Forget Best Practices, Just Tell Really Great Stories: Three Simple Rules for Excellent Storytelling

The following post was written by Lindsay LeCain and Theresa Masnik, Racepoint Group Account Executives. Connect with Lindsay and Theresa on Twitter.

Last week, in the bowels of the Boston Public Library, PR Newswire presented a half-day session on the importance of “Employing Visual Content for Compelling Storytelling.” One of the presenters, Andrew Davis (@TPLDrew), had a particularly compelling Prezi in which he addressed the three “simple” (read: not easy) rules for successful storytelling. Here is a brief summary of his presentation:

Three Simple Rules for Excellent Storytelling

  1. Build Suspense: Build anxiety about what will happen. Great storytelling is creating suspense. Viewers don’t want to look away because they feel the need to see what happens at the end. To showcase this concept, Davis presented a compelling case study about Juicing and Juicers. The campaign, sponsored by Breville (an Australian-based appliance manufacturer), was designed to get more people (men in particular) interested and invested in the juicing movement (fruits and vegetables, not HGH). So the company worked with Joe Cross, an Aussie on a mission to lose weight and get healthy. How did he do it? He rented a car and drove across the US. His road trip, however, was not a fast-food-eat-it when-and-where-you-can-get-it, but a “juicing across America adventure” wherein he shared the struggles and successes of his new lifestyle. The adventure was then made into a movie, titled, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead”. And people got it. Breville, the company sponsoring the trip and paying to promote the film, had seen stagnant sales in their juicers until about three weeks after the film was released on Netflix. Within weeks, the company sold out of juicers—not just in Australia or the US, but worldwide.
    1. Key Points:
      1. If you want to make an impact and show that your story is making an impact, you have to make the spikes at the times when they aren’t naturally spiking. (A great tool for this is Google Insights for Search)
      2. What if your moment of inspiration is tied directly to the suspense you build? Ask yourself, is there inherent suspense in the story I’m telling?
  2. Foster Aspiration: Inspire people to be better. Help people live the lifestyle they want. To show this notion of “fostering aspiration,” Davis showed the audience the story of “extreme” music video creator and producer, Devin Graham and the partnership he forged with Oregon-based lifestyle brand, Vooray. To encourage this kind of lifestyle embrace, Vooray worked with Graham to host just about the coolest non-event I have ever seen. Graham invited his friends (some really, really, really good looking friends) and had a party—on a lake in the middle of Oregon. Here is what that looks like. Graham set the day’s festivities to music and in doing so, managed to perfectly capture the cutting edge of cool in a way that did not feel the least bit commercial. As a result of this one video, the company went from limited distribution and fewer than one million in sales to international distribution and over 10 million in sales, in a few short weeks. This is the power of content that shows viewers how to live the life they want to lead.
    1. Key Points: 
      1. What if your moment of inspiration is tied to your audiences aspirations? Aspire to create great exciting events and content that relates to that audience.
      2. Ask yourself, what does my audience aspire to do or be?
  3. Drive Empathy: Encourage people to perceive your product or service as something less commercial and a bit more human. A perfect example of this is the work IBM did with Jeopardy. Having Watson compete against “regular” people (i.e., the most successful individuals to ever play the game: Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter) viewers, regardless of their feelings about the concept before the show, found themselves empathizing with the machine. Win or lose, those watching (myself included) felt compassion for this amazing technological feat. This audacious request, proposed by the masterminds at IBM, was designed to make viewers feel something about the international consulting and mainframe computer manufacturer. After the appearance on Jeopardy, the company saw a 20% increase in consulting service sale—within one quarter of the show’s airdate. The subsequent coverage of Watson and the brains behind the supercomputer was made into a NOVA– The Smartest Machine on Earth—and although 90% of the content in this PBS feature was shot by IBM (generally a no-no in the world of independent journalism) the company managed to successfully show viewers the intense work and the process of development the company faced.
    1. Key Points:
      1. What if I was emotionally invested in your product or service?
      2. Ask yourself: Can I empathize with the product?

The moral of the presentation can be summed up by this simple question and answer: What if we created moments of inspiration?

Ignore best practices and focus entirely on telling great stories.

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