The Science of Storytellers

So if you’re like me, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story on FX is must-see television.  Some may have been too young to understand the impact the ‘trial of the century’ had on America, but many of us remember EXACTLY where we were when the juice got loose in his Ford Bronco.

In the most recent episode, the actor playing Johnnie Cochran tells the defense team that the outcome of the case would be dependent on which side told the best story. The defense made it a priority to tell a better story, even with evidence that seemed impossible to refute.

In the end, the defense presented a narrative that created doubt in the jury’s mind, loaded with uncertainty about the prosecution’s process of gathering evidence and what their motives were.

As marketers & writers, we’re constantly telling long and short stories whether it’s through emails, newsletters or presentations to clients. For my company, Laugh Staff, our comedians help tell the story of nervous best men and maids of honor for their wedding toasts.  How do the comedians take the stories and words of people they’ve never met and present it in a way that keeps the audience engaged? These three things are key, even if you’re not a comedian.

1)    Ask the right questions – and ask A LOT of questions too!  For Laugh Staff we send a detailed questionnaire to every best man and maid of honor, asking questions like:

How long have you known the bride & groom?

What makes your relationship special to the bride or groom?

What does the bride love about the groom?

What does the groom love about the bride?

Can you tell us one funny story from the courtship?

Can you tell us how they first met?

Can you tell us about the engagement?

Who is paying for the wedding?

Are there any topics off limits? (Exes, absentee parents, etc.)

Most people love talking about themselves so chances are you can obtain information on your client or customer sooner rather than later. If you want a great example of someone who has made a career off of asking questions, check out Brian Grazer’s book, A Curious Mind.

2)    Explain the creative process – Our brains are hardwired for stories, so explaining how you got from point A to point B puts you in the storyteller’s drivers seat of how you came up with the concept of their speech or latest campaign. Plus this shows consideration, as you are taking the time to let the customers absorb your thought process. Think of it like a doctor explaining an incision, but way less bloody.

3)    Listen, repeat the concern and RESPOND – So if the first draft doesn’t satisfy, simply ask, “What parts would you like to see improvement on?” Take the notes, go back to the drawing board and in your next meeting or email interaction, repeat the concern they had and how you went about correcting it… or at least tried to improve on it. Again, utilize the storytelling process to reflect your knowledge. People crave stories, and when you get the reputation as an effective storyteller, you’ve created value personally and professionally.

Josh Womack is the Co-Founder of Laugh Staff, a company that uses stand-up comedians to help write wedding toasts, dating profiles and engaging content. He is also a Copywriter at Progressive Insurance. And no, he hasn’t met Flo.

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