Humans have a profound relationship with stories. Some stories have lasted millennia — ancient myths and archetypes repackaged as the latest superhero movie or best-selling book. Stories can help humans connect and learn in a way that no other medium can. Yet, now, we find ourselves at a digital roadblock. A constant need for content has diluted the art of storytelling. To help us reconnect with our audiences, we need to humanize our content through more personal stories.
Today, and even here in this magazine, we see titles such as “5 Ways To Feel Optimistic at Work.” While these are fine and can offer valuable insights, if you want to write something memorable and worth reading, parallel your own story with the tips. The reader will have a totally different emotional experience.
Reclaiming the art of storytelling
Life is made up of human experiences. Anyone can write a generic list of “do’s and don’ts” on any topic, from medicine to executive leadership. However, the typical reader’s eyes start glazing over when they read a wall of unrelatable text telling them what they should do, think, or understand. Unfortunately, too much content online focuses on a detached, impartial knowledge dump.
Instead, it’s time to delve into the roots of this knowledge. Writers aren’t robots. Behind their ideas, philosophies, or leadership methodologies are stories. Humanizing content means tapping into these stories and using them to build a relationship with the reader. People have an innate desire to relate to others, but that isn’t cultivated by chance. It’s good storytelling that boosts relatability in a piece of writing.
The power of anecdotes
By way of example, eight years ago, I was at the London Institute of Marketing with a generic PowerPoint presentation on marketing. I was scheduled for 30 minutes of speaking, and about five minutes into my slideshow, I could feel that I wasn’t connecting with the audience. They didn’t give me anything except the most polite, apathetic attention. It was like they were telling me with their silence, “OK, thank you for telling us what to do.”
I was, after all, telling a roomful of marketing experts how to do their job and what developments there had been in marketing. Fortunately, I realized my mistake fairly early on, and I promptly ditched the slideshow. I stopped running through a list of bullet points on how to market. Instead, I proved these rules through my own story.
The painful early lessons I learned, the long hours and grueling work that went into building a client base and a marketing agency from the ground up – all these experiences went into my story, and I felt the atmosphere in the room change. Suddenly, the audience woke up and saw how humanized content could create a deep and lasting bond with the viewer.
I achieved maximum audience captivation by telling them the story of how one particular client had deeply impacted me by telling me their personal story. It was a client who had built a medical R&D company after a family member had died of a rare form of cancer. This story humanized this client for me, and I knew they were motivated by something much more profound than profits. We could completely rebuild this company’s branding strategy, focusing on the human-family element rather than the business element. Suddenly, even a large, cold medical corporation could feel like a close family friend.
After turning my 30-minute presentation around and feeling a genuine connection with my audience, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. As I lay awake in bed that night, I remembered the times I had spoken with clients. When they had taken the time to share a personal story about their journey, I had instantly felt a boost in empathy and love for that person. I caught a glimpse into their inner workings, and it was fascinating. Compelling stories can take a bland, generic talk and transform it into a powerful way to teach a lesson. It just so happens that you’re able to build a powerful bond with the listener along the way.
It might seem obvious as we talk about it, but humanized content is becoming less and less common in the digital world. Too many leadership articles are impersonal lectures. Instead, there’s a more effective way to pass on knowledge to the reader, and that’s through humanization.
Let’s get out there and bring our story to the world.