Have you ever read a story to a three-year old?
As you put on your best big bad wolf voice and growl, “I’ll huff, and I’ll puff and I’ll BLOW your house down!”, their eyes grow like saucers and they lean in closer, desperate to find out what happens next.
Watching your listener, or reader, become totally captivated by your words is, unfortunately, something we seldom experience in the business world. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if your readers became similarly wrapped up in the story you are telling?
In sales and marketing communications we tend to focus on our key sales messages: we are the biggest; we are the smartest; we are the best value. We forget that humans love stories and are most engaged when reading something that takes us on an emotional journey.
How do we achieve that in our writing? With a narrative arc. A story that has a narrative arc is, put simply, one with a clear beginning, middle and end.
Importantly, though, something actually has to happen. As readers, we want action, adventure and excitement. And we want the story to end in a different place to where it began.
To tell a story in your business writing, your narrative arc should generally include:
- a hook (see the big bad wolf up there?): something that grabs the reader’s attention. This can be an anecdote, a statistic, an observation, something topical, or even something funny.
- a problem (readers find business writing boring): what is the issue under discussion that you can help your readers solve? What is the impact for readers? Think about ways to phrase this that will create emotional resonance.
- a solution (a narrative arc): what is the solution to the problem? This is where you can include your sales messages, but think about how you can weave them in to your story in a way that creates action, excitement and emotion. Usually, showing is more effective than telling. So instead of saying “We have 500 qualified people across Australia”, let those people become part of your story. You could quote them, survey them, include pictures of them, use them in a case study. Let their qualifications and experience shine through in what they say – it will be much more convincing.
- a resolution (emotionally connected readers). What happens at the end of the story? Does everyone live happily ever after? Ideally, you want to leave your readers feeling positive about your company and your people with a clear idea of what they can do next.
Introducing a narrative arc helps you to find the emotion in the story. And that will help you connect with your reader.
Your story will resonate and your reader will start to respond to your piece in a more emotional way: “Yes! I have that problem”; “That sounds like me”; “I can see that working in my situation”; “These people seem great, I’d be able to work with them.”
Doesn’t that sound like a perfect start to a new business relationship?