“Stories bind us together and help us make sense of our experience,” says Dominic Colenso the British-born actor, director and founder of communication skills training company In Flow. The storyteller, who has been acting extensively on stage and screen since the age of 16, says that as soon as a story has been told its power multiplies and gains momentum because it goes on to exist in the imagination of the teller and the listener.
Here the actor who’s flown a spaceship, lost a million dollars, been fired by Simon Cowell talked to Content Magazine about using the power of the spoken word to connect with audiences, how stories of our past help shape our future and imparts five storytelling tips you can use.
Content: What is the secret to great storytelling? Is there a formula?
Dominic: The number one thing is to make it authentic; people can spot a lie a mile away. Storytelling has to come from a place of truth, and the easiest way to do that is to make it personal. People are hard-wired to crave storytelling and they’ll engage when that story gives them insights into who we are and how we can connect with each other.
In terms of the formula, make the story as simple as possible; give people a sense of the past, present and the future as that’s the easiest way to get people to go on a journey with you. The other essential ingredient is using language that engages the senses. Humans respond really well to sensory language that describes what we can touch, what we can see, what we can feel; if stories get too factual then the audience tends to disconnect.
How can brands create unique, compelling and engaging stories?
Drawing on the human element of a brand’s story is absolutely vital. Brands that have successfully garnered really strong followers have drawn out the human side of their story, from either their history, their employees or their customers. The more that brands can tap into the human stories that they have, and bring those to life for people, the greater connection they’ll have with their audience.
What role does the audience play in storytelling?
If you know what makes your audience tick, you can make them the hero of your story. People listen to stories and like to imagine themselves as the protagonist; that's the hero's journey of many of the big blockbuster epic adventures such as Star Wars—the viewer wants to be like one of the characters—like Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker or Hans Solo. If a brand can start to think of who their customers are, not from an avatar or a demographic perspective, but from an emotional one, and really understands their hopes and fears, they will be able to find the story from within their own brand that relates to or excites their audience. Ultimately, the more a brand can put itself in its audience's shoes and see the world through their eyes, the greater understanding they’ll have of their issues, their problems, and the greater connection they’ll have with them.
How can great storytelling increase engagement with brands? Stories are really sticky. People remember a story long after they remember the granular detail, because they’re left with a feeling. Stories allow brands to get into people's hearts as well as their minds. Stories tap into our values and as human beings our values play a major part in our decision-making process. When we feel connected to a brand that aligns with our values we become hooked. Companies that do this well can begin to position themselves in a premium way. An Apple computer is much more expensive than a PC but millions of people buy them because they buy into the brand story. When consumers consider things at a ‘values’ level, then they are less likely to be worried about price. They want to associate with something because it makes them feel good or inspires them to be better. Stories allow brands to engage emotionally with their audience in a way that facts and figures can't.
What is the most accessible format of storytelling? Does the medium matter?
There is nothing more powerful than the spoken word, that's why we’ve see a huge prevalence in the publishing of podcasts and the use of video. Even LinkedIn is pushing the video format—because we are time poor, we are bombarded with stuff, our inboxes are full, and the great thing about the spoken word, whether that's in that podcast format, on video or face to face, is it really allows the listener to engage their imagination. Once you allow that person, the target audience, to imagine themselves as part of the story, it's something you can't undo, it opens up a part of the brain that's so powerful.
Which brand is getting storytelling right?
Brands that connect their values, their mission and their vision with their employees and customers are doing a really good job. There's a denim brand here in the UK called Huit Denim who is absolutely brilliant at storytelling. Its owners Claire and David also run the ‘Do Lectures’—which use the medium of storytelling to inspire others to take action.
Dominic Colenso is a professional actor and the founder of In Flow, a specialist communication skills training company. In Flow works with organisations around the world to accelerate business performance by unlocking people’s ability to communicate. Their unique communication skills accelerator helps individuals to increase their impact, grow their influence and inspire their audience. For more information visit www.inflow.global