Lessons from Webstock – storytelling is key

My social group doesn’t have many (or any) furniture enthusiasts, so I was surprised to see an Ikea promotional video collecting “likes” on my Facebook feed a couple weeks ago.

But I didn’t have to watch it for very long to understand why it was getting shared. It wasn’t really about Ikea furniture. It was about how Ikea furniture made a young family’s life better. Have a look:

Ikea’s video is a great example of content marketing, which is the main tactic we use to spread the word about Xero: tell a good story and distribute it. The content we produce– blogs, videos, e-newsletters, slide decks and more – is all about telling a compelling story.

Which brings me to Webstock 2013, an annual web design conference here in Wellington. I went to see Garr Reynolds present on how storytelling principles can help you avoid the “death by powerpoint” so common in large organisations.

According to Reynolds, to capture the essence of a story in a presentation, you break it down into three parts:

  • The exposition: a “hook” that sets up what we’re talking about. This is where you establish the characters and give the audience a reason to care about them.
  • The rising action: the conflict or problem. The spanner in the works; the story can’t go on until the characters solve this problem.
  • The climax: the solution to the problem.

What does this mean? It means a presentation shouldn’t just throw information at its audience. The information should be arranged in a story, with a little bit at the beginning to set the scene, followed by a little bit more to set up a problem, then finally show the solution to that problem. A story takes an audience on a journey rather than drowning them in facts.

But what really resonated with me was how universal these ideas are. Storytelling principles aren’t limited to presentations. Applied correctly, they can make any piece of information more digestible, compelling and shareable.

Our case study videos are great examples of this principle in action. Here’s one we made about not-for-profit organisation Community Education Partnerships a few months ago:

At its core, the above video isn’t that different from a bulleted list of why Xero is helpful for not-for-profit organisations. But it tells you those benefits in a much more compelling way. We meet a real person, and we’re given a stake in her success because we know what she’s doing for her community. Then we see the problems she faced with other software before finally seeing how Xero frees her up to do more of the work she talked about in the beginning. It’s much more interesting, and much easier to see exactly how Xero makes peoples’ lives better.

So if you want to make any information more compelling, tell a story. It certainly takes a little longer, and it’s a bit more difficult, but your efforts pay off when you rise above those who just deliver raw information.

One Comment

Kirten Barrie
March 10, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Really great advice, thanks for the article!

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