Since neanderthals created cave paintings, human beings have told stories. While storytelling may have been formerly relegated to the entertainment industry, it’s gained a special significance in the tech world. The launch of technologies like Facebook’s Oculus Rift, and Microsoft’s Hololens have provided startlingly realistic immersive experiences that are just the tip of the iceberg. With the platforms for storytelling rapidly increasing in VR, AR, and more apps and social media tools at our disposal, technology is now taking a front seat. But how do we embrace and adapt to these platforms effectively, without losing the meaning and heart behind the stories we tell?
Here are some elements of storytelling that are useful for anyone, whether you are a Sundance filmmaker or pitching your startup. At Rubicon Project, I’ve found these tools to be vital in helping me convey the story of our company.
1. Have a Hero: Heroes have purpose and overcome obstacles. They have lofty goals, and take risks. When you’re telling your story, include a hero: someone who is a champion of your company’s purpose. This could be exemplified in a teammate who exhibits your company’s values or a personal hero that inspires you. Encourage your team to find heroes in each other.
2. Details Matter: Research shows that generalizations are more forgettable than specifics…in storytelling, details matter. Details can come in the form of concrete deliverables, metrics, and results. But specifics can also include twists and turns, discoveries, red herrings, unforeseen obstacles and the catalyst for your endeavor in the first place. In storytelling, the details are the vehicle for the larger message.
3. Engage your Audience: If you are a leader, the best way to share your way of thinking is to engage your audience. One way to do that is to appeal to your audience’s emotional intelligence. A Stanford research study showed that statistics alone have a retention rate of 5-10%, but when coupled with anecdotes, the retention rate rises to 65-70%. As master storyteller Maya Angelou famously put it, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.
4. Start at the End and Work Back to the Beginning: If you have a key point you’re getting to, build to it backwards. Great storytellers set up an expectation, and then deliver on that expectation in an unexpected way. When I founded Rubicon Project, I had a clear vision in mind: I wanted to create a company that changed advertising for the better. I knew the ends, but discovered the means along the way.
5. Avoid Jargon: In the advertising industry, for example, jargon is pervasive. Every company in this space is “an innovative and cutting edge leader fusing the art and science of advertising for a global roster of premium customers creating real ROI.” What does that even mean? Instead of relying on jargon, be original with your language. Let the way you convey an idea be new, and in your own words. Just say what it is. I’ve found that being sincere, and honest in your ideas, ensures effective communication.
By remaining true to your authentic voice, you build trust with your audience… and people can sense when a leader is being inauthentic. Instead of feeling the need to couch your ideas with a quippy, trite phrase, just share your honest point of view.
I’ve told the story of our company many times, and the narrative is constantly evolving. The key to profound storytelling lies in having a hero, including key details, engaging your audience, starting with the end in mind, and in authenticity.
By learning to tell great stories, you can inspire your team and transform your company for the better.
Great companies tell great stories, and great stories can change the world.