Pacing in writing and storytelling is what makes your story be read/told in a faster or more slowly way. You will not keep your audience and readers at the edge of their seats if you tell an adventure story in a relaxed manner. So it is important to get it just right. And the key to it lies in music – mind the pun.
In fact, storytelling and music can be seen like two long lost siblings. Back in the Middle Ages, troubadours and bards enchanted crowds and nobles with their stories told to the sound of a cittern or harp. Storytelling and music were so intrinsically connected that even in literature tales were written in verse.
What music always brought to stories was a sort of context. The initial notes would set the tone and pacing of the tale about to be told.
Today we will mostly find this technique applied to films, where music is used to underline emotion and – you guessed it – to set tone and pacing. This has become so inherent to the language of film and the emotions it triggers that we recognise and attribute certain music tones to specific genres and emotions. A good example is Hitchcock’s famous Psycho soundtrack: when you hear those high-pitched notes, you know someone is about to get killed.
But music is essential to writing too.
Music and writing
If you look at pianists, you’ll notice their hands play different notes. In very layman terms (especially because I’m no music expert), the left-hand focusses on the tone and tempo, while the right-hand plays the melody. The same concept applies to writing and storytelling. A story is like a melody that needs a base made out of tone and pace.
Surely when you read a story or an article, you hear an inner voice in your head. It’s as though your brain is telling the story you’re reading. Punctuation will help you understand when to stop (periods), speed (commas), or change tone (exclamation and question marks). That is to say, punctuation and the length of a sentence are what will determine the pace of the story – like the pianist’s left hand. The choice of words and the sentences’ composition are what make out the melody – like the pianist’s right hand.
At one point in time, as troubadours disappeared, music and literature took different turns. While storytelling remains relevant in music – from protest music to 1980s hip-hop – writing dropped its verse form and accompanied instruments.
Bringing Music Back to Story
The thing is, writing and storytelling cannot exist without music – or at least the musicality character that the craft demands. When I coach people in presenting on stage or news reading, I always ask them to think about the most suitable soundtrack for their story. If you want to share an energetic story, you’ll probably choose a fast-paced song, which means your speech must also be delivered in a faster tempo.
This idea of musicality affects your writing too. If you’d like to put it to test, practice some simple writing while listening to different tracks each with varied tempos. If you need tips on how to do simple writing exercises, check out my mini e-book here. After a few songs, you’ll notice how your writing changes according to the music played: from pacing to, sometimes, even content.
So next time you want to write or tell a story, start by determining its soundtrack. Listen to the song for a beat and then let yourself be carried away by its flow.
Storytelling Technique and Content Marketing are really good friends in the writing-for-business sphere. But like any friendship they may find themselves at odds sometimes, developing tension and yielding no results. The reason being none of them really knowing why it is serving the other.
If you are producing content for the sake of populating your media channels, you might as well stop doing anything and save yourself some time and, possibly, some money. No matter how good a story is if it doesn’t have a marketing purpose behind it, it just won’t sell.
Hey, I’m all for writing. Write as much as you can, every day and anywhere. I’ve even written a mini e-book about routine writing. But, since you are putting in the effort, wouldn’t it be better if your stories actually got read by the people you were trying to reach?
The only way you can keep the friendship between Storytelling Technique and Content Marketing intact is by letting them know why they are feeding each other. Think about it, surely if someone at the office asks you to do something, you are likely to ask them why. You don’t just do things for the sake of doing them, do you? You think about it strategically: the goal, the benefits, the risks.
By asking why you are addressing three crucial components to story and content: Message, Audience, and Goal. Because there is no story if there is no point (message); there’s no point if there’s no reason (goal); there is no reason if there is no one who cares (audience).
So, before you start hammering those lovely laptop keys, take a moment to consider the ‘whys’.
The first question in Content Marketing you have to ask is: why are you telling the story? In other words: what is it that you want to reach and what’s your target?
Once you’ve got that clear, you can move on to ask the relevant questions regarding Storytelling:
- Why is this story relevant?
- Why should your audience care?
- Why is this the best way (angle) to tell this story?
You may be wondering why is it that I’m focused on the ‘why’ instead of the ‘what’.
Simon Sinek explains the importance of asking ‘why’ quite well in an old Tedx about inspirational leadership. The ‘what’ is about selling a product or service, but the ‘why’ is all about inspiring your clients to acquire your specific product or service.
The ‘why’ provides an experience: it’s a revelation of certain values attained by you and your brand that go beyond materialism. It’s about connecting with like-minded people who want to be part of your dream.
Steve Jobs understood this quite well and it was this principle that led him to launch the Think Different campaign upon his return to Apple.
With ‘what’ you will make sales; but with ‘why’ you will conquer loyal followers who share your vision. And you know what those followers can become, right? You got it, brand advocates.
So, let go of the ‘what’ and embrace the ‘why’. After all, you’re here for the long run and your clients deserve better and more.
March 3, 2017
There’s a Storytelling trick broadcast journalists use when reporting live on a story. You probably never noticed it. In all honesty, neither have most journalists themselves. They just do it.
At the beginning of my journalism career, I was an assistant producer at a fast-paced radio news programme. One time, the presenter stormed out of the studio after a live Q&A with one of our freelance reporters. “Never use that one again,” he said to my surprise. The reporter was good. He knew his stuff, he spoke eloquently, and never reported a second more than requested. But he had made the one mistake my editor couldn’t stand: he often started his answers with the words ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘correct.’
You are probably confused and that’s ok.
See, journalists are discouraged from asking closed-ended questions. These are questions that lead to answers such as the aforementioned single words. So we ask open-ended questions to stimulate deeper, and more meaningful replies. Instead of asking: “Are you ok?” – which will lead to a yes or no answer – we ask “How are you feeling today?”
But of course, sometimes journalists do need to ask closed-ended questions. A well trained good reporter will know better than to say ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘correct.’ So here’s the trick: journalists answer by repeating the question in the affirmative form stressing the action that can lead to yes or no answers.
Studio: “Has citizen X arrived at the court already?”
Reporter: “Citizen X has not yet arrived at the court… [rest of the story]”
The words “has not yet” are stressed to indicate the answer to the question posed.
But why do journalists do this?
The simple answer is: to save time and money.
Back to my journalism beginnings. After we had a live Q&A with a journalist, we always packed their answers into a report of its own. Unless new developments would come in, we would use that one minute from the live conversation in our next news bulletins. This would allow the reporters to actually have time to do their work without worrying about the next live block. Once there was something new or the story had changed – and it always does – the reporter would come back live with the latest updates.
In today’s world obsessed with live reporting, this economics no longer plays much of a role in the broadcasting landscape. But it has left a heritage behind. It has forced journalists to tell a story in every answer they give. Something that has a beginning, middle and end like any other report would – only it lasts 30seconds.
Stories come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes little is just enough. Addressing your audience for half an hour doesn’t mean they will get more from you than if you had spent 10 minutes with them.
Refine your message. Focus on the journey. Share the heart of your story. And very importantly, be original: don’t start your answers with yes, no or correct. You never who might storm out of the room enraged with your lack of storytelling capability.
October 19, 2016
Here’s the thing about business storytelling: without emotional connection, you won’t get far.
A couple of weeks ago I was struggling with a very annoying cold that forced me to blow my nose every 10 minutes. It so happened I had to moderate a workshop of a very important client for three days during this period.
The thing about being ill is that it’s just a complete waste of your time and energy. You’re not present in the moment, as your attention is geared towards trying to control yet another sneeze while keeping your professional posture before your clients.
Let’s be honest: no one likes a sick person near them. Just the thought of one probably makes you squirm. So you now fully understand where I stood here.
As a storyteller strategist, I like leading my sessions with (you guessed it) stories. I usually avoid telling my own because I always feel I might come across as an egocentric. Plus, my vast experience in journalism was all about getting someone else’s story. Talking about others is so much easy.
But make no mistakes: sharing something personal with a stranger is the best immediate connection you can ever wish for.
So there I stood in front of some 16 participants all looking very eagerly at this storyteller. The event organizer had been promising them three days full of fun exercises and engaging revelations. And now I had to deliver it. Even though the only thing I was good for was to crawl back to bed with a cup of ginger tea and my laptop so that I could binge watch my favourite Netflix series until I fell asleep.
I had already planned a couple of ‘thank-yous’ and a joke – a giggle is my entrance to my audience’s hearts. I would then proceed with a listing of some of my most accomplished work to prove my expertise to the audience before me.
But as I got up from my seat, gripped to my Kleenex, and took my position, I decided to change the beginning of my presentation completely.
My audience needed a distraction from my running nose and clown-like voice. So I connected with them.
The purpose of the workshop was to talk about connecting to an audience. To use a common literary reference, why not showing instead of telling?
I shared small personal stories about who I was and what got me to stand before them on that day. I told them about my childhood dreams of becoming a ballerina, my adolescent vision of changing the world, and the reason I changed so much over the last few years.
I saw smiles, I saw facial expressions of recognition in themselves, I saw minds wondering to the deepest ends of their soul, recalling those sweet revealing moments that make us who we are.
And there it was: the human connection between me and this room of 16 strangers. I was ready to share. They were ready to listen. Now, I could lead. There was no more need to prove my expertise, because what happened in that room goes beyond that.
Think about it: do you listen to people about whom you don’t care? Do you take on board advice from experts who you just don’t get?
Once that bridge is built and the gate is open, there is only prosperity awaiting.
Here’s my tip for you: be human for a day. Try it. You might just like it.
May 26, 2016
How to write stories, people ask me constantly. In fact, every time I start a new class, the most common argument among my students over the years has been “I can’t write.”
“Bollocks,” I tell them as I warn them that kind of language will not be tolerated in my classroom. Swearing, however, is always welcome. You can swear as much as you like, but you can’t tell me you can’t do something as intrinsically human as writing.
I’m not talking about the act of putting down words together. I’m talking about telling a story. Any story.
Surely you were forced to write about your summer at some point in school. And you have written personal letters or emails to loved ones too, where you shared feelings and emotions. See, you can write.
The thing is, you may not be a Lorca, Austen, or Wilde – don’t worry, most of us aren’t – but you have stories to share. And that’s where it all begins.
Only you see the world through your eyes. Only you experience life in that manner. Only you have lived the way you have. You know of your pains, your joys, your lessons. That’s uniquely and exclusively to you. So you have a story to tell. The only hindrance you may face is ‘how to put it on paper.’
Writing is not solely based on talent. There’s a large share of technique attached to it. And a lot of practice too.
Think of marathon runners. They may have the legs and the stamina, but they still need to practice every day to build up on their resilience, to improve their technique, and be able to cross the finishing line as a winner.
Writers are no different. Daily – or at least frequent – practice is a must. And yes, there are tricks of the trade that enable you to translate your thoughts and emotions onto paper. Nothing comes to you as a divine inspiration. You must work at it and for it too.
The first step is to have an idea of what it is that you want to tell. Write down a few points you want to make. A list good enough at this stage. Now you have your story. All you have to do is write it.
I know, starting is always the hardest part. So here’s a trick for you.
Right on the top of your blank page write: “What I want to say is…” and take it from there. Write away. Even what doesn’t seem to make any sense. Typos are allowed. Censorship is not part of this game. Editing will have its turn to shine. But hey, you’re writing!
May 23, 2016
Let’s cut right into it: storytelling is nothing new.
True, you may hear the term more often now during coffee-breaks at conventions and networking events as you take bites at those delicious canapés. And your colleagues may well be trying to impress someone when they say the ‘hero’s journey’ is the hot-thing right now. But they’re right. It is the trend and it should be.
We have been telling stories forever. Surely your family has a favourite one which you once told at some dinner – and you have no clue anymore what it was about. But they remember it. Maybe not all the details, maybe not even the story itself. But they remember the emotion you caused and how your words impacted them. In that moment – just like every time you tell a joke or reminisce about old stories – you created a human connection.
While we are not reinventing the wheel, by using storytelling technique we are bringing some soul back into communication. We are exchanging thoughts and ideas between humans. We are no longer forcing our messages to our audiences, we are opening up to them, sharing with them, talking to them, awakening emotions that bring us together.
Who you are as an entrepreneur, brand or company is as just as important as the product or service you have on offer. Your audience wants to know you, how you got the idea, where it all came from.
We want to feel inspired by your business, not lured into it.
How often after watching a TEDx talk you went to check that person’s business? That engagement only happened because the speaker caused an emotion in you, and established a connection with you.
So here’s my writer tip for you: get a pen and a notepad. Picture yourself and your business as a film. Write down that opening scene, and share with your audience the beginning of that journey. Spoilers are permitted – just this once.