica if you push him a little harder, so keep trying.” Helvetica it was!
Amanda, Carmen, Cacao and Betty: their names and faces are wrapped around specific stories that I want those in my audience to remember and to take home with them.
The Guardian piece reminds us:
“To achieve true engagement, brands must wrap their products and services in a story,”
This is good advice for advertisers, also for those of us presenting information to an audience.
So many stories, so little time. Did I tell you the one about……?
Of interest today
- USA: Survey: Mobile users as likely to be print news subscribers as non-mobile users
The iPad Design Lab: Storytelling in the Age of the Tablet
Video walkthrough of the iPad prototype of iPad Design Lab
TheMarioBlog post #1035
Posted by Dr. Mario R. Garcia on June 11, 2012
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Dr. Mario R. Garcia
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A blog about storytelling, design, the projects we work on, the things we learn along the way. View all blog entries »
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