The prospect of Donald Trump appearing on the ballot for the 2024 election may come as a surprise to all but his devoted fans. After all, this is a “politician” who, most agree, pushed the boundaries too far and appeared to have been burnt by the experience.
But no, The Donald seems to be rising again from the flames. So how does he do it? Well, Donald Trump, in common with influential leaders, is very good at telling stories. Yes he tells plenty of those type of stories – such as his early covid response (“We’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”) – but he’s very good at telling simple stories which stick in the minds of voters.
Make America Great Again is a classic case in point. Just mention MAGA and it’s hard not to see an accompanying image of the Stars and Stripes flag. Donald Trump wrote a very successful story behind his idea… which is a contributing factor to why he still has influence today.
We all have ideas and messages that we are aiming to get across, from the political slogan, the memorable soundbite, the call to action or the blowing of a victorious trumpet…
Nevertheless, ideas and messages are hard to communicate. Part of the problem is that we are living in a world which has been pitched at to saturation levels, on a daily basis. The same could be said of stories as borne out by the theory of seven basic plots. However, the textural potential of a story has seen these plots constantly shaped and reshaped since cave paintings talked about the highs and lows of a buffalo hunt.
Communicating ideas and stories
So while the messaging or ideas around a theme – let’s use ‘change’ as an example – may well have been repeated since the days of Heraclitus, new stories have given us constant updates. “There is nothing permanent except change,” Heraclitus wrote in 500 BC, and yet Jeff Bezos wrote far more recently “What’s dangerous is not to evolve.” Same theme, different story.
The aim of anyone hoping to influence an audience is to take those 2 dimensional ideas and messages which, sitting alone, are but poor carbon copies of ideas used many time before , and to give them body and life; a 3 dimensional aspect that cuts through all the other advertising tosh that people are served up day in and day out!
See the story as a vehicle for expressing your ideas and messages and more. Through a story you will have a main theme, but also the opportunity to integrate sub themes, although keep them relevant and don’t veer off tangent. You can introduce characters (whether they are people or work categories or tasks) and conflicts and resolutions.
That’s why a story is so unique. It can be bent and twisted and shaped to fit the purpose you need for it. Most of the people I meet who avoid telling stories do so because they’re afraid. They are scared they aren’t good at telling stories, or their story isn’t good enough. In these cases they are held back by the fear of letting go.
Storytelling: Where do you start?
Some points to consider:
- It doesn’t need to be a blockbuster. You are not looking to drop jaws, just keep ears open.
- It does need to be authentic. Set it against a backdrop the audience can identify with.
- It shouldn’t feature you as the hero. But you should definitely be part of a heroic team.
- It should feature challenge and the outcome should show resolution (for good or bad).
My final bit of advice is not to think of your story as some epic tale to stand the test of time. Think of it like the story you tell your partner or your friend about something that happened to you. You know how sometimes you have a story that is worth repeating so you tell it more than once?
Each time you tell it you are judging how well it is received, even if this subconscious. As a result, the next time it changes, becoming a bit shorter, more shaped, less detailed, perhaps with a punchier conclusion, until you have a story that flows in its telling. That is what you are aiming for in turning your ideas and messages into stories!