Telling Stories with Stagger: Storylord

I’ve been following Miri Rodriguez for months now when I discovered her book, Brand Storytelling: Put Customers at the Heart of Your Brand Story. Read it and you’ll be inspired to take your business, or maybe even your own personal brand, through her exercises of crafting your brand story.

Miri works at Microsoft as Global Head of Internships and gives talks around the globe on her favorite topic: storytelling. When we asked her what storytelling means to her, we couldn’t wait to see how she responded.

“Once upon a time…”

Ahhh…such magical words! I can’t think of any other expression that can conjure such enchanting magic the way these four words can do.

Did you know that when your brain becomes aware that a story is about to be told, it begins to light up with chemicals and hormones that will immerse you into that content in the most memorable possible way? 22 times more memorable, that is.

You did know. You’re a storyteller. All humans are. It’s an intrinsic and cognitive ability we all have and have been leveraging in order to pass down values, culture, beliefs and legacies long before alphabets were invented.

But are you a storyLORD? That is the question.

When storytelling became the latest sensation in digital branding after influencer marketing, brands big and small, corporate and personal quickly tuned into the (already tested and proved) notion that if content was shared in story form, it had the endowment to capture an audience in a way no other piece of content ever could. And soon, digital marketers, social media community managers, professional communicators and corporate leaders began to focus their time, budget and energy on telling stories but alas! forgot to zoom into the actual alchemy of storytelling.

I’m not judging. That was me too.

When I accepted a job as a professional storyteller at Microsoft, I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into. The role sounded exciting and glamorous and I couldn’t wait to update my LinkedIn profile with this new title! But little did I know what the assignment actually entailed — and what storytelling really was.

A few years (and a few too many mistakes) into the craft of word alchemy, I can confidently share with you my learnings around what this communication scheme is — and what it isn’t.

When I found myself grossly underperforming at my shiny new position, I desperately went out to connect with real professionals in the field. People that had been doing this for years, in various disciplines and industries of all shapes and sizes. These were movie producers, screen writers, artists, CEOs, distinguished engineers, photographers. You name it, I interviewed it. And I asked them one simple question: what is not storytelling.

It took me a while to compile the answers, compare to mediocre online definitions and finally arrive at my own conclusion of what storytelling means to me:

Storytelling is the emotional transfer of information done through a character, plot and conclusion.

Let’s break this notion down in 3 practical parts:

1. Storytelling is not the mere telling of stories but the intentional design of content structure, attributes, and elements that conjure emotion, drive inclusion and lead with empathy. In other words, if you are not taking the time to meticulously craft both the overall narrative and its detailed parts, you are not storytelling, though you might be telling a story.

2. A good story is emotional. We’ve all been exposed to stories that are inconsequential or boring. Just because a piece of content has the core elements of story (character, plot and conclusion), it doesn’t mean that it’s actually delivers on the promise to light up your brain in all kinds of wonderful ways. The great stories are the ones that grab you unsuspectingly and bring you into a newfound world of narrative, never to let you go. Good stories do that because they are emotional in essence. In other words, you feel the story, not just consume it.

3. If it doesn’t have a character, plot and conclusion, it’s not a story. For a story to be a story it has to be composed of these three core elements. If you lose one of these along the way, it stops being a story and becomes only information.

You might be thinking: Ok, Miri, I get it. Storytelling requires deep architecture and storylording, but where do I start?

Glad you asked.

I told you I failed miserably at my job for a little while. Ok, a long while (eye roll). I was desperate to find and create quality stories that would conjure the magic we all know narrative can posses. At the time, I was finishing my Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications with a focus on Design Thinking and UX and soon the light bulb went off! I could use Design Thinking to…well, design stories! And so I did. And the rest is HiSTORY 😊

While you may be intrigued (or not) about using the five step design thinking process to craft your stories, or have found a better way, what’s important is that you start designing, not telling stories. Move away from the delivery and begin with the constructing. A designer is not a pointer, but a painter. It’s someone who is scouting every angle, technique, layer, landscape and intersectionality where the story can land, how, and to whom and considers the entire ecosystem before penning the narrative.

Furthermore, a designer is never completely satisfied with their product. They are consistently looking at new ways to scale, improve and evolve their “finished” product. Storytelling is never a one-time approach. I’ve seen one too many “experts” teach only one way to tell a story and they couldn’t be more wrong. I can’t stress this enough: there are countless ways to do storytelling, and only you will know the best way for you and your audience, when you become the designer.

Here’s to transforming your story words into story worlds, and you from a storyteller into a storylord!

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