Shout! – Using Storytelling to Communicate and Influence Decision Making and Behaviour.

Firetree Visual Media November ‘Shout!’ Blog with guest contribution from Sasha Damjanovski.

Welcome to the next instalment in my ‘Shout!’ series. This blog looks at storytelling and how to use it to communicate and influence decision making and behaviour. At Firetree we are all about communication and thought this series of blogs i’m going to teach you a wealth of information about modern digital marketing, video and visual communication. They’re not about the service I provide, these blogs are about inspiration, innovation and how to embrace the new era of communication. If you like it, please subscribe. If you feel you have something to contribute to the blog, drop me a message.

This blog is a little longer than usual as the content is so GOOD! don’t be put off. Sasha Damjanovski is an award winning writer and director and part-time lecturer at Central Saint Martins (UAL) and a consultant and mentor to corporate and individual clients. This blog will help you understand the basics in storytelling technique so worth reading those extra words!

‘Telling a Good Story’

Storytelling is a popular word in social marketing at the moment. If you are marketing your business on social media you need a different approach in comparison to traditional broadcast marketing. You are not going to succeed in gaining new clients by shouting about how brilliant your product or service is, loudly and consistently. Social communication is reliant on your business creating content that builds an understanding of your business so others buy into it.

There are a hundred different messages you can communicate about your business to build trust and understanding. Your business stories don’t just tell audiences what your business does, stories can:

  • Explain how you do what you do.
  • Explain your journey and how your business has grown to do what it does.
  • Have others tell your audience what they like about your business.
  • Tell your audience what your ambitions are.
  • Explain your ethos.
  • Share your knowledge.

These are just a few stories that serve to build a strong business identity.

We have looked in previous blogs about video marketing, podcasting and copyrighting. At the heart of all these different forms of communication, is a story.

You can’t expect to direct and produce an interesting video, create an engaging podcast, create and build a social network, pitch an idea to your business team… without being able to write a good story.

Sasha Damjanovski

I met and worked with Sasha many many years ago in Soho editing a short film. Sasha has now over 20 years experience in media and entertainment and in business communications. His career includes producing, writing and directing film, TV, theatre and short-form commercial projects. He has received multiple awards as well as critical acclaim for his work. Notable credits include the feature film ‘Dance With Me’ and the theatre production ‘Project Snowflake’ both of which he wrote and directed winning much critical acclaim, as well as several award winning short films. Sasha is also a part-time lecturer at Central Saint Martins (UAL) and a consultant and mentor to corporate and individual clients.

Sasha and I have kept in touch over the many years between my Soho life and my working life now and he has very kindly contributed to this blog. Sasha is THE expert in helping individuals craft stories. Whether you want to tell your story to create a film, pitch to clients, deliver training workshops. I thought how wonderful to introduce him to you all and for you to understand the basics of how to craft a good story.

As Sasha says:

Humans have been telling stories since the beginning of time. It is how we make sense of the world, and how we connect with one another. All communication is therefore a narrative – we try to be heard by telling out story, be it through words, images, music dance.


So… how do you tell a good story?

It’s how you tell ‘em.


Storytelling may seem like a buzzword in business communications, these days, but it is neither new nor is it going away any time soon. If we want our colleagues and our customers to do what we want them to do, we need to know how to touch both their hearts and their minds. This is why it matters how you tell you story.


It could be argued that the best man’s speech is the Marmite of social interactions, the moment people dread and delight in, in equal numbers. Many a best man has driven its audience to drink with ill-placed embarrassment, or worse – boredom. And yet, you can’t have a wedding without it. We want it. We do. But only if it’s good. Business is no different. The infamous death -by-powerpoint usually means the whole story is dull, not just the slides design.Telling stories is an essential part of being human – for a million years this is how we’ve been sharing our fears and wants, to make sense of the world and of our lives. And we still do, today.We download books, binge-watch TV series, read newspapers, we gorge on stories with the same enthusiasm as our ancestors.

Media knows this, politicians know it, smart business knows it. They all try to get to us by creating narratives we can relate to, stories we can – often literally – buy into. And it works. We follow the leaders who connect with us through powerful narratives. We build relationships by exchanging stories, trying to feel heard, understood.

To tell a good story, then, isn’t merely a creative endeavour, it’s a survival technique, an actual and powerful tool in communicating our ideas with those around us. Every leader needs this skill, every employer and employee, every human being.

The good news is, we can learn it. As a filmmaker and lecturer, I teach a storytelling course exactly for this purpose. It isn’t a talent you have to be born with, but a skill you can learn. Let’s look at some of the basics.


Every story has a STRUCTURE.

A three act structure, to be exact. As does life – youth/adulthood/senior years. As does food – starter/main course/desert. Even an average email – hello, how are you/when will my invoice get paid/wishing you a nice weekend.

Therefore, a story we want to tell will also need to be broken down into 3 acts:

  1. Intro– setting out the topic to discuss and any reasons for it,
  2. Content– the facts, the pros and cons, the proof of one thing over another,
  3. Conclusion– recommendations and call to action type stuff.

This is where the fun starts. Not all acts are created equal.

Act 1, the intro, needs to be short and intriguing. Along the lines of “you won’t believe what I’ve found out”. We want the audience curious to hear the rest. Importantly, act 1 should be no more than a quarter of the allocated time. Get to the point, and make it sound intriguing – scary, exciting, funny, promising.

Act 2, is the long act. Two quarters of the allocated time. This is where you serve the main course, so to speak, all the facts and figures proving your point. It also carries the greatest risk of boring the audience. A simple rule scriptwriters use is ‘nail it and move on’. It means don’t labour your point with endless variations, make your point and move on to the next one.

But there’s another thing we need to do to keep it interesting – create twists and turning points. These are the ups and downs, the bad stuff followed by some hope, then drama again. In your business report, after stating a case for something, you might move on to the risks involved, then bring out reassurances. In a verbal presentation, something has to change every 10 minutes (at longest) because that’s the maximum attention span of your audience. They’ll need a little re-boot in order to continue listening to you.

Act 3 is the finale. It’s the desert – short and sweet. You’ve put forward a compelling case and now you’re making a summary with one or two final messages to stir the emotions (and possibly wallets) of the audience and call for action. It’s never more than a third of the allocated time, preferably a quarter. The boy and the girl make up after all their disagreements and ride off into the sunset – we don’t need to watch them travel all the way there. We just need to see them disappear together.

Before we move on, take a look at the intro to this post again – first para is act 1 (5 lines), the following 11 lines are act 2, the rest is act 3 (3 lines).

storytelling to communicate, a book open on a desk

Structure is the basis of all storytelling, but it isn’t everything.

A good story has a clear and engaging STYLE.

A film is scary or funny or magical or moving (or a gripping, well-crafted mixture of these). With structure we help the audience keep a grip on the story. Style is our tool to captivate them. We want them engaged and, by the end of it, convinced, moved into action.

How do we achieve this? With a combination of:

  • Rhythm– think waltz, or a quick-step, keep moving, keep turning those pages (both in the words we write and in the way we present them)
  • Tone of voice– humour always works, dramatic pauses, changes of volume, surprises
  • Body language– it’s your moment, own it, get your tall and proud body stance to trick your brain into feeling confident (yes, it works, there are exercises for this)
  • Charm– make your audience feel welcome, accepted, respected, appreciated.

All these things help you appear charismatic and captivating. However, this isn’t enough.

A good story is RELATABLE.

Who are you talking to? In the words of a brilliant team leader I once interviewed: “I’ve learned that if you’ve got 10 people in your team, you may have to tell your message in 10 different ways”. No matter how important your story, it isn’t a given that people will want to hear it, let alone embrace it. For this reason, our story has to be relatable. It will use language, it will use examples and analogies that are best suited to a particular audience. Sometimes, this may seem hopeless, e.g. pitching a new sanitary product to a boardroom of middle-aged men, but this is the challenge – to tell your story in a way that will make sense to your audience. It can be done.

The colour of the language is equally important. Whilst retaining our authenticity (hiding one’s eloquence with a local accent and colloquialisms would feel fake and insulting), we can still choose language that shows we understand and respect our audience. Using ancient proverbs in front of an audience to whom English is not first language is more likely to confuse them then convey the humour we intended, but using historical examples when talking to an audience who loves history is clearly ‘talking their language’, as is using statistics when talking to data analysts.

Above all, it takes practice. No different to dancing or sport, the more we care and the more we practice, the better we get. And the sense of reward is just as far-reaching.


Why does all this matter?

Because there are only two ways to make people do what we want them to do. The first is fear and force, which never works. Not only is it wrong, it also backfires sooner or later, be it through confusion, demotivation, or outright rebellion. The better way is to get people to really believe in our idea and in us as the storyteller. We want people to take ownership and feel motivated and inspired to fight for it.

Many a great idea has failed simply because it hasn’t captured people’s hearts. Meanwhile, even some pretty awful ideas have swayed large numbers of people, because they were delivered by relatable storytellers with a strongly emotional proposition.

Just imagine then what is possible when good people tell good stories.


So there we have it. A little longer than most but well worth a read! All the work we do at Firetree starts with a story. We work with small and large businesses, marketing agencies and digital marketeers to support them in telling stories through engaging visual content.

Sasha runs workshops and also offers 1.1 coaching. Please link with Sasha Damjanovski here to chat about booking the course or to discuss a project-specific consultation.

You can find out more about Sasha’s work here.

Or say hello on LinkedIn.

Get in touch with Firetree Here

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Thanks for reading. If you enjoy my blogs please feedback and I always welcome guest contributors with expertise in communication.