How to captivate your audience with powerful storytelling techniques

This weekend I took my two children to Chris Houghton’s session on his latest masterpiece ‘Goodnight Everyone’ as part of the Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival.

When entering City Hall, I was a little nervous; anyone who has met my kids knows that they don’t sit still for long – the youngest has a particular penchant for escaping. But I needn’t have worried; Chris’ colourful and interactive talk had them mesmerised (even if the youngest did still need a fairly constant supply of mini Cheddars throughout).

Chris’ success in captivating a room of young children aged 3+ (and their parents) got me thinking… what makes good storytelling so powerful?

In marketing, there’s an increasing emphasis on the power of good storytelling to help brands sell themselves. We are in, as Adweek calls it, ‘the golden age of storytelling’.

There’s a scientific reason for this: our brains remember stories far better than facts and statistics (see ‘The link between memory and stories’). So if you want to stand out, you need to make sure that you have a powerful story – one that captivates.

Here are five tips from Chris’ storytelling session that you can apply when telling your brand’s story:

1. Be authentic
Unless it’s your style, you don’t have to be highly animated or overly upbeat; you just have to show genuine passion for what you do and make sure your message resonates with your audience. Chris’ approach was fairly understated, but his passion and love of drawing was evident to everyone. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who found themselves fondly reminiscing of their own childhood ambitions and reflecting on where it has led them.

It’s only by being genuinely, consistently true to who you are that you’ll create trust with your audience.

2. Show some character
Chris said at the outset that he’d been driven to a career in illustration and children’s books because of his childhood belief that doing it for a living would mean he’d get to draw all day long. He also talked about his long-standing love of drawing squirrels, explaining that every book he has published has a squirrel hidden somewhere in it – this detail stuck with me and I was compelled to search ‘Oh No, George’ as soon as I got home – Chris, if you’re reading this, I’ve put a squirrel in my featured image just for you!

More often than not, it’s the people representing a brand that drive customers to do business with them; showing a bit of ‘you’, your interests and quirks can give your story more impact.

3. Build a connection
Before talking about where his own love of drawing led him, Chris asked the children: “Who likes to draw?” – excited hands went up across the room. “Me!” cried a number of voices simultaneously. By eliciting a shared love of drawing in his audience, Chris immediately established himself as ‘one of them’. Later, when he asked: ‘Who likes to dance?’, lots of excited children answered that, yes, they did, before proceeding to get up and follow Chris in some dance moves.

By showing an interest in your audience early on and establishing common interests, you’ll be in a much better position to ‘persuade them to dance’.

4. Make it interactive

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Storytelling isn’t just about the ‘telling’, it’s about involving your audience so that they buy into it. At the end of the story session, Chris drew an impressive giant animal picture (upside down at that), asking the children which animals they wanted him to include. Because they were involved in the process, they were transfixed throughout.

By listening to your audience and letting them be a part of your brand development, you can create more meaningful connections and use their feedback to improve your end product.

5. Use props
Having some visual aids to help tell your story can make it all that more captivating. Chris’ session was interspersed with lots of colourful pictures, animation and props. when recounting the story of George the dog, devouring the cake he really shouldn’t have been eating, he brought out puppet George. Running from one side of the room to the other and shaking crumbs (confetti) from a cardboard cake over the children’s heads, he produced much amusement and squeals of laughter.

Puppets might not be the right prop for you, but visual tools like video, original photos and infographics can bring your story to life and engage your audience in a similar way.

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Have you experienced some truly outstanding storytelling methods or had success in applying powerful storytelling techniques when marketing your business? If so, please do share your tips in the comments.
Alongside taking my children to fun kids’ groups and activities (and persuading them not to escape), I also run a freelance marketing business, Glew Marketing. If you’d like some help telling your brand story, whether it be through social media, blogs or marketing communications, please get in touch.

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