5 Ways to Make Your Storytelling More Engaging and Effective

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"Most of us spend our entire lives surrounded by the stories we're telling," said Sarah Redohl in a webinar for the American Society of Business Publication Editors yesterday. "It's not that hard to pull out your cameras and start shooting those moments. The more you do that, the more proficient you will be at it. Start taking your phone out right now and start shooting videos."

My phone came out when Redohl, the chief creative strategist of StoryLab LLC, in Columbia, Mo., said that. And while I can't promote the effectiveness of videos enough—88% of visitors stay longer on a site with prominent video displayed—today I'm more interested in storytelling.

Because as Redohl said, we're surrounded by our stories—but we're not always telling them. I recently helped a friend improve her resume. She's an excellent videographer, photographer, writer, editor, people-person, but when it came to her resume, it was flat and dry. She wasn't telling her own story. When I tried to cut things, she said, "but I did that."

"But getting an article in The Inquirer or making a video isn't engaging in itself," I told her. "What was that video about? What made it get the most shares? What difference did it make? Tell stories in your voice!" Here are six things to remember in your storytelling:

1. A good story can overcome how it's delivered. "If you have a really good story, people are willing to sit through a slightly lower quality video," Redohl said. She compared a professional video she had produced to one done on a smartphone. The professional one got more views, but the smartphone video got more likes and shares. Sometimes, a few bumps can come off as more human.

2. First comes the story, then the promotion. "Every network asked us to do a pilot [for House of Cards] except one," Kevin Spacey told an audience of marketers. "Netflix did the right thing; they embraced targeted marketing and branding as a virtue higher than ratings. And in a similar vein, content marketers need to be mindful of falling into the trap of looking for keywords and quick hits to boost their ranking on Google. Stay true to your brand and true to your voice, and audiences will respond to that authenticity with enthusiasm and passion."

3. But, it takes both. "Our job doesn't stop when we hit export in iMovie," Redohl said. "That's really where our job begins." What was that famous quote from The New York Times digital report in 2014? "At the [NYT,] far too often for writers and editors the story is done when you hit publish," said Paul Berry, who helped found The Huffington Post. "At Huffington Post, the article begins its life when you hit publish."

4. Telling a story differently doesn’t just involve editorial. Veronica Magan, managing editor and digital strategist for Access Intelligence’s Via Satellite Magazine and Avionics Magazine, told an SIIA audience that she “wants to provide the reader with a great experience no matter where they were accessing content.” Their effort involves video, interactivity, gauging reader engagement, reducing production time—in other words, a company-wide commitment. “We want to enrich content in ways that print can’t,” Magan said.

5. Highlight your storytellers—those are important communities you're building. During an SIIA webinar this week Jaclyn Baldovin, online content manager for Business Management Daily (BMD), talked about Cal Butera's blog posts and cartoons for BMD—under the title The Savvy Manager. (The webinar, about marketing on LinkedIn, is now posted for members.) "You want to build a following around your influencers, putting a face to the company. People want to connect with people not brands." And stories, which Butera tells well. Here's one column on 6 Huge Mistakes Rookie Bosses Make.

6. Seek out stories from your audience and experts. Also in that webinar, co-presenter Bob Coleman, editor of The Coleman Report, said that he likes to hire retired Small Business Administration officials to deliver his training and webinars. "I did a search on LinkedIn and 435 results came up," he said. "I saw Walter [a former top SBA official] listed, and it said he's a big LA Kings hockey fan and loves to write. Now he sends me great [columns]; he loves it and [because] he wants exposure, it doesn't cost me." You can bet Walter has some stories to tell.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…