The Difference Between Storytelling and Messaging

Storytelling and messaging are two different communication disciplines. But, you need both to ensure communications effectiveness.

According to the National Storytelling Association, storytelling is “the art of using language, vocalization, and/or physical  movement and gesture to reveal the elements and images of a story to a specific, live audience.”

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, messaging is a communication in writing, in speech, or by signals.

Those are good starts in understanding the difference. But, there is more.

The trend in storytelling for corporate and nonprofit work is on the rise. There is a good reason. After all, who doesn’t love a good story? It makes whatever you are seeking to communicate interesting and sometimes even entertaining. “Messaging” on the other hand has gotten a bad rap with many people in the business and nonprofit world believing it is old-school, 1960s Madison Avenue hype where a company makes up what they want people to believe. Maybe bad messaging is that. But, good messaging is far from the old days of marketing manipulation. (See our formula for a powerful message.)

Messaging — the craft of determining what you want to communicate very specifically — is equally important to storytelling.

While stories give a framework or environment for what you are trying to communicate, messages are clear, specific thoughts on what you are seeking to deliver. To sum up, stories give context while messages provide a conclusion.

Conclusions are important. I recently worked with a company comprised of engineers. They were great at giving you all the data and backstory. In other words, they were terrific at telling the story of how they came up with their new technology. The trouble was they assumed whoever they were speaking to would arrive at the same conclusion they had. Some good messaging was needed to support their storytelling.

By all means, use storytelling for your communications endeavors. But, don’t forget the messaging. Again, storytelling adds interest to how you got where you are. But, let your audience know when they’ve arrived. Give them the ending with good solid messaging.

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