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‘Captivate Your Audience From the Very Beginning’; Steen to Showcase Storytelling Skills at Virtual Event

“Pay particular attention to the first and last sentences of a story. People tend to remember the first things you say and your concluding thought. Make sure they are as powerful and memorable as possible. I don’t necessarily use the same words when I am telling a story, but I typically know what the first and last words will be.”

Those carefully chosen words come from Scott Steen, executive director of the American Physiological Society, in a white paper he wrote titled Becoming Your Association’s Storyteller-in-Chief. Steen will be one of the featured keynote speakers at the upcoming Reset, Reinvent, Revenue 2021, AM&P Network’s virtual event for association publishing professionals, online everywhere June 16-17.

While Steen’s talk—titled MarComm as Change Agent: How Brand Drives Organizational Change—will delve into other areas, his proficiency at and commitment to the art of storytelling will serve him and his audience well. You’ll hear how he’s led associations through major transformation and why association communicators are perfectly positioned to be the catalysts of change within their organizations. (Can’t wait? Tune in here to learn more from Steen on how communications drives change.)

“Effective associations tell stories to: promote their profession or industry; attract new members; trumpet their accomplishments; honor their members; sell their experiences and products; and more,” Steen wrote. “But few leaders take the time to hone their storytelling skills.”

While Steen’s doubling-down on storytelling is not a revelation, its emphasis is well-warranted. In December 2019, after speaking to our media group for 30-plus minutes about the vital nature of digital design and the reading revolution that digital has thrust upon us, Mario Garcia—a Columbia professor and author of the book, The Story—closed by saying: “The takeaway is if you have a good story, people will stay with you… I don’t sit here and lament what was. I celebrate what is. These are the best times to be a storyteller, but you have to explore all that is there.”

The pandemic may have amplified the value of storytelling even more, as we all experienced things for the first time over the last 15 months.

The Food Marketing Institute opened its virtual meeting last year with footage of members talking about the importance of grocery stores and communities during the pandemic, the role they played, and how they gave back to their communities. “Opening the event with the stories was so powerful,” said Margaret Core, VP of marketing and industry relations. “That’s engagement: We let the actions of our members tell our story.”

Steen lists 5 Principles for Telling a Great Story, based on a version by Stanford Business School Professor JD Schramm. They are:

Parachute In. You have seconds to capture your audience’s attention… Captivate your audience from the very beginning by jumping right into a story.

First & Last. (This is the lead quote about first and last sentences.)

Goldilocks Principle. Not too hot, not too cold, just right. Use too few details and you’ll prevent your audience from truly experiencing your story and lose emotional connection. Use too many and your story will become confusing and (worse) boring. Make your details count.

Poetic Language. Poetry uses carefully chosen and powerful words to communicate both information and emotion. It also uses language economically, conveying tremendous meaning with the fewest words possible. The best presentations and speeches do, too.

The Sound of Silence. [Interesting on the day that A Quiet Place Part II opens up.] Silence tends to make Americans nervous, but it can be an incredibly powerful tool when you are telling a story. It gives people time to “get the joke” when you say something funny. It intensifies the moment when the point is profound or poignant.

As with all of our content, measurement must be considered. In a whitepaper titled, Storytelling 2020: What You Need to Know About Storytelling in Marketing, the Atlanta chapter of the American Marketing Association wrote: “Be prepared to isolate the data that matters to your storytelling efforts. Then analyze what messages had an impact, which ones didn’t and where there is room for optimization. Also, leverage this data to get a better picture of your customer and where there are opportunities to extend the relationship to create stronger, even lifelong, connections.”

Speaking of data, Emily Laermer, managing editor for Ignites at Money-Media, told us this a couple years ago: “Data and visual stories are pretty consistently among our most saved and forwarded content. In the most basic sense, data stories are ones that just have a ton of information. So they can be generated from a huge spreadsheet or Excel file. But they don’t necessarily have to be numbers driven. They can be stories that have a lot of facts. So for example, new rules and regulations are great data stories. The first story I worked on at Ignites required that I read a 400-page rule on mutual fund regulation and how the funds were going to have to change their reporting. That’s a data story.”

Suggesting you read 400 pages of rules is not the best way to encourage data stories, but there are easier ways. Timelines can be very effective. In reporting on a company that had been acquiring other companies, Laermer went through annual reports, press releases, etc., and built out a timeline that proved very engaging.

Finally, Steen believes that everyone can be a storyteller, especially publications pros. “While there are naturally gifted storytellers, storytelling is a skill,” he wrote. “As such, storytelling can be learned and improved with practice… Ask yourself story prompts. What is the worst trouble you ever got in as a kid? What was the best journey you ever took? Who do you admire most and why? What is the most daring thing you ever did? Believe me. You have stories.”

It will be enthralling to hear Steen tell his story on Wednesday, June 16 at 3 pm. Make sure that happens by registering here.

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Storytelling Through Video, Data and Content Features Can Drive Big Engagement

“I don’t ever take for granted what it is I get to do every day. That at any given moment, if I’m having a rough day, I can go jump on a roller coaster or I can go eat a funnel cake.”

That comes from Sharon Parker, communications manager for Six Flags Over Texas and Hurricane Harbor, speaking on one of three videos for the IAAPA Expo 2019 Return Attendee Promotion. IAAPA is the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

The videos represented three personas: an exhibitor, a repeat attendee and a first-time attendee. The repeat attendee video was launched with registration and received 12,000 views, 7 shares and 51 responses. It was then edited to serve in their video pre-roll advertisement campaign on YouTube. The video’s VTR (view thru rate) was a strong 71%. The first-time attendee video debuted on social media prior to the early-bird deadline and received 21,000 views.
The Food Marketing Institute opened its virtual meeting with footage of members talking about the importance of grocery stores and communities during the pandemic, the role they played, and how they gave back to their communities. “Opening the event with the stories was so powerful,” said Margaret Core, VP of marketing and industry relations. “That’s engagement: We let the actions of our members tell our story.”
These are two great storytelling examples using video, but, of course, stories can be driven in other ways. At SIPA 2019, Emily Laermer, managing editor for Ignites at Money-Media, presented an excellent session titled Numbers Drive Engagement: Telling Compelling Stories Using Data.

“At Money Media we recognize engagement by how many times stories are forwarded or saved,” Laermer began. “Even if a story doesn’t get a lot of clicks, if it does get a lot of forwards and saves, then we consider that to be a highly successful and engaged story.

“Data and visual stories are pretty consistently among our most saved and forwarded content,” she continued. “In the most basic sense, data stories are ones that just have a ton of information. So they can be generated from a huge spreadsheet or Excel file. But they don’t necessarily have to be numbers driven. They can be stories that have a lot of facts. So for example, new rules and regulations are great data stories. The first story I worked on at Ignites required that I read a 400-page rule on mutual fund regulation and how the funds were going to have to change their reporting. That’s a data story.”

Okay, suggesting you read 400 pages of rules during a pandemic is not the best way to encourage data stories, but there are easier ways to do it. Timelines can be very effective. In reporting on a company that had been acquiring other companies, Laermer went through annual reports, press releases, etc., and built out a timeline that proved very engaging.
A third way to tell stories is through content features. MedLearn Media rolled out three new weekly segments on topics that they don’t traditionally write about, “which are more lifestyle pieces then our traditional news on healthcare rules and regulations,” Angela Kornegor, their executive director, said earlier this year. The segments are Frontline Friday, Stay at Home Kids and The Saturday Post. “These have driven our traffic up by 40% during the pandemic, and we are developing additional sponsor and advertising opportunities within these new segments and laying the ground work for a new subscription model.”
Last but not least, Haymarket Media’s PR Week started three regular features that focus on people in their community telling their stories: Lockdown Life, Coffee Break and A Day in the PR Life.
Haymarket also launched another kind of story: a coronavirus briefing “where we took content from all of our brands and put it out as an email newsletter,” said Steve Barrett, VP, editorial director, PRWeek & Campaign US at Haymarket Media US. “Whereas B2B is usually about going deep in a vertical, this was a horizontal slice across one topic and presenting it out. That was really interesting—I could see that happening on other issues like the future of work, or diversity would be an interesting thing for B2B publishers to look into.”
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Audio Articles Could Be the Next Big Thing for Publishers in 2020

Part of the success of podcasts—over half of publisher respondents in a new Reuters Institute study said they would be pushing various types of podcast initiatives this year—comes from the new demands on our time. We can listen to podcasts while doing something else, be it driving, commuting, working out, cooking, etc.

Now that same logic is propelling another trend: audio articles. In that same Reuters study, titled Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2020, they write this in a section called What to Expect in 2020:

“Improved technology is enabling new opportunities for publishers in quickly re-versioning text output into audio. In Canada, the Globe and Mail is one of the first publishers to use Amazon Polly, a text-to-speech service that sounds far more natural to the human ear than previous versions. Subscribers can listen to selected articles in English, French and Mandarin and choose their favorite voice.”

Okay, so being able to listen to one of your articles in say, Mandarin, would increase your possible audience only by a mere billion or so. That’s pretty substantial.

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In Denmark, “slow-news” operation Zetland—which I’ve written about before for their trendiness—provides all of its stories with a (human-read) audio option. Around 75% of all stories are now listened to rather than consumed via text. 75%! That’s amazing. (This graphic is from that Reuters report.)

Zetland was one of the first publishers to put on live events, called Zetland Live, featuring their staff. In one video, their editor begins as the emcee with some type of fowl mascot behind her. Then we see a woman on a trapeze, a mini-symphony, a reporter talking about his coverage of Afghanistan perhaps, another reporter with footage of himself in Africa perhaps, audience involvement, a sports segment, storytelling, more music and an after-party (where the fowl returns).

Back to audio articles. “In Brazil the newspaper Estadão has teamed up with Ford to create a human-read daily audio service for Spotify. Each part of the newspaper has its own album, each news story has its own track. Many publishers see connected cars as a new opportunity to reach audiences and audio as a key way to deliver journalism in the future.”

Taking a quick look around the web, it seems that there are many affordable vendors now. Natural ReadersTTSReader and Text2Speech came up for me.

In an article in June, Molly Raycraft on the site B2B Marketing wrote about B2B brands incorporating voice technology in their marketing. She insists that your products should be voice tech accessible.

“Unquestionably the standard should be that you have either vocalized your product, or at least designed your website content to work with text-to-speech systems. So while you may have aspirations of doing something futuristic and ground-breaking with voice tech, make sure you’ve got the basics covered. This could even be as simple as filling in a proper description in the ‘alt text’ box on website images.”

Then she writes: “B2B tech copywriting agency Radix Communications gives a great example of how effective it can be to simply repurpose what you have into audio in order to increase its accessibility. As part of its podcast Good Copy, Bad Copy, the agency has been experimenting with reading its blogs aloud. This makes the content more accessible to those who potentially have a visual impairment, as well as those who are on the go and can’t sit down to read.”

Then there are flash briefings, where your company’s news can now be part of Alexa’s early-morning summaries. Besides being news-oriented, flash briefings can broadcast inspirational quotes, event listings, finance tips, random facts, etc.

From Wbur.org: “Via an undeniably cumbersome interface, users choose which flash briefings they’d like to hear and the order in which they appear. Then, whenever the user says, ‘Alexa, tell me the news’—or the much clunkier, ‘Alexa, play my flash briefing’—the device will get the latest news from those sources, in that predetermined order.”

What a great way for a specialized publisher subscriber to get her morning update.