Messaging and Storytelling for Greater Influence

dreamstime_s_49594866One of Four Leaf’s signature services is helping organizations refresh and update their messaging and storytelling abilities. I often hear, “well, messaging and storytelling are kind of the same thing, right?” No, not at all.

To over simplify, a message is a specific idea you’re trying to get across. Storytelling is a way to get your ideas across.

In coming weeks, this blog will be dedicated to positioning, messaging and storytelling–what it is, how to use it for greater influence, and simple exercises you can do to refresh or heighten how you communicate.

Some thing we’ll go over:

  • Defining positioning and the three main components for a strong communications position in the marketplace.
  • The top three exercises every company should go through annually to ensure their language is relevant, powerful and effective.
  • Storytelling techniques that go beyond Mother Goose and make business communications head-and-shoulders above the competition.
  • The top mistakes made in business communications around messaging and storytelling–and how to avoid them.
  • The biggest changes in communications today and how to use them to your advantage.

Check back often, or better yet, subscribe to our RSS feed to bring these posts to you.

To learn more about Four Leaf Public Relations’ positioning, messaging and storytelling work, click here.

Yet Another Hazard in Storytelling: Weighing It Down with Endless Detail

While there are many snares in organizational storytelling, a few have been worth noting: too much corporate jargon, nothing unexpected shared, and telling an irrelevant or even insulting story to an audience.  But one snag that trips up many presenters and communicators is making the story either too long or too short.

In our experience, too many business stories are too long.

Brevity is the soul of wit, wrote William Shakespeare. And one of the most famous stories of all time by Ernest Hemingway is just 6 words. “For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.”  But, what is too short, then? Be too brief in a business setting and the message gets lost.

A story is the right length when just enough detail is given – 2 or 3 small details – to paint the right picture of what happened.

Wanting to get in every detail to share an accurate account of what happened appears to be a strong pull. However, you should be striving to tell the truth of the story – not ever detail that got you there.

Yet Another Pitfall in Organizational Storytelling: Too Much Jargon

We are so fond of our big words and our intelligent phrasing.  We thinkmarketing speak” – the way of presenting products and services that is meant to convey that we are intellectual, smart and savvy – grabs attention.

Even when we tell a story the pull to throw in a few buzz words is strong. Because, we must create a sense of being so smart that you simply must listen to us, right?

Wrong.

If you believe your 24/7 enterprise solution brought that mission-critical project to fruition, adding to the corporate bottom line and realizing a greater ROI than the other guy down the street – and you tell the story that way – you have successfully put your audience to sleep. Or, running from the room.

You may have all the elements of a good story — the hero/main character, a villian or adversary, twists and turns, a big change for the person or organization. But, don’t forget that real world language is necessary to create a relationship between speaker and listener. If your audience is highly technical, of course, use the language of that audience. But, authenticity trumps jargon any day, no matter who is listening.

Too much jargon makes it appear you are trying too hard — trying too hard to sell. No one wants to be sold to. They want to willingly buy-in.

Lead your audience to somewhere new with your organizational storytelling. Don’t hit them over the head with how smart you are by trying to sound like it.

The Business Case for Video Storytelling

It is an increasingly visual world. If video isn’t part of your storytelling strategy, it probably should be. Does video make sense for you? Below are some data points — gathered by writer and PR consultant Christine Hohlbaum. Christine is a master storyteller and uses video often in getting the word out on her blog, The Power of Slow, dedicated to encouraging all of us to slow down and focus. (But one area, where she encourages a little speed, is in the area of adopting video.)

Business case points:

1) Video nation: The average US Internet user watches around 186 videos a month; as of September 2011, 85.3% of online US adults have reported watching an online video, particularly on video-sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo. Sources: Pew Internet and Comscore.

2) Early B2B adoption: Forrester Research says business videos are not (yet) widespread, but check in to see if your competitors are seeing its value and joining the corporate “early adopters”.

3) Video trend: Aside from social media adoption, online video marketing is the fastest growing medium for marketers. According to a Forrester Research report released in November 2009 for the top 50 U.S. Internet Retail websites, the adoption of online video grew by almost 400 percent that year alone. Check out this ReelSEO post on the growth of video, as well.

4) Huge market: 39% of smartphone owners in the US watch video regularly on their device; 58% of iPhone users. As of July 2011, there were 82.2 million smartphone subscribers in the US alone (= 35% of all US adults). In the government sector, 81% of federal managers use a smartphone or tablet.

5) Time spent: according to Forrester principal analyst James L McQuivey, PhD, we spend more time watching video than any other activity except sleeping. TV viewing has decreased while online viewing has increased.

6) Power of pictures: Through its multimedia nature, video can stir buyers’ emotions in the way other media cannot, leading to an increase in sales. Visitors who view product videos are 85% more likely to buy than visitors who do not. (Internet Retailer, April 2010)

7) Google loves video: With proper optimization, video increases the chance of a front-page Google result by 53x. (Forrester, January 2010).

A list of concise best practices for creating corporate videos here. Go forth and record.

P.S. Yes, I understand this post probably should have been delivered via video. Check back soon for this blog’s inauguration video post.

What is Your TED Talk?

You would have to be living under a rock to not know about TED. This organization whose tag line is simply “ideas worth spreading” means to bring “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.”

Each talk is usually less than 20 minutes long. Most of you would never even notice they are that long, they are that good.

TED is a pretty cool idea and has gained such popularity that TED organizations have cropped up all around the world. But other than showcasing terrific presentations and speeches, the very idea of TED itself can be useful.

If you were asked to give a TED talk next week, what would you do? More importantly—what is your big TED idea? What idea would be the centerpiece of a talk you could give that would be considered riveting and brand you a remarkable person? Consider starting there next time you have to address your board of directors or even your boss.

Design your own TED talk.

Great TED talks:

Feel free to share your favorite TED talks here. Or, perhaps you’ve given one yourself. We’d love to hear it.

Book Recommendation for Storytellers: Transformational Speaking

If you have embraced the power of storytelling — whether for business, a nonprofit or your own career — consider reading this book: Transformational Speaking: If You Want to Change the World, Tell a Better Story, by Gail Larsen. Formerly with the National Speakers Bureau, Larsen walks the reader through the art of telling a unique, authentic story from how to find that story to how to deliver it.

She states “There are two kinds of memorable speakers. There are those who impress us with their delivery and style and cause us to say, ‘He was a great speaker!’ – then return to our lives and work unchanged. . . Then there are those who arouse us on an inner level, awakening us to what we care about and prompting serious inquiry about the changes we’re committed to making. That’s transformational speaking.”

If you want the world to understand you, your organization, your cause, your products or services, at some point you will be called to speak. More than having a well crafted elevator pitch, you must learn to tell your story in such a way that ignites the other person to action.

This book isn’t about learning a new technique. Rather, as she says in the book, “Great speaking is less about being “fixed” than being found. When you come home to yourself and discover your best material and unique way of communicating, you’ll find there’s nothing broken.”

A Great Spokesperson Goes Beyond Knowing The Message

Identifying the “right” spokesperson is often a big topic in the board room when public relations campaigns and social media efforts are discussed. And, usually the CEO or someone else with a big job title is named. After all, they come with the clout and cache, right?

Not necessarily. A job title does not necessarily make the person the best representative of the message or brand.

It should go without saying that the chosen someone should know the message and story and be able to answer questions related to the topic at hand. But, that’s not the only skill required. Great message delivers also have the following characteristics.

  • They are likeable. People are attracted to the messages of people they like. So, unless the story calls for being outraged, putting someone before a microphone or behind a podium that will make the audience uncomfortable isn’t wise. Rarely do you want someone who is confrontational, angry or sarcastic to lead the charge. You want someone who can figuratively bond with the audience.
  • They have the appropriate energy for the topic, the brand and the audience. Just like you wouldn’t put someone who talks like a 22 year old professional skateboarder before a group of Wall Street investors (unless they are selling stock for a skateboarding company), you want to make sure the audience can related to said spokesperson. You want a spokesperson who can inspire and make audience members (even the audience of one) feel a certain way.
  • They demonstrate real interest in their audience. There is no faster way to turn off a reporter or an audience than to act bored or disinterested. Why should someone care about someone who doesn’t seem to care about them?

What else do you believe a good spokesperson should have to move an audience to action?