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January 15, 2019 Content | Digital communications

Storytelling for impact

 By Rich Nadworny

We are happy to have Rich Nadworny, Design Director at our sister agency Savvy Design Collaborative, guest starring on the Comprend blog! Here, he shares his thoughts on storytelling and how we can create better stories as corporate communications professionals.

After all the years we’ve spent listening to stories, you’d think we’d be better at telling them. Yet, for all the current focus on content marketing and branded stories, we still create stacks of words that fall short of engaging people. That’s a lot of time and money (and opportunity!) wasted.

“The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.”
– Professor and author Jonathan Haidt

As business people, we’ve been trained to take a logical approach to work - marketing included. And yet, research into human behaviour and neuroscience points to a different direction we might take. Professor Haidt singles out a key challenge for marketers: a story is not a rundown of features and benefits we can use to convince clients and consumers to change their behaviour. When we do so, we work against our human inclinations.

Great storytelling shares personal and emotional journeys – just watch any Pixar or Star Wars movie. Stories offer “feelings we don’t have to pay full cost for.” They are simulated experiments in people-physics, freeing us from the limits of our own direct experience.

Stories warm our brains

This isn’t just feel-good chatter. Neuroscience experiments show what happens in our brains when we hear great stories.

Among other things:

  • Neural coupling allows us to listen to stories and to turn them into our own experiences.
  • When we listen to stories, our brain activity starts mirroring that of the storyteller – as well as that of other listeners!
  • Emotional stories cause our brains to release dopamine, which makes us remember those stories better and for longer.

Even simple stories move people

So, how do we start creating better stories in our marketing channels, stories that engage people and make it easier for them to remember?

At the recent Comprend Digital Transformation conference, I led a workshop on Storytelling for Impact. I think most of the people attending thought they’d leave the workshop with a handy-dandy list of best practices, a list that they could bring home to their desks and then promptly forget about. Instead, we practiced telling stories – stories that were personal, emotional, and attention grabbing.

I think some felt a bit daunted at first. However, we did this in a safe, low-key atmosphere. And since every person had to tell a story that mattered to them, there was no right or wrong way to approach this.

Unsurprisingly, every story moved us. Every story was personal and unique even though many of the stories touched on similar events or feelings. Every story transported us to a different time and space and felt like a different experience.

None of these people were experienced storytellers, by the way.

Stories are all around us – we just need to find them

To be a great storyteller, you need to practice. A lot. It takes a lot of work to get to a point where you can write stories and get them right: succinct and flowing. Telling stories out loud also takes practice – you want to understand when people are tuning in and out. A good storyteller needs constant feedback.

The most common resistance to this type of storytelling comes from very serious business people, who cling to the de-bunked belief that logic trumps emotion when it comes to human beings.

The opportunity for the rest of us to find those human stories in your business and organization and tell them in a way that successfully connects people, emotions, and life with your product or service. It may not be easy, but creating great stories and great marketing is never easy.

What we do know, based on all the research out there, is that great stories make for stronger, long-lasting impressions, be they on your customers, your fellow employees or your staff.

If you are interested, we provide training and workshops in storytelling (for your business or leadership), creativity, innovation, and business or service design. Please contact Rich Nadworny at Savvy Design Collaborative (rich.nadworny@savvysthlm.com).

Once you’ve created your stories, our content strategists at Comprend can then help you with an editorial calendar, which will take the guesswork out of when and where to publish.

Cola Herrero-Driver

Cola Herrero-Driver

Head of Client Services


+44 (0)20 8609 4911

Charlotte Naversten

Charlotte Naversten

Content strategist


+46 73 985 55 77