Think back to when you were in school and learning how to construct an essay or write a story. You were probably given a specific framework to follow–a recipe, say, with a list of required ingredients and directions for the correct order of assembly.
Each component had a designated purpose in creating a fully baked narrative. “Good” stories were recognizable, digestible offerings from a predictable menu. They were easy to share and satisfying in their straightforwardness.
Deviating from your given instructions was ill-advised. Teachers and other authority figures viewed the unusual or unfamiliar as sources of potential indigestion. In fact, these stories were usually deemed lazy, confusing or outright “wrong.”
Thankfully, like most things, ideas about how we should construct stories have evolved. No doubt you’ve read or watched tales that play with the “traditional” structure. Instead of a chronological series of events, the story may be told from end to beginning, or start in the middle and proceed in whichever direction the storyteller wants to go.
The outlets available for storytelling have also expanded. Historically, oral traditions largely gave way to writing and printing, which in turn ceded significant ground to digital. Now there are musical stories, visual stories, audio stories, “taste” stories–all with their own tenets, but still with the goal of winning an audience’s heart and mind, and thereby capturing imaginations.
In essence, the storytelling buffet has grown from a one-size-fits-many to something that now accommodates a variety of flavors–the many different ways people choose to relate, or relate to, stories. Yet even the most “experimental dishes” contain elements that are critical to giving the form and substance that make for an effective story.
- Protagonist – Hero or anti-hero, this is the subject of the story. It could be a person, a brand, or an operation or process. But there should be something about it that resonates with a reader’s experience.
- Struggle – This is the challenge or obstacle the protagonist must overcome. Whether it’s a passive barrier or something served up by some form of antagonist, it must be solved in a way that’s achievable and believable.
- Resolution – This is the state of being after you’ve addressed the obstacle. It might be virtual (here’s what we project will happen) or actual (here are the results we’ve seen), but it lets the audience know next steps or what’s in store for the story’s protagonist.
At SalientMG, we use stories in two different ways to help increase the staying power of our client thought leadership. One is in the articles themselves, whether it’s creating characters, relating anecdotes or sharing case studies. When people can picture themselves in a story, it’s easier to relate to the solutions offered to address their challenges.
The other way we use stories is in the thought leadership platform we develop for clients. The platform is the strategy that sets the stage for deliberate, progressive visibility. It allows for a consistent message and cadence to keep the thought leader on point and the audience eager to experience what comes next. Most importantly, it encourages a natural flow of ideas that continues to build upon the overarching narrative the thought leader wants to convey.
Which brings us back to the main point. No matter how a storyteller chooses to share their ideas with us, there are still advantages to having structure. After all, you can’t build a house without a foundation, a vehicle without a chassis, or a classic meringue without egg whites. Everything needs some amount of structure to exist, let alone survive under pressure, strain, or the ravages of time.
The same is true for effective thought leadership. The overarching goal is to engage the reader so they retain the message. When you incorporate storytelling into thought leadership, there’s the freedom to share innovation in an interesting way, but having some sort of structure will help your audience follow the specific points of your idea and make it easier to bring others along for the journey.
This is the third article in our series about the importance of storytelling in thought leadership. Be sure to check out the first two parts here:
The “What If” of Thought Leadership