Trans-Media Storytelling

By Sven Larsen (@zemoga)

You probably know that you should be telling stories in your work. But do you know how?

The concept of storytelling as an art form gained prominence in recent years in the business world – but Id argue that its a back-to-basics survival mechanism more than a trend. We all work long hours, busy days, and get absolutely pummeled with information. We cant handle any more presentations of factual information anymore.

What we fall back on is what has always worked best: storytelling. Tell me something I want to pay attention to – something that draws me in – something that makes me hold my breath to listen. Thats what I want, not another lecture.

Which leaves us with stories. But we also have to remember that were slap in the middle of the 21st century now, and were drowning in glorious storytelling options that would leave our narrative predecessors open-mouthed. Even the least technical among us can use freely available tools to create videos, soundtracks, typography, cartoons – any sort of story that we choose.

So why, why do so many of us still just pop a piece of clip art on a PowerPoint slide, stand in front of it and drone away?

Because we havent fully embraced the idea of trans-media storytelling.

As that link to an article by psychologist Pamela Rutlege notes, trans-media storytelling isnt just choosing one medium. Its remembering all of the variety available, considering the story that you need to tell, and figuring out how best to tell each part in each most appropriate medium.

Some brands have figured this out brilliantly – particularly, I think, in television. This is why some shows function perfectly on their own, but also have webisodes and websites with written narrative. Lost certainly did this (and needed to, because its mythology was way too unwieldy for one show), but even comedies like The Office do as well. You dont have to be incredibly erudite or complex – you just have to give different parts of your story in different ways.

A lot of celebrities manage this quite well with their personal brands. On the red carpet theyre glamorous. On chat shows theyre funny. On their Twitter pages theyre endearingly everyday.

Why isnt this adept shifting of gears moving into healthcare yet? Now, we dont have to be Twitpic-ing pictures of ourselves shoe shopping with Nicole Richie or anything like that. We just need to realize two facts:

One, we must tell a story. It doesnt have to be Dickens, but it has to be more than dry facts.

Two, we must spread that story generously throughout the media available to us. Its time to move beyond “well post our commercial on YouTube.” Its time to figure out which chapters of the story play best in which form. Videos are for personal talk, conversational moments. Facebook is for quick sharing. Blogs are for longer-form riffs and small but fascinating data dumps. Commercials and print ads have their own parts to play.

Its easier to give facts, but its a whole lot more effective to tell a story – and living in a trans-media world, theres no other way to do it anymore.




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