What Harry Potter teaches us about storytelling

25 Apr

There’s no denying that JK Rowling is one heck of a story teller. But, I must admit the inspiration for this blog post came as somewhat of a surprise to me.

Last week, as a birthday treat for my husband, we visited the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford. He’s a bit of a film geek and absolutely loved the films (and books!) so I thought it would be a fun day out. It was more than that.

Now, I should make clear that I am in no way a Potterphile. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read and enjoyed all of the books but that’s as deep as our relationship goes. It didn’t take long for that to change.

Whilst queuing to enter the tour, soaking up the atmosphere and marvelling at the extensive gift shop already in plain sight, I noticed a quote from JK Rowling that had been blown up and hung on the wall.

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“No story lives unless someone wants to listen.”

You know when you’re talking to someone and they have no idea what you’re talking about? When you spend time and effort explaining something a hundred different ways and they still don’t get it? When you feel like you’re banging your head on a brick wall and then suddenly there’s a breakthrough? This was my breakthrough. The moment when my thoughts and words became clear in one succinct phrase that was easy for everyone to grasp.

In the world of PR and communications, and particularly in local government, we hear a lot about stories. We’re told that we need to “get more stories out there”. It’s often a reaction to negative coverage and is sometimes seen as the solution to kill any flack or criticism that we may be getting. It’s no solution.

Churning out stories is one thing but making people listen is something else, and if nobody is listening it doesn’t matter how many stories you get out there. Now, I’m not suggesting we don’t tell stories. I’m saying we need to do some leg work first.

We need to be the listeners. We need to listen to our audience and find out what they care about, what they are talking about and how we can link into that in a real and relevant way. In doing that we can make a connection with our audience. Without that connection our audience has no reason to care about what we say and they certainly have no reason to listen.

Here are my corporate storytelling tips:

1. Identify your audience – know who you are talking to. It will make it easier to write the story.
2. Be an active listener – before you write a word, listen to your audience. What are they talking about? Learn about them.
3. Ask and answer ‘why would my audience care?’ – the strength of your answer will tell you if your story is worth writing or not.
4. Be real and relevant – your audience will smell a rat if you are not being genuine. Lose their trust and you lose their ears.
5. Mean it – believe in your story. If you don’t no-one else will.

In learning to listen we can figure out what it is that people really care about and we can connect with that. It’s that connection that makes all the difference. The difference between being heard and being white noise.

And, in case there are any Potterphile’s reading this, here are a few photos from the tour:

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4 Responses to “What Harry Potter teaches us about storytelling”

  1. TheMitchNiche April 25, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    As a huge Harry Potter, I loved this post! You make some great stories that a lot of people usually forget when writing.I feel like the biggest is active listening, it’s something that is often over looked.

    • Jessica Roberts April 26, 2013 at 8:41 am #

      Thanks so much for your comments. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I think storytelling is very often an internal process and that’s ok if the story is for your eyes only. But, if the purpose is to connect with your audience you first need to learn about them.

  2. Jeyna Grace April 26, 2013 at 12:05 am #

    That quote by Rowling is so true.. thats why readers matter.

    • Jessica Roberts April 26, 2013 at 8:37 am #

      Thanks for commenting Jeyna. I love the quote too. I think it’s going to stick with me forever.

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