Use Movie-Style Storytelling in All Communication

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Just like a movie engages an audience for hours, your communications can have the same effect — and most of the time, you don’t even need video.


By Ted Frank

When it comes to communicating — whether it is a big presentation, an email to your members, or revamping your marketing kit — you’re almost always faced with the same quandary: the need to communicate insights, ideas, strategies, and policies, but also be memorable so your audience is motivated enough to take your ideas into the real world.

A typical first move is to fill up on bullet points, charts, and quick hits; but a more effective way is built on what works in a conference room — being simple, visual, and powerful — and comes from a medium that’s universally loved: movies.

Here are some ways to establish credibility and trust by using movie-style storytelling, so your ideas are taken seriously and your mission embraced.

    Find the three key points that matter most. Movie screenwriters are able to write so quickly and powerfully because they start with three key scenes, then build the rest of the movie around those moments. This keeps them out of the weeds when writing, and enables an audience to remember and share with other people. You can do the same thing; decide which three things are the most important and emphasize those. It makes it easier to write your narration, and you get to choose what people remember.

    Cut for clarity and recall, then cut more. Now that you’ve got your three key points, take another cue from movies and cut out what you don’t need. Screenwriters cut down a novel to 150-or-so pages, the director cuts down the script, and finally, the editor cuts it all down to the story we see onscreen. Most of the time, we don’t miss those things that are cut. Seeing less detail helps us absorb and remember the most important parts of the story. Grab a colleague and tell him or her the three key points you want to establish, then ask them to cut out anything that gets in the way. In my workshops, I’ve seen people cut 80 percent from their partner’s piece, and their partners are always grateful — and never miss the weeds that got whacked.

    Show your points through examples. It’s so much easier to understand and remember a concept when it’s seen or heard through an example. It helps us wrap our heads around it. What makes it even more meaningful is capping it off with the opportunity your point presents. Put the example and the opportunity together, and you’ll give them not only a story they can relate to, but also one they can take with them and use.

    If you can make it visual, even better. Just like an example helps us grab hold of it, seeing that example makes it even more clear. It also puts everyone on the same page because we all see the same visual. A drawing or animation can work, but an actual photo can be more effective because it depicts a real thing, which is a more effective way for people to relate and believe.

    Speak to the emotional side. Whether it’s laughter, tears, anger, or exhilaration, you’ve felt the compelling pull of emotions in movies. But for some reason, when we get to the office and put together our PowerPoint, newsletter, magazine, or whatever, we neglect this powerful tool. Speaking to the rational side and simply informing can only take you so far. If you want people to get behind you, inspire them and make them believe by engaging their emotional side.

    Stand up for what you believe. One of the most profound ways people can raise the level of their communication and establish authenticity is to get out from behind the message and stand in front. Do your members know you and your staff on sight? Show them there are people behind the message, not just automatons. Do that and you’re already a million times more engaging — they see the words coming from you, increasing your credibility, and showing that you believe in your message enough to stand for it.

The good news is that screenwriters, directors, and other master communicators of the movie industry have already created the storytelling template for you. Simply follow their lead to engage your audience — they’ll be inspired and motivated to get onboard and invest in your association’s mission or cause.

Ted Frank ( is the principal story strategist at Backstories Studio and author of Get to the Heart, which shows professionals how to use movie-style storytelling.