By John Lavey | Hammock President and COO

I spend most of my professional life helping clients tell stories across all forms of media to accomplish a business objective. But in my personal life for the past eight years, I’ve also been part of a few storytelling groups in Nashville and have gotten up on stage in bars and comedy clubs to tell comic stories. 

Telling a story in front of a crowd has informed my perspective on marketing, and I’ve learned through great nights where I was killing it (and one or two nights where I’ve bombed) three truths about what it takes to engage an audience. I think those three truths are just as relevant for engaging your audience at a healthcare conference as they are in a club.

  1. Show, Don’t Tell—Any writer will tell you this, but you have to make people feel the details and concrete nature of a problem or challenge you face. When you are telling a story about a bad date, it matters to share details about how bad the calamari was, or how you were both glancing at your phones, and some of the specific and terribly awkward words shared. When it comes to talking about industry issues (say physician burnout), we tend to focus a lot on data-supported points (which are necessary for making a decision) but don’t engage our hearts and minds like the stories of men and women logging into an EHR at 1 a.m. after days and days of treating patients.


  2. Create a Story With an Arc—Most of us prefer to deliver a resolution, and when you are telling a funny story, that means to deliver a laugh line. But if you don’t take someone on a journey that shares the ups and downs to demonstrate the depth of a problem, then you won’t get the payoff of a great laugh. In talking about solutions in our work, it’s a similar dynamic. The great CEO, writer and speaker Nancy Duarte talks about the principles of good storytelling when presenting, and the importance of creating an arc, with distance between “what is and what could be.” If you don’t create the arc of a story, you are delivering a boring corporate presentation.


  3. Resolve With Truth—I’m convinced that what is magical about laughter is that it is a spontaneous reaction to something that we believe to be true (however unexpected). And a group of people laughing is shared recognition of something resolved, and the relief of resolving the situation you’ve shared in a way that they didn’t expect but that they believe. With your presentation, you have the ability to deliver the same resolution by accurately telling a story of a situation faced in their work and resolving the situation with something they believe. 

Storytelling and creating engagement with your ideas and solutions can be enhanced with attention to these tips, in my experience with clients, too, not just strangers in a comedy club. And that’s no joke.

Image: Getty Images


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