Story Telling: Signal in a Web of Noise

WordCamp 2013 Recap Day 1 (Sat.)

I can sum up my key takeaway from WordCamp Miami’s Saturday sessions in a single word – stories. Several talks throughout the designer and user tracks really boiled down to the importance of stories to engage users and drive business. Stories that cut through the noise of the web, provide real value and connect with people. Two talks in particular truly embodied this idea.

The Importance of Storytelling in Web Design

In this talk Denise Jacobs spoke of power and necessity of storytelling. Here are some of the key points from that talk.

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” Muriel Rukeyser, Speed of Darkness

  • Content is why people come
  • People are experiencing information overload
  • information ≠ meaning ≠ connection
  • We take for granted what we produce
  • Sankofa – moving forward with an eye on the past
  • Language = Desire to help = solve problems
  • We’re wired for stories
  • Facts + Context = Story
  • We are bards of the 21st century
  • Content coherence
  • Pictorial superiority effect (PSE)
  • 3 story types – aspirational, functional, memory
  • Reverse engineer the technical from the story you want to tell
  • Use questions to elicit stories from the clients
  • Use literary device to develop the story (This is so obvious it’s no wonder it’s often overlooked.)
  • Work with nature, not against it

“You are responsible for what you put into the world.” Mike Montiero

“The web is made of stories, not pixels.” Denise Jacobs

The big takeaway here is that story telling has been a part of the cultural fabric of man for centuries. As such it’s important to consider how we carry stories to the web.

In fact we, content creators, are the bards of our day. As the bards of today’s societies it’s incumbent upon us to uphold the traditions of the story telling. Telling stories that pass along vital information to those that are listening.

Nobody Cares About Your Content…Yet

Cliff Seal shares his thoughts on the difference between saying stuff to people and having a conversation with them. The following bullet points are not so much notes as they are key concepts to understand and use to generate content that helps people accomplish their goals.

  • What are you trying to say?
  • Structure of a conversation
  • Conversational assumptions
  • Technical assumptions
  • Negative Weibull Distribution
  • Cognitive bias (Halo Effect)
  • Follow the rules of The Art of Conversation
  • People care about content that helps then accomplish their goals

What resonated most with me in this talk was that it aligned with my own belief that everything we do, we do to accomplish a goal. I also believe that content is why people come to the web. But, good content alone is not enough to ensure success for yourself or your users.

It’s important to strike a balance between the aesthetics (first impression) and the substance (lasting impression). All show and no tell and your audience is left wanting and unfulfilled. All tell and no show and the audience may never discover what treasure awaits within you content. Find balance.

Final Thoughts

Simon Sinek, author of Start With the Why, tells us, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” If this is true, which I believe it is, then our stories should tell our WHY in a clear and compelling fashion. Be authentic and congruent in everything you put out for the world to see. Your story doesn’t end with what you write, it begins with it and then you must live up to it.

Sidenote: I hope to do interviews with both Denise and Cliff in the near future to build upon their great talks and share them with you.

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Mike Donahue

Just a guy that's passionate about creating useful, usable and desirable experiences for all humans. I love nature and wildlife photography, it's my source of artistic expression and inner peace. I live and play in South Florida with my wife Nikki and our girls (dogs) Layla and Cassidy.

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