Storytelling is an art. It’s a talent learned over time; a muscle built up through practice. It’s something that continues to evolve. With new technology, new sources of content, and new platforms to tell stories on, our storytelling must also continue to evolve.
In 2019, we set out on a mission to find out what exactly it takes to create and tell the best stories. We gathered up some of the most innovative minds across a variety of industries and sat down with them to learn about their process and mindset when it comes to storytelling.
While every story is unique, and everyone has their own way of crafting that story, in Season 1 of #Storyteller, we discovered several common themes that seem to form the pillars of powerful storytelling regardless of the industry or digital medium. We asked every guest to tell us in three words what the best stories are, and their responses captured the essence of these pillars.
Far and away, the most common two responses to this question were that the best stories are emotional and memorable. In order to create emotional and memorable stories, we found four common attributes: be authentic, have a purpose, engage the audience, and ultimately leverage new technology/media in order to bring it all together.
In today’s world of #FakeNews and an ever-growing collection of distracting content, it’s important to convey your story in an authentic way to break through the clutter and captivate your audience. Whether that’s transparency in how you’re creating content, or a new level of access that fans don’t typically get to see from players, authenticity is a crucial piece of storytelling that should be top of mind when creating any content.
As we learned from Dave Jorgenson of the Washington Post in episode 107, authenticity and consistency on TikTok is perhaps the most important aspect of successful content on the platform.
“You have to really be yourself. If one video’s successful that was kind of faked, for lack of a better word, people catch on really quickly. I saw recently, these two, I think they’re brothers, they post these videos that look like trick shots. I think at one point someone had called them out. So now, what they do is they post the behind-the-scenes footage of the trick shot showing how it was faked, and then they post the trick shot. Which I think is genius, because then if you find the trick shot first, which is what i did, you’re like ‘woah, how do they do that?’ then you go to their page, and you immediately find out they are faking this, but they’re totally copping up to it. It’s kind of beautiful, it’s just great that that is the culture of TikTok. We want you to be honest. It’s okay if you’re doing this, but be consistent and don’t lie to us. I think just having that raw, unfiltered approach is really important on TikTok.“ — Dave Jorgenson, Video Producer
Often times in sports and entertainment, access is what makes a story authentic. When you can peel back the curtain and showcase the human, relatable side of professional athletes and celebrities, your story takes on a new authentic persona. The XFL has this idea top of mind as they prepare to launch their inaugural season.
“Access is the biggest thing that the XFL also wants to talk about. So when you’re watching the game, you see video, cameras in the locker rooms. You may see players taking selfies or high fiving people in the crowds. You may see the players arrive through a tailgate opportunity. So, the XFL is really big on access in the entertainment piece. That is something that players will get used to and fans will really enjoy as well. “ — Michelle Delancy, Seattle Dragons Sr. Director of Digital Marketing & Events
Have a Purpose — Serve Your Audience
While authenticity within the content gives it credibility and depth, you need a purpose in mind to give your story a sense of direction and meaning. Throughout all of our conversations, one main purpose came up time and time again: serve your audience.
In order to tell an effective story, you need to know your audience. You need to connect with them and tell the story through the same lens they see through. Mike Bucklin of Fox Sports may have said it best when he referenced his team’s approach to production in episode 103.
“We feel like we’re just sports fans representing other sports fans. We’re fans serving fans. It’s something we try to think about. We don’t want to serve fans on a high horse. We don’t want to be seen as the producers who sit in the air-conditioned sky box that criticize down at the field. We really want to celebrate with fans and if we’re fans first and we are not sitting on our high horse, we really listen… they’re going to give us a lot of cheat codes on how to serve them.” — Mike Bucklin, Vice President Digital Content at FOX Sports
By first connecting with the audience, we gain an understanding of what they have an interest in, and the right context for a particular story. Gustavo Granados of Telemundo broke it down for us plain and simple in episode 109.
“If you can’t connect with the audience, there will never be a purpose to the product. An engineer can engineer it, a designer can design it. But if there’s no true context for it, it will just sit there, and no one will ever interact with it.” — Gustavo Granados, VP Video and Production at Telemundo
Engage Your Audience
With an understanding of your audience and your purpose of serving them in mind, it’s now time to engage them in a meaningful way. There may be quick and easy ways to “check the box” on this, but in order to create impactful moments your audience will remember, the engagement needs to offer meaningful value. Frank Mungeam of the Cronkite News Lab provided insight on this in episode 102.
“I’ve been very interested in how to move beyond trivial engagement. Letting the audience vote at the end of the newcast. Saying, hey do you want to vote for the cute puppies or the water skiing squirrel? I mean that’s audience engagement, but it’s not meaningful engagement. The lead up to this was how might we, one of my favorite ways to frame any innovative question, how might we, meaningfully involve and engage the audience at every stage of the editorial process? And have a live broadcast news experience that the audience authentically drove the editorial process.” — Frank Mungeam, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, Knight Professor of Practice for TV News Innovation
Audience engagement can come in many forms, but sometimes the timing of it is what makes the engagement impactful. In game day production, timing is everything. Jay O’Brien of the Baltimore Ravens shared a story about this in episode 105.
“For all of us who wish we were pro athletes, it’s such a rush to be able, we think, to affect the game. So one example is in our home opener we played the Arizona Cardinals. And it was Kyler Murray’s first road game So, we launched a new stadium moment, a video. We had a bunch of large flags waving and it brought a ton of energy. We were hoping that our fans would latch onto it, which they did. The stadium was rocking so much that the Cardinals had a false start or had to call a timeout or maybe it was both. But, in the post game press conference, Kyler Murray referenced that our stadium was ‘loud as hell’ and that it affected them. That’s such a badge of honor for our fans, and for us as the content producers.” — Jay O’Brien, Baltimore Ravens Vice President Broadcasting and Gameday Productions
Embrace New Media & Technology
Perhaps the most widespread theme across all of our conversations in Season 1 of #Storyteller is the importance of embracing new media and technology. At the center of this theme, we find social media as a driving force behind the change in storytelling. Social has opened up new avenues to not only share stories, but to discover content that tells the story for you.
In our inaugural #Storyteller episode, Catherine Chan Smith of NFL Network elaborated on one of the first times she realized the power of social from a broadcast perspective.
“At the time my executive producer said you know social media is becoming a real force and access to players that we didn’t have before. We no longer need to deploy satellite trucks and get crews and spend thousands of dollars just to get a sound bite and hopefully get a soundbite. You’ve worked in news and production for a long time. You know there is no guarantee. But now players are actively engaging and posting. I remember when Joe Flacco tweeted, ‘Lets Go’. I mean it was literally the simplest tweet but it was right before a playoff game, and we looked at that and said, that’s his statement. If we had a camera, if we had a microphone in front of him, he would probably say something to that effect. At the time my boss said, why don’t we find a way to creatively integrate social media.” — Catherine Chan Smith, Director of Social Integration at NFL Network
Later in the season in episode 108, Jackie Strouse of Golf Channel built upon this idea as she described how social should be complimentary, rather than competitive, with their linear broadcast.
“We view social media here at Golf Channel as very much complimentary to our linear TV network, news coverage and editorial. Social media is a great way to disseminate and spread the news, but it’s also a good way to create ancillary golf-adjacent content that’s a little bit different than what you might see on tv. We travel out to different events with a producer and our social talent. We’re not there to create content that’s breaking news, or tournament updates. We’re more showing you what it’s like to be a fan, the travel experience on different local attractions. We really view social as a complimentary experience that can tell different stories than what our TV viewer will see.“ — Jackie Strouse, Director of Social Media at Golf Channel
The evolution of technology in general continues to add new layers and perspectives to storytelling that we need to embrace and leverage. The phone in your pocket is now one of the most powerful storytelling tools because you can quickly capture and share the moments that happen in front of you. Traditional broadcasters like Fox Sports and Golf Channel now have dedicated digital and social producers on site because of this, and Mike Bucklin shared the power of having that resource.
“We really pride ourselves on taking people behind the scenes of those events. Giving people all access to those events. We were in Dallas at Red River and we had producers on the sidelines, mobile phones, all access. The beauty of having a digital producer on site is they’re very mobile, they have that phone. We had the best shot in the house of Jalen Hurts putting on the golden hat and that’s the kind of access that we like to provide to these marquee events.” — Mike Bucklin, Vice President Digital Content at FOX Sports
The storytellers of Season 1 provided some tremendous insight into how we can all enhance our storytelling skills. As you work on your next story, remember to connect with your audience, be authentic and true to your brand, engage your audience in a meaningful way, and ultimately leverage the new technology and media available to tie it all together. Make something that evokes emotion. Make something that’s memorable.
Interested in learning more? Be sure to subscribe to the #Storyteller podcast for Season 2!