Over the course of the last 20 years, the average attention span has fallen to around eight seconds; a goldfish has an attention span of nine! The challenge for companies – established and new – is to figure out how to get even a small slice of that attention span when so many other companies are competing for it.
Neuroscience shows us that when the whole of the brain is engaged, the message is more likely to be remembered. And the brain is at its most fully engaged when it is listening to stories.
Despite this, all our lives we’ve been indoctrinated to engage with facts. Facts underpin our school essays; facts are the hallmark of a great thesis; facts are at the core of all great marketing, right? Wrong. If you want people to remember what you have to say then stories are the way forward.
So, how do you tell a great story? Here are five top tips for telling better stories:
1. Create a powerful opening
Shakespeare knew it; novelists from Charles Dickens to Tom Clancy knew it; Hollywood knows it. Great stories start with a powerful opening so take your time to get the opening right and your reader, or viewer, is hooked.
2. Get to the point
Too often people and organisations are afraid of having a point of view. I suspect it’s because they don’t want to be wrong. But if you’re trying to reach people with an attention span of eight seconds, you better have a point of view that gets them engaged or they’ll go elsewhere. And when you’re articulating your point of view, don’t use words like ‘might’, ‘could’ or ‘most’; prevarication takes up valuable time you don’t have.
3. Find a hero
Carl Jung’s archetypes theory shows us that we’re born with a need for heroes. Since the 1920s, Disney – among many other artists – has capitalised on this and presented us with some of the world’s most loved and remembered heroes. By contrast stories from commercial organisations rarely have heroes. But they should.
4. Use color in your language
Outside of work, we use a whole range of linguistic devices to communicate better. Yet when we cross the office threshold, metaphors, similes, active verbs and so on seem to be removed in favor of jargon-laden corporate speak. Don’t be afraid to use colorful language; it’s much easier for readers to understand.
5. Speak human
A number of recent hypotheses suggest that some words and phrases have lost all meaning because they are so overused. Phrases like ‘synergy’, ‘value added’ and ‘out of the box’ fall into this category. And yet, we trot out these words hoping we’re going to capture the attention of our viewers or readers.
In short, don’t be afraid to have a point of view and then express it clearly and unambiguously using language your grannie would understand.
Storytelling is not so much of an art as a matter of practice and remembering a few key points. The real challenge is in being bold enough to tell a story rather than follow the crowd and use facts.
Mark Jackson is deputy managing director, Asia at Racepoint Global, a member of the Council of Public Relations Firms of Hong Kong.