The key to audience connection is storytelling – using narrative to evoke empathy and demonstrate persuasion. A well-crafted and relatable narrative creates sympathy and connection with audiences, helping to personalise the experience and feel a sense of inclusion with the story being presented. Stories create connection, it’s the reason we enjoy books and films that convey a compelling narrative, especially when we can see ourselves in those characters, circumstances, or settings.
The science behind it points towards storytelling’s ability to produce oxytocin, a chemical we generate when feeling trusted or shown kindness, thereby more compelled to cooperate with others and feeling a greater sense of empathy; dropping inhibitions and raising compassion. However, to generate empathetic responses, a story must grab attention through the development of tension.
When it comes to writing and creating tension, remember to rule of three: introduction, tension, and climax. Any introduction provides a setting, establishes the key elements, and hopefully begins your audience’s empathy for the story and its characters. Tension is thereby introduced through challenges that need to be overcome, by making these obstacles universal, audiences will relate to this sense of tension and be invested in finding the solution by the narrative’s end.
Gifted storytellers not only create captivating stories, but are often persuasive presenters like the late Steve Jobs. A critical narrative device Jobs regularly employed was misdirection. When unveiling the first iPod in 2007, Jobs announced the introduction of “three revolutionary products: a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communications device.”
However, there products were simply three separate functions integrated into the iPhone. And this revolutionary technological development essentially set the foundation for all future smartdevice. Jobs personalised the experience and created audience engagement by live demonstrating this new device. The ability to show and tell are critical to gaining audience empathy and maintaining their attention.
Kicking off a presentation with previous clients, office locations, or team dynamics will not capture audience attention. And you have a brief window to earn that attention before they switch off mentally and start thinking about themselves again. To ensure you’ve caught their attention and keep it, inject them into your story and build the narrative around them.
Narrative for Creating Empathy
Personify your brand or message through a character or by addressing the audience directly. Introducing yourself or your immediate message won’t create empathy because the audience aren’t invested yet. If you create a character within your story that feels relatable and reflects your brand well, the introduction of tension will carry audiences on the journey more seamlessly.
The key is to craft a story that easily understanding or empathising with challenge your business or product solves. A commonly held problem generates a sense of relatability and relatable tension point – it’s how stand-up comedy was born. And since stand-comedians are some of the most skilled professionals in audience engagement, it’s important to present a problem that you audience has experienced and/or understands well.
If COVID-19 has highlighted anything, it’s our inherent need to connect and communicate. While we all shared a common challenge and sense of uncertainty, relatability nosedived out the window when celebrities used social media to defile John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ in a saccharin attempt to seem more human during crisis. Don’t ever try to speak down to your audience – laughter and compassion work best when you’re punching up not sneering downwards.
Visual Narratives Through Infographics
As presentation designers, we are big on using visuals to create narratives, and this is best demonstrated through infographics. That ability to translate dry, dull data into a compelling story is our business mission. Data visualisation transforms numbers and figures into a narrative that is more likely to be understood and retained by audiences.
Creating a strong narrative often means understanding what information is better conveyed visually than verbally. The whole ‘picture paints a thousand words’ concept is hard for writers to accept but rings true. Human beings are very visually stimulated creatures and sometimes words just don’t have the same ability to express something that needs to be seen to be truly understood. Infographics help boil down information into something aesthetically pleasing and easier to absorb.
Infographics can also be interactive, which adds further audience immersion, allowing them to directly engage with the information and explore the data in a way that is visually compelling. This doesn’t just mean making the information more comprehensible, but also more relatable, easier to empathise and connect with.
If your audience is emotionally invested in your narrative, then (and I hate using another aphorism but) ‘leave them wanting more’. Audience catharsis should occur in your second act and a new sense of tension should be introduced or alluded to by your final slide. This is how you introduce a call to action.
With a strong narrative that presented challenge, resolution, and then a final obstacle (usually a fear of loss or sense current exclusion from not working with your brand already), your business, product, or message is thus presented as an ideal solution.
Call to actions should be brief and easy, ensuring the audience can get the resolution they seek after following your story and connecting with the narrative enough to trust your brand’s offering.
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