»You are Not a Storyteller«* Are You?

*a quote by Stefan Sagmeister, one of the most famous Graphic Designers.

The following are key learnings of my final thesis (Graphic Design School).

Even though Sagmeister is kind of right, “Storytelling” is an overused term in the creative business, his observation only focuses on the term, not the practice.

Storytelling is about communicating information and facts, it’s not simply telling fairies but convincing listeners of thoughts, ideas and individuals.

No matter if you’re in politics, branding or any other profession you’ll likely find ways to use the following techniques to your advantage. Use them to tie rare attention of recipients to your product or brand and stand out in todays flood of information.

No body reads adverts. People read what they are interested in. Sometimes thats an advert. — Howard Luck Gossage

Veit Etzold explains at TEDx Munich that the Amygdala in the human brain represents the borderline between important and trivial information. And it’s capable of doing further impressive work: When people near you experience extreme emotions like fear it will instinctively synchronize your reactions to those of your fellow beings. Further it will start distribution of messengers like Adrenalin and Dopamin. Concluding in our body actually reacting physically to the received information. This is how stories are able to “impress” the Amygdala, reach deeper areas of our brain and break the barrier between outside influence and personal action.

Stories are usually best practices of people that solved issues we might have in the moment or might have in our future. That’s why they usually start with problems and finish with a happy ending. Our brain is used to sharing information in stories since it’s the most common and natural way for humans to communicate.

– this section is based on a german talk about the Amygdala by Martin Hess

Stories seem to have impressive power to manipulate our brains. If there actually lays such power in the practice of telling stories, who is responsible for the effects they have on the audience?

Even though planting ideas into other peoples brain — Inception Style — isn’t practically that easy, we experience how fake news have influence on politics in our everyday life. But since we shouldn’t and can’t simply censor content, the consumer has equal responsibility as the writer to reflect if the caused feeling is rationally correct or if they are being tricked.

To write successful stories, keep lies out! Authentic foundations are key.

But what should you write about?

Find a reason to write — with the Golden Circle by Simon Sinek.

From inside to the outside is the preferred approach

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

You’ll never be wrong when using this practice. It’s an allrounder used when starting up a business or branding a new product.

You only need to answer three questions. The order of those answers is important.

  • First you’ll need to define “Why” you do what you do. This will help finding an issue/reason to begin your story with.
  • Next you’ll need to answer “How” you do it. This will be your journey/process.
  • Last you’ll mention “What” you do. This is your product or service. In the story it will be responsible for the happy ending by solving the initial problem.

Explaining your point of view following this guideline will be much more relatable than only focusing on the USPs of your Product.

(Unique Selling Propositions: the features that make your product stand out compared to it’s competitors)

This way you’ll put the experience of your main character in front of your product. People care about the motivation behind your actions the most.

Ever wondered why movies that all seem to tell similar stories, over and over, gain your interest? There simply are four basic needs that humans have and pursuit:

  • Safety and Stability
  • Community and Love
  • Freedom and Independence
  • Self-realization and Development

– based on “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”, interpreted by Petra Sammer

These are the desires which catch us every time, no matter how often they were covered before. However there shouldn’t be more than two of them in your story. Keep comprehensible, what problem will be solved.

Your main character will — of course — be the hero in your story. But remember: in the beginning he has to start as the normal guy, having a relatable problem. Only when he finally solves the mind wrecking issue he’ll appear as a hero. The Consumer has to be able to connect to your character on eye level rather than having the impression that the hero is on a higher hierarchy level. The transformation from “everyday normal guy” to an inspiring role model is key to your recipients striving for the same transition. The character becomes a trust worthy friend to the listener, which prevents your story from feeling like persuasion.

Such a relation between character and listener can be achieved by giving the character the same background, roots and living conditions as your target group.

Expanding his horizon and growing as an individual will conclude in solving the initial problem. Leading to the world being just a little nicer. That will be enough to set the desire for action in your listeners brain.

You can keep it more realistic by introducing some wise mentor into the adventure who can help the main character out of his misery. Introducing such an enabler is worth a lot since it makes the resulting solution appear much more authentic.

We’ve all once learned that three parts make up a plot:

  • The INTRODUCTION has to quickly set up the scene and communicate the dilemma which the character currently faces.
  • In the MAIN PART the misery of the hero gets greater, step by step, till it peaks. The character finally collects all his strength to fight back.
  • For the ENDING there is the final battle between good and bad. It’s the tipping point where the hero will win against his opponent and return back to his everyday life as a slightly improved person.
The journey starts at the top and proceeds clockwise

Joseph Campbells “Hero’s Journey” lays out a much more detailed structure of what phases the main character has to experience. The Phases of “Return” and “Call to Adventure” play a big role in his concept. The circle also suggests that the whole journey is a loop and once the destination is reached the hero will soon find himself at the beginning of the next adventure.

Is your Plot catching?

You can review your plot with the “AIDA” formula. Your audience should at best experience all four stages:

(AIDA: Attention → Interest → Desire → Action)

  • catch Attention with the problem and misery in the beginning
  • build Interest on the journey by enhancing the dramaturgy
  • create Desire by leading to a better world
  • minimize obstacles for Action by laying out the path

Don’t be afraid! Use those highly valuable concepts and techniques of storytelling to improve communication. No matter what’s your profession. We all love an exciting story, there’s nothing wrong with us wanting to tell such stories as well. Storytelling is a method not only authors and creatives should take seriously but should be practiced by everyone who needs to communicate a certain point. The scientific proof of the influence storytellers can have on their audience is impressive.

Use the powerful privilege of writing and telling!

…just do Stefan Sagmeister a favour and don’t claim yourself a storyteller. ✌️

Talking about design is great. Creating design is even better. So let’s do some work: sebastianwinter-design.de

Designer & Code Enthusiast at Strichpunkt Design

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