OPINION25 June 2024

The power is in our hands to tell good stories

Opinion UK

From reading between the lines to embracing metaphor, Sam Forbes reflects on some highlights of the recent MRS Storytelling conference.

Storytelling stories book data_crop

As a qualitative researcher, I was incredibly excited to attend the MRS Storytelling conference at the May Fair Hotel in London recently.

The host, Grant Feller, founder at EveryRung, did an exquisite job at weaving us through some excellent presentations from storytellers from far and wide. It was a treat to have such a diverse group of panellists and presenters, ranging from film producers, to creatives, to research specialists, to strategists. We heard from people from both client and agency side, who offered up their own perspectives on great storytelling.

I went into the day with an interest in how best we can think beyond basic comprehension, extract the key narrative from what a participant is telling us, and put it down on paper in a clear and succinct way, so our clients can sit down and easily digest what we’re telling them. And if possible, I’d like to entertain and inspire them along the way too.

A key feature of this is to not overwhelm them, ensuring they can take away three key insights or conclusions. So, with that in mind, here are three key takeaways that stuck with me:

1. Read between the lines

Eve Robertson and Dr Jo Meredith from Magenta delivered a thought-provoking presentation on discourse analysis, which landed very well with me. This is more for qualitative analysis, but the premise is about reading between the lines of the respondents’ story.

Using discourse analysis, we can identify small cues such as a pause, a giggle, an “um”, an “if”, a “but”, a “maybe”, which could help change the context of a whole discussion. You can’t get to this level of analysis by just reading transcripts, so with those large samples, make sure the wider team of moderators are up to speed with this.

2. Turn the unfamiliar into the familiar

Alice Salisbury from Inkling CC and Harry Steer from Chivas Brothers delivered an inspiring session. By challenging us to use metaphors and anecdotes in our storytelling, we can both make the insight relatable, but also inspire the client with something a little different. Putting one of these at the beginning of a presentation can help set the scene for the whole story, and get the client on board from the word ‘go’!

Did you know that language typically taps into the left-sided, more rational side of your brain, whereas metaphors unlock the more creative, right-side of the brain? Cool, huh?!

3. Keep it simple

Ed Nash and Kate Benson from Sky delivered a wonderfully human and personal presentation, giving us an honest insight on how to prepare a story. It sounds obvious, but when preparing a presentation for a client, it is easier to keep it long-winded and complex than to make it simple and digestible, so we just need to remind ourselves there is much value in taking the harder path!

No client is ever going to remember anything beyond three key things anyway, so it is important to be clear on the three points you want to get across, repeat them throughout the presentation, tell them in different ways (such as metaphors), and make sure you remind them again in the conclusions. 

It was a great day at the May Fair Hotel, and despite being challenged by some spicy pasta for lunch, we were treated to an easily digestible range of presentations that has given me so much to work with going into the day job. 

The storytellers we heard all demonstrated the confidence they have in stepping outside of the defined briefs and objectives and thinking about how they can best inspire their clients. We’re often restricted by client templates and ‘the way we’ve always done it’, but the power is in our hands to take the initiative and do what’s best to relate to and inspire the audiences we are trying to influence.

Tap into the beautiful quirks of the English language, have the confidence to keep it simple and use metaphor to create empathy and understanding between stakeholders and consumers.

Sam Forbes is director at Context