Adorable Animation, Universal Truths & the Secret to Storytelling
Why do some stories have the power to cut through the noise and toss a javelin through our hearts, to have us savouring every word? While others have you barely glancing at the first couple sentences before you click away? Hint: It's also the reason marketers are desperately screeching at us to use storytelling in everything we do to market our biz.
First, we have ALWAYS told stories. Since cave drawings and campfires, we've related the details of our lives to one another through the medium of story.
Which means we've evolved to pay attention to stories. We're trying to figure out if it holds relevance for us in our lives right now. And thanks to the good ol' age of information we're getting faster at deciding if the story being told resonates with us.
Which is why these days you've only seconds before someone decides if your story is worthy of their attention.
But what happens when someone decides your story DOES resonate?
When a story piques our interest we insert ourselves into it. We merge ourselves with the character in order to form an empathic response. And when we feel empathy with the characters in a story we're more likely to remember it and learn from it. (PS this is why it's never enough to just talk about data but always include a personal story to illustrate your data)
So what does that empathic response look like?
When we're engaged in a story that matters to us our brain releases 2 chemicals - cortisol (to help us focus our attention) and oxytocin (to increase our ability to care and connect).
That means stories actually have the power to change ouR brain chemistry and our brehaviour.
You can learn more about the research by watching this YouTube video.
Great, so there's actually scientific evidence for all this storytelling hype. Which might leave you with a few questions like...
1. How can I choose stories that will resonate with my clients?
2. How can I integrate my personal stories and life lessons into the narrative of my business?
3. How can I become a better storyteller?
1. How can we choose stories that will resonate with clients?
In other words, which stories will flood their brains with the right combination of cortisol + oxytocin so they're focused, paying attention & care about what you're saying?
It's all about worldview. Understanding your own worldview and your ideal client's worldview. Then finding the sweet spot where they overlap. This is the backbone of all great copy. Both what I write for my clients and what I teach in my new course.
Worldview is the lens through which you view the world. And it's comprised of all your values, beliefs, desires, fears & motivations. Your worldview silently influences every decision we make and how we perceive the world.
2. How can we integrate personal stories and life lessons into the narrative of our business?
I'm a big fan of using stories and lessons from your personal life to make a point about something you want to talk about in your business. I did it just last week.
There are a couple of reasons it works:
- it humanizes you. You're no longer a company but someone they can relate to. You've all heard that people buy from people. But we especially love to buy from people who are like us in some way.
- it gives people a reason to care about you and what you do. Another chance to establish an emotional connection (which you should be doing everywhere) and trigger that cortisol & oxytocin
But it also gives you the perfect chance to touch on some universal truths. Universal truths are what elevate good storytelling to the profound. The kind that utterly gut you - in a good way. ;)
Instead of telling them what you learned and what you think they should learn from it. Show them through the story and allow the universal truths beneath speak for themselves.
All those fairy tales that have stood the test of time and been remixed and re-imagined into countless different versions? They're a perfect example.
Movies also do an excellent job of this.
If you've contributed to the over $300 million Finding Dory has made at the box office then you've also seen Piper. (you thought I was going to talk about the fish didn't you?)
For me, Piper was the most memorable part of that experience. And they're already talking Oscar buzz because of the advanced animation techniques used to make the hyper-realistic sand, seafoam and feathers. You can read more about that here.
But I want to talk about storytelling. Because for a short film without a single word they packed a ton of universal truths into a few short minutes.
Yes, there was the adorability factor but the REAL reason audiences remembered this precious baby sandpiper was because we were able to insert ourselves into the story. And we could do THAT because of the universal truths linking us to that baby bird.
Piper is about a baby sandpiper who's learning to find his own clams on the edge of the ocean. He gets tossed by a wave and becomes nervous of venturing out. With a little encouragement from Mom & a growling tummy he tries again. This time watching how the crabs deal with the waves. He tries a new approach, conquers his fear and ends up discovering where all the best clams are.
As a parent I can relate to the mother bird who encourages her chicks towards independence and conquering their fears.
BUT, we're really all that baby bird, aren't we?
Here's the list of universal truths I found...
- We all love to have things handed to us even if it isn't helpful in the long run
- learning a new skill sucks but when you start to find some success it feels pretty damn good
- something ALWAYS goes wrong
- when things go wrong it can leave you feeling a little dazed and traumatized
- we all feel unsure of ourselves and unsure of the world at times
- hunger is a powerful motivator
- you need to find a way to pick yourself up again and keep moving forward...however cautiously
- if it didn't work before then try something new. Get creative.
- observe your environment and learn from it
- learn from past mistakes while you're at it
- you can find even more success when you find your own unique way of doing things
- when you find a way to be yourself you'll also catch the attention of others AND find joy
Holy hell, it's just one universal truth crammed on top of another. Not to mention the perfect metaphor for entrepreneurs & creatives, (& probably why it resonates so much with me). But everyone can relate to this. And they didn't use a single word to explain any of it.
Which is why in just a few short minutes, a baby sandpiper completely captures our hearts.
And why, in your writing, when you tell stories from your life and business don't forget to layer in a universal truth. Remember, instead of telling them what they should learn - just tell a story that shows it. It's so much more engaging and memorable.
You can check out a clip of Piper here.
Want to know what universal truths look like in your writing? The difference between show & tell? Here's a quick illustration I use in my Adore Your About Page Course.
I love lazy summer afternoons with my kids. It doesn't have to be anything fancy. We begin by spreading a picnic basket under out favourite tree and grabbing a few snacks. Then I'll curl up with my favourite mug of tea while my kids run around the yard. Stomping in puddles, collecting leaves and stones and playing games. While our dog wanders back and forth investigating their fun and snuggling next to me. It's so important to remember to slow down and take care of yourself. To make time for the things that are truly important to you.
Sometimes the height of luxury is a lazy summer afternoon to simply slow down & savour. To sip sweet pineapple sencha and devour the decadence of Blake, Eliot & Angelou. The comfort of spreading an old quilt beneath a sprawling maple. A sneak peek into the carefree innocence of my children. Sparkling stone excavations. Puddle jumping competitions. This is what I was missing. These are the real luxuries I crave.
In the first example I tell you about my afternoon in a very chronological fashion. We did this and this and this. Not much else going on. I come right out and tell you what I want you to learn from it too.
In the second example I build the scene detail by detail, layer by layer and you immediately understand the idea beneath it - that it's important to slow down and take time for yourself. I don't have to lecture I can allow you to draw your own conclusions. And if that truth resonates with you - you'll do just that. Plus the second example just sounds so much better. Which brings me nicely to #3
3. How do we become better storytellers?
Storytelling is obviously an art and craft that requires lots of practice. But if you're looking to improve your skills there's a few basic things you can do.
1. Read: read voraciously. Read anything that's well written, especially fiction & poetry.
2. Understand the dramatic arc and the Hero's journey. Check out Freytag and Campbell.
3. Start sprinkling some literary techniques into your blog posts, webpages and everyday writing to make it stand out.