How can we become better storytellers (and storysellers)?

Jonathan Gottschall, author of Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human , thinks humans are beasts of emotion more than logic, and the process of changing one mind or the whole world must begin with “once upon a time”. He takes rather a dim view of dispassionate presentation of costs and benefits: More on this some other time…

As we battle the surplus V deficit challenge (surplus of information, goods, services and deficit of trust, time, attention & resources), how do we develop a knack for turning complicated (and often arcane) scientific ideas into digestible, tasty nuggets of knowledge. That gets readers/listeners to not just passively sit and listen, but are inspired to take action. To change their behavior. To transform themselves and their organizations. To tell and share with others what they learned (and unlearned).

So, how do we become effective story tellers and story sellers?

a) Simplicity

KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid

It’s a case of been there, done that. When articulating ideas we have a tendency to slip into jargon. Little realizing that there is always a slip between the cup and the lip. To talk in ways that only insiders can understand. We have internalized the idea so much that we assume others do as well. So we go into all the nuances and complexity. Without realizing that we’re losing our audience along the way. It’s called the Curse of Knowledge(The term was coined by Robin Hogarth).

So keep it as simple as possible. Respect the fact that most readers aren’t experts on cognitive psychology, network sociology, or the science of dyslexia. So, stay away from the minutiae. Boil down complicated concepts into the key details and share only those. Not the whole forest, just the most important trees.

If your audience remembered only one thing you told them, what should it be? How can you strip out unnecessary details and keep it simple?

b) Stories > Information Every Time

Information is great. Facts can be useful, enlightening, and help us make better decisions. But because there is so much of it, they can also be overwhelming, boring, intimidating and hard to remember.

Rather than just providing information, tell stories. Tales of a new age Bedouin inspired do gooder or a school basketball team woefully unmatched with the rest of the league and yet coming up trumps. These stories surprise and engage the audience and they help the reader/listener visually simulate what is happening.

Not just that. When carefully designed, stories also serve a larger purpose. They illustrate the main point of an argument in a way information alone can’t. They’re like vessels or carriers.

If we were to dig a bit into mythology, the most effective stories are Trojan Horses. Sure, there is an engaging narrative, but information comes along for the ride. It’s proof by (compelling) example.

So work on your Trojan Horse Story. What’s the enthralling narrative that will carry your message along inside?

c) Script Tease: It Always Holds Attention

Most plays have three acts. The first act introduces things, the second act develops them, and the third resolves them. Movies, while not as explicit, usually follow a similar pattern. Set up then conflict and then resolution. They call it the Hollywood Paradigm. Sure everything could get resolved faster, but a good first act sets the scene in a way that draws us in. Just like a good mystery.

Get your stories to have a similar structure. Ignite a question but don’t resolve that story right away. Instead, launch into a second and even a third story before wrapping up the first one. Rather than distancing themselves,  the listener stays tuned along the way because they want to know how the first story ends. Researchers call it the Curiosity Gap or a hole in the listener’s knowledge, you encourage them to pay attention to the rest.

How can you open up a curiosity gap? Point out a hole in your listener’s knowledge that will make them want to lean in closer to learn more?

Become the master that you can be at selling ideas that drive others to action. Whether you’re selling a product, an idea, or just yourself, we can all benefit from being better storysellers.

Creative Risk & CMOs- The Twain Has To Meet!


The saying is as old as the hills. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The average tenure of today’s CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) is 18-22 months. One major driver is the fear of taking creative risks. Ironically, it is the problem of producing mediocrity that is the true risk.

As members of a society, our brains are hardwired to fit in, to conform. That’s why so many people dress the same way, sport the same hairstyles and are uncomfortable to be the ones that stand out in a crowd. The safety in homogeneity is all pervasive. This fear of being different seems to permeate marketing departments every day. Many clients seem to buy advertising the same way they buy clothing – gaining comfort from what their peers are doing.

And yet, ironically, as a consumer, this same human brain is programmed to filter out everything that is known, accepted and routine. The brain pays attention to things that it least expects. So, deliver the unexpected. Check this link

If your marketing becomes habitual and conforms to the category norms, no one will notice you.  If you are mimicking the same conversation as your competition, you’ll be ignored.  If you change the conversation you become the story teller (read this article on how agencies & brands need to use the power of story telling in Brand Knew on Given today’s accent on tactical over riding the strategic or creative, little wonder the ignominy of sameness has a stranglehold on most creative communication. If you want to achieve cut-through and relevance you need an idea and execution that stands out, that is different and challenges convention.

Imagine this: clutter: hyper clutter: commoditization of products and services. Hyper commoditization of communication. Interpretation fatigue, trust deficit…heading straight towards safe therefore sorry state of affairs.

Break the shackle. Bite the bullet. Beard the lion. Become the Creative Marketing Officer(CMO) that you can be, want to be and expected to be!