Simple Stories: Why they are so effective in business communication
Stories are key to effective business communication. They engage us emotionally, facilitate better understanding, create meaning and build personal, trustworthy connections. Simple stories amplify all these benefits.
Simplicity: A Navigation Tool in a Complex World
How do simple stories help us communicate more effectively in an increasingly complex and confusing world?
Simplicity is our best navigation tool for many reasons:
- On a practical level, ‘simple’ is user-friendly, i.e. it’s shorter; quicker; it’s easier to remember, understand, evaluate and use
- It’s the outcome of a process that distils complexity into its essentials – without stripping it of substance to create a simplistic, dumbed-down version
- It helps us easily recognise new ideas, systems, products, brands in an increasingly overwhelming and confusing marketplace
Simple Stories Simplify Communication
Simple stories are not just shorter stories. They clarify and refine complex ideas and data, making it easier for an audience to engage with what is being communicated and eventually act on it. The great physicist, Albert Einstein, gave us advice on how to do just that: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
We are complex human beings who live in an increasingly complex world, so our task is to make complexity simple, not simplistic! Simplistic is a when we dilute the substance of our message to the point that it can be consumed without reflection or question.
Editing, organising and sharpening our ideas are part of a skills-set we can develop and then improve with practice. The benefits of investing time and effort to learn these skills are huge. By making complex material ‘user-friendly’, i.e. simpler, you create immediate access to it, which in turn makes it more relatable, relevant and applicable.
That’s a huge part of my job. When clients present me with a 3/4-page document, I help them create a 2/3-sentence back-story, or a brand stories or a personal profile statement. The work is first of all finding the pattern in all the detail: it’s the pattern that connects it all together. Then creating the simple story to illustrate that pattern.
How to Tell Simple Stories
I. The Story Structure
The structure needs to be simple if you want your story to be simple. That’s easier said than done when most storytelling courses and workshops present beginners with needlessly complex diagrams and structures, while at the same time assuring us we’re all natural-born storytellers!
The story structure is the container for what happens: the details of who, what, when, why, how. The structure creates a pattern that helps us grasp and remember those details. The simplest structure and easiest one to use is created around a linear, temporal pattern:
Before – Turning Point – After
II. The Storytelling Structure
Once we have our story structure we then need a structure to tell that story. The same rule also applies here: the simpler the storytelling structure, the easier it is to communicate the story and the easier it is to receive it.
The most natural and effective structure to communicate information is the one we use every day – conversation, or dialogue. Dialogue is about reciprocal exchange, response and interaction, as opposed to the monologue, which is a one-way form of communication.
Another characteristic of telling simple stories is using simple language. That means getting rid of the jargon and the buzzwords because they act as a barrier to real connection. Replace them with personal, straightforward, simple language that supports and promotes human-to-human connection. Use the same language you would use in a conversation with a good friend.
The Benefits for Business of Making it Simple
How does keeping it simple actually translate into better outcomes for businesses?
The simplicity-index surveys show that simplicity pays. The top brands globally and nationally all share the common feature of offering their customers a simple experience that is communicated as simply as possible. Here’s how Ben Osborn from Siegel+Gale puts it:
“Our research shows us that 55% of consumers are willing to reward brands that make their lives simpler – and penalise those that do not. Simplicity is an important metric for the communications industry because empathy is the cornerstone of the contract between creators and consumers.”
If simplicity pays, how do we recognise it in how other brands communicate and then implement it in our own communication? Start by asking yourself this question:
Do I consciously choose to communicate in a way that is simple, honest, transparent and personal for my audience?
Isn’t it time to simplify?