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  • Writer's pictureAyyappan Ramachandran

The dirtiest trick to great storytelling

Be it storytelling for children or storytelling for brands, we all want to make it rosy, isn't it?

I recently came across my schoolmate. When the inevitable, template question of how I was doing was asked, I did not speak about the personal desperation in my start-up - how it was being extremely tough to find people to collaborate with, how it was being tougher to find new business during COVID-19.

People discussing branding and content marketing

Rather, I kept it sweet. I talked about the inspiration that never came to me and the ambition I had for my company.

Why did I paint a Forbes cover photo-like picture? Was it my ego trying to save face?And when the entire world except Jeff Bezos is going through a rough patch, why would my stranger-friend believe that I was doing well?

What we talk when we talk about stories

After finally realizing the positive impact of storytelling many brands are adopting this strategy to brand themselves among their employees and customers.

Parallelly increasing is the digital commentary about the power and science of stories. Many evangelists around the world are writing about storytelling techniques used to forge an emotional connection, influence people, etc.

But when it comes to talking about how to design a good story, a vast majority of them fail in grasping the most essential ingredient of storytelling. Take this one for example, which sets out to talk about common elements of storytelling and grandly misses the most important one.

However, few people do come closer, but even then, only touch upon a shade of this essential ingredient.

Robert McKee, a popular story lecturer, in a conversation with Harvard Business Review, discusses brand marketing and storytelling strategies.

He says, '...most companies and executives sweep the dirty laundry, the difficulties, the antagonists, and the struggle under the carpet. They prefer to present a rosy—and boring—picture to the world. But as a storyteller, you want to position the problems in the foreground and then show how you’ve overcome them. When you tell the story of your struggles against real antagonists, your audience sees you as an exciting, dynamic person.'

To put in a nutshell, he compels storytellers to embrace challenges, which a majority of us shun when talking about ourselves (like I did). But in saying this, he too misses the fundamental idea and encourages just what is superficial.

The most essential storytelling element

To drill down further and realize the core idea that has the potential to elevate any story, we must us ask ourselves why challenges exist.

If you think about it, challenges are reactions from the world to our vulnerabilities. Challenges exist because there is an inviting vulnerability in every one of us.

Rocky's eyesight is severely damaged after his first match with Apollo, and this attracts harder blows from him in their re-match.

My challenge of finding someone to collaborate with exists because, I realize, of my natural vulnerability of finding it difficult to trust new people.

When we embrace our vulnerabilities and weave them into our stories, we sound honest and relatable.

Why? Because vulnerabilities are universally shared. If we try to hide them, like glossing over pimples in Photoshop, we are only pretending.

It takes courage and openness to talk about our vulnerabilities. It requires us to accept the fact that we cannot be the hero of every story.

And curiously, working against our natural fears, the inclusion of vulnerabilities in the stories we tell make them all the more powerful.

Watch this Nigerian cowherd kid sharing his amazing story in a TED talk in Long Beach, USA. Pay attention to how he includes challenges and vulnerabilities in his story.


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