How to Tell Better Stories

Carvings at the Great Ball Court at Chichen Itza

One of the foundational skills of social media and content marketing is storytelling. Like writing, this is one of those skills that takes a lifetime to master.

So, let’s not waste any time getting started with learning to tell better stories.

I recently visited the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan state of Mexico. What made the experience worthwhile was having a guide whose lifelong passion and profession was the study of this culture.

During our time together our guide offered to share with use one of two versions of the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza:

  • The popular version that would be familiar to many of our friends
  • The truth from his years of research and study as college professor

We all chose the latter. From that truth, it turns out there are important lessons about storytelling that will make your stories better.

#1 – The Best Stories Inspire New Thoughts

The best stories challenge the audience to think. This not only questions his or her personal beliefs, but also the status quo.

It turns out some people do not want to think. They just want someone to give them the generally accepted answer. Right or wrong, that information then proliferates on the social media channels and becomes accepted as truth.

It is important to tell the stories only you can tell. Tweet this

These are stories based upon your direct experience. The world is smarter when it knows your story. It clarifies and cuts through the clutter.

Of course, this is what I’m doing right now by sharing from my recent experience in Mexico.

Have you read or heard that the majority of small businesses are practicing social media and content marketing? At least in terms of mainstream brick and mortar businesses, nothing could be further from the truth.

How do I know this? From direct experience working with thousands of these companies over the last seven years.

#2 – Real Stories are From Direct Experience

You have to earn a reputation for telling stories that are well-researched and preferably based upon direct experience. This is what people have always wanted.

People always want to hear the news from the “man on the street,” the eye-witness that can provide details that no other can because they have been there.

It’s dangerous to tell stories these days when you do not have direct experience. Otherwise, you risk telling stories that are not true. Even well-known experts have found themselves embroiled in controversy as a result.

The reason for telling a story is to engage an audience. When you accomplish that they will want to go deeper. So be prepared to do so.

In fact, this is one reason storytelling is essential for social media and content marketing. It makes your business more relatable and memorable, thereby encouraging more more conversations about it within the communities it serves.

#3 – How to Make Your Stories Better

The image above from Chichen Itza is a carving from the Great Ball Court.

It shows one of the players with a scoop in his right hand for picking up and slinging the ball. He is also wearing a helmet and other gear to protect himself from the impact of the ball, which was estimated at a little over 2 pounds.

There were more crude carvings at other locations on the interior of the court that were estimated to have been completed 600 years earlier. That’s six centuries of refining a skill! Thus, whether written or graphically depicted:

Any story can be refined with practice to make it better. Tweet this

Tips for Refining Your Stories

1. List your stories – This creates awareness. It also allows for tracking where and when your stories are used.

2. Describe the purpose of your stories in a few words – This helps you focus on making your point, while also refining it over time. Ask: What is this story about?

3. Why is that purpose relevant? – If the story is not relevant to the audience it is valueless, regardless of how well it is told.

4. Can your audience recall your story in few words? – The value of stories is they are relatable and memorable. In a world that tweets and texts, it’s important to capture the essence of your story in a few words.

5. Decide what to leave in and what to take out –  Amateurs often include details that do not contribute to the story, thereby compromising its value. Shorter is nearly always better.

6. Use an image or graphic representation for greater impact –  This graphic succinctly captures the complete message of my book:  Built-In Social: Essential Social Marketing Practices for Every Small Business. The Mayans and so many other cultures recognized that a picture does indeed tell a story.

7. Help your audience relive the story – Instead of retelling your stories with you as the central character, consider making them come alive for your audience – as if they were you.

8. Compare and contrast – Metaphor and other storytelling techniques that contrast and compare will help others relate to and understand your story. When I share how I used print content to launch my landscape business in the late 1980’s, it helps some people relate to this “new” form of marketing.

Now over to you.

Leave a comment to share your tips for refining your stories to make them better.

About the Author:  Jeff Korhan, MBA, is the author of Built-In Social: Essential Social Marketing Practices for Every Small Business and host of This Old New Business Podcast

He helps mainstream businesses adapt their traditional growth practices to a digital world. Connect with Jeff on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Google+.

Social and Mobile are Universally Global

While vacationing in Mexico this week, I could not help but notice that even in this developing country, mobile is not the future – it’s here now, and bigger than one might have expected.

While the quality of running water in this little resort town may not be up to the standards most of us experience here in the United States, quality WiFi access indeed was. In fact, it was nearly universal and predominantly free!

There was not a single restaurant or coffee shop we visited that did not have WiFi – with every waiter having the password at his or her fingertips.

Imagine a world where every business and retail establishment has free WiFi? That’s what we experienced, all the way down to access at the airport before returning home.

Now consider an important question. Why?

Better yet, why is the saturation greater than in the United States or your country? Could it be that mobile devices are functionally more universal – and less expensive than cumbersome laptops and desktops?

Regardless, it’s clear the next step is to consider what you should be doing to prepare for the inevitable shift toward mobile in the communities your business serves?

For those interested in statistics, in the most recent quarter, Apple more than doubled its sales of iPhones from the previous quarter – with an approximately 40% rise in iPad sales. More surprisingly, iPad sales easily surpassed sales of all Mac’s combined.

Here’s another wake-up call. It’s easy to think those mobile device sales were to a younger, tech-savvy crowd. Read on, as I’m confident those iPad sales are by baby boomers and retirees who also value mobile connectivity.

Mobile Connectivity is a Global Phenomenon

WiFi is now an expectation of consumers that are armed with not just one, but multiple mobile devices. This is a global phenomenon – having mobile connectivity is becoming a basic human expectation that is as universal as food and water.

According to Pew Internet, more than 50% of all local web search is now via mobile devices. And of those adults using the Internet, 65% use at least one social network.

This intersection of social, local, and mobile is a marketing sweet spot – in more ways that one.

As a retailer, offering local WiFi respects the needs and desires of your best customers, and attracts more like them. As a business marketer, this intersection is an opportunity to reach people where they are, and when they are most receptive to your marketing messages.

This could be due to their geographic location, and who they are socially engaged with, both physically and digitally.

People are Hardwired to Connect and Engage

Mobile connectivity is driven by curiosity and the human desire to socially connect and engage with others.

I observed active use of mobile for checking into establishments with Foursquare and Facebook – and this included both tourists and locals alike. In fact, when there are multiple free WiFi connections available, check with the locals, as they know which ones work better at peak demand times.

In the lobby of our resort where the Internet signal was the most reliable, guests were often camped out for extended periods to Skype with friends, family, and business associates back home – and yes, I was one of them. Although, my Macbook Pro seemed to be overdressed in this vacation environment where iPads were the norm.

What does this mean for businesses?  For one, don’t judge trends from just what you experience from your normal office and home environment, especially if your business has a global reach. 

Another message is that you do not want to deny your customers what they expect – free, easy, and mobile access to you and your business. When you can give your customers the one thing they want most, you personalize the experience and keep them coming back.

Does your business have a mobile strategy?

Are you planning to build mobile sites for an increasingly (and universally) mobile consumer?

Is your business actively learning how to use mobile triggers to engage with new customers?

I hope your answer to all of these is yes.

While I never had any doubts about the future of mobile, I now know my timetable needs to be moved up. Thankfully, my primary WordPress site is mobile friendly – yet, its now evident that a mobile-optimized website for businesses is no longer optional.

It is as necessary as basic food and water.

About the Author:  Jeff Korhan, MBA, is the author of Built-In Social: Essential Social Marketing Practices for Every Small Business and host of This Old New Business podcast.

He helps mainstream businesses adapt their traditional growth practices to a digital world. Connect with Jeff on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Google+

Photo Credit: terrydu