Tell a story you can hold in your hands

Seeing is believing, right? But there’s one sense that’s even more credible – and that’s touch. If you make your story visible, your audience can see what you mean. If you can make your story physical, something your audience can hold in their hands, imagine how much more powerful it becomes.

Even Genesis has a real apple

But often, you’re telling a story about something that happened elsewhere or something that doesn’t exist yet. How can you make that physically real? Well, here are three possibilities:

  1. Artefact
  2. Prototype
  3. Metaphor

Artefact: Any object can give a story focus. The story isn’t just the thing itself but the people who made it, treasured it, bought it or threw it away. The BBC and British Museum managed to tell the history of the world in 100 objects. Stuck for an idea? Take in an something you made for/with your last client.

Here’s one we made earlier

Prototype: Dating shows are hard to get right and TV commissioners are very picky. The makers of ITV’s dating show Take Me Out built a studio model with working lights for their pitch. The idea was that the women would switch off their podium lights if they didn’t fancy the male contestant. In front of sceptical commissioners, the producers lit up their model and knocked lights off one by one. “No Likey, No Lighty” became instantly real. (Seriously, if you haven’t watched this show, you need to stay in more.) So the moral of this story: if you can make a prototype to illustrate your story, do it. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated – LEGO or cardboard will feel more real than just words.

Metaphor: I pitched a piece of work to a company recently who wanted to improve the way their teams gave each other feedback. I pulled one of these out of my bag.

“Try and take a group selfie,” I said to one of the management team. He got up, took the disposable camera, tried to take the shot then handed the camera back. “Now,” I said, “imagine it takes me a couple of weeks to get the photos developed. Imagine we sit down in a couple of months and look at them in our appraisal meeting and I start telling you why your photography skills aren’t very good. You’ll barely remember how you took the photo, so what chance have you got of learning from the experience?”  I made the contrast between 35mm film and digital. “If you’d taken that group selfie on your phone, we’d all be looking at the results right now. We’d see what worked and what didn’t and you’d be able to try again to do it better.”

The camera was a metaphor and moral of the story was this: expertise grows with rapid feedback. More importantly, the physicality of holding a camera, winding it on, pressing the shutter all helps cement this message into your memory.

(I didn’t win the pitch, but that’s another story)


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