The power of narrative
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Narrative and Story are words that are used a lot these days in association with almost any and every kind of communication initiative. Those who seek to persuade us to adopt a political preference; Those who are keen to influence our purchasing habits; Those who focused on shifting our mindsets… begin by first identifying an appropriate narrative that they believe will capture our imagination.
For example, an opening chapter that portrays a health service in crisis might be followed by a chapter that inspires us with an idea that, by voting in a certain way, we will release £350M into the open hands of the NHS every week.
The issue that the above story raises is that, for those seeking to influence us, all that appears to matter is the beginning and the middle. The end – the outcome – hasn’t been properly accounted for, nor articulated. And, that can lead to growing distrust in the minds of those who have been appealed to. The lesson arising from diving into the powerful currents generated by story is that, once you’re in, you have to see it through.
When it comes to communicating with audiences within organisations, the power of story is as redolent as it ever was. Story offers a unique capacity to connect past, present and future – often in the context of characters whom we relate to, admire and identify with – as a result of narrative’s capacity to reveal shared experience and ambition.
However, once we’ve started, we cannot stop pursuing the narrative path when we arrive at a place we regard as the middle. Story is a journey forward – and as such, demands that we keep travelling with it. Stories, well-told and consistently refreshed, do more than engage and enthuse… they have the power to enrich and create loyalty. Ask the producers of Game of Thrones if their audience was willing them to end the story with the conclusion of season 8. If the audience could have their way – and assuming the story-makers continue to generate compelling narratives - refreshed with new perspectives and characters – the story would just keep on going.
The lesson from popular culture is that stories deserve to be considered from all sides and perspectives. At the point of beginning a narrative, it is vitally important to have a good idea of what the intended shape of the end is likely to be – so those who become involved and connected to the story are not left feeling disappointed or diminished if the time comes to change the story.
It is also important to consider the diverse elements which might interweave to create a powerful and compelling story. In broadcast/film/audio narrative terms the elements that inform the overarching story are often referred to as back-stories – individual character and situational components which intersect, combine and sometimes fuse to create what is referred to as the arc – the journey that will take an audience from one set of expectations or perceptions to a new understanding/mindset.
Then there are the platforms by which story strands are shared and distributed. The story can be cleverly deconstructed to play out across mixed media – inhabiting the digital, experiential and social spaces, creating an interconnected sense of past, present and future that is vibrant, contemporary and constantly involving. Story reaches deeper and offers more points of emotional connection to more people – than purely informational or documentary content ever can. And in making connections through story, we connect those drawn within a Story’s web to one another.
The challenge is to be bold in seeking out a ‘rich’ story that has the potential to be explored beyond a beginning… imagining an end point that might keep moving beyond the horizon as the story evolves, expands and embraces greater action, adventure, opportunities and possibilities… allowing those on the receiving end of the narrative to add their own experience to the arc – as the story becomes THEIRS.
Shall we begin…