In my last post, I compared effective PR professionals to storytellers – each work to weave meaning into a plot that engages readers and encourages thought. But what causes those thoughts and what makes a good story resonate?

The most memorable stories I’ve read coalesce character development, intrigue and tension, appealing to my emotions until I “know” and ultimately “walk in the shoes” of a protagonist. Characters seemingly jump off the page as friends, lovers and enemies.

Stories become memorable when we are able to perceive them through our own lens, constructing meaning through the feelings they evoke. We invest ourselves because the author has worked to make their story personal, relatable – ours.

Simply put, the ways we see and act are driven by intuitive, emotion-led processes. Only after we have made an emotional judgment do we manufacture reasons to tell others, “Why?”

When these notions are contextualized, we get a better understanding of what makes our stories resonate. Michael Maslansky puts it well when he says, “it’s not what you say that matters, but what others hear.” But how do we know what our audience really hears? We can:

  • Understand and empathize with the audience perspective. If emotions guide reason, we have to see and speak through the lens of our audience.  Engage disparate groups by communicating through their moral framework – guiding their answer to the question, “Why?”
  • Listen first. According to Ziba, figure out how clients can “play a supporting role” in customer stories – acting as “an enabler, not a controller.” Use your understanding of an audience’s perspective to craft a story they can champion as their own.
  • Leverage trust before truth. As Maslansky coins it, “the truth will not set you free.” I don’t mean to imply that we should be dishonest, but rather our appeals to reason generally fail to resonate. Interestingly, many studies even prove that facts polarize an audience – individuals use data presented to rationalize their own point of view. As storytellers, our job is to qualify reason through reader intuitions. Weave an audience’s own language through client stories to build trust and steer their interpretation of fact.
  • Communicate authentic values. Foster cultural identity through a brand philosophy that aligns with consumer values. Differentiate your client through an authentic message that builds contextual meaning and intrinsic worth.
  • Drive a consistent narrative. To borrow from Ziba again, narrative is how we remember. Integrate audience perspective, trust and authentic value into a cohesive narrative that champions client stories and resonates with the public.

Revisiting my analogy to a memorable book, we invest ourselves because the author gives us ownership of their work. Understanding the role emotion plays in our construction of reason provides us direction for the stories we share. To resonate, our messages must be relatable, engage audience intuition and create meaning – only then will the language we choose influence reason and inspire action.


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