Every person in your audience has a personal narrative.
Your life is basically a “Choose your own adventure book.” And while there are parts of our lives we didn’t choose, we did get to decide how we responded to life’s challenging moments that played a major role in shaping our personal narrative.
Your personal narrative is the sum total of experiences you’ve had up to this point in your life. And while others have influenced you and helped shape the person you’ve become, you own your narrative.
Knowing this, the fastest pathway to connect with any audience is to tap into the most common denominator, which is personal narrative.
The latest issue of Entrepreneur features fast-growing trends in business. And guess what’s big? SMALL businesses! Turns out that many small brands have figured out the secret to taking a small upstart and making a big name for themselves among the massive retail stores.
What’s their secret?
Adam Elder writes, “The key is to tell seductive, inspiring (yet realistic!) stories that resonate, and to give customers what the biggest companies can’t: a sense that Yeah, we get you.”
That sense of “yeah, we get you” is not only great for small business, but it’s also the best way for a storyteller to connect with an audience. The more you understand about the personal narratives of your audience, the greater chance you will have to engage them and connect the story to their life.
But how can one start to understand the personal narrative of the people listening?
Understand their world.
The small business in the Entrepreneur article did just this. A camping equipment start-up realized that big brands like North Face and Patagonia promoted how their products had been tested in the rigors of Everest-type adventures. And while we envision climbing a fourteener, the reality is that most people never camp more than a few hours from home. They tapped into THAT personal narrative and have been able to compete with the big brands.
If you don’t know the world affecting your audience, do your homework:
Speak to Kids? Watch a few hours of Disney XD, volunteer in the lunchroom at a local elementary school where your kids attend, read the books your kids are reading, learn about their physical and mental development.
Speak to Teens? Hop on social media platforms that scare you. Check out the shows and YouTube channels targets at their demographic. Listen to the Apple Music or Spotify top 40 playlists — and don’t skip over the songs you don’t like.
Speak to Leaders? Talk to them about their schedules. Skim a few books and listen to some podcasts in the genre. Authentically enter into their life and get to know the people you lead.
Make educated assumptions.
Even if your own family matches the demographic of your audience, we only know what people let us know. In other words, you can never fully know someone’s personal narrative. And because of that, you’re going to need to make some assumptions about their life.
If you assume statistics are as true for your ministry as they are in the world:
That means, the people we serve might be going through something they’re keeping silent.
This doesn’t mean that we only target our messages to this part of our audience, but at the very least we need to acknowledge that tension while we seek to connect with each person in the audience.
If you don’t know, ask.
I recently spoke to several groups of teenagers while on a missions trip in Costa Rica. And the topic: sex. That’s right. I had to craft a message for Costa Rican teenagers about one of the most difficult things to talk about with any audience – let alone one living in a culture i knew nothing about.
So I asked questions about how this affects them, the pressures they face, and how other people have communicated this topic. I did some homework, then I went to work building the message.
One of the worst things we can do as communicators is to craft a message or a story where we haven’t considered the personal narrative of the audience. Ask the questions before you get started. Do what it takes to help your story connect with the people listening.
In the end, you want to connect with your audience. You want them to experience that “Yeah, They get me” moment where your story completely hits home and starts to impact their life.
Back to the Choose Your Own Adventure stories… I used to hate when I thought the story was going somewhere only to find myself abruptly trapped beneath a boulder surrounded by hungry rattlesnakes and “The End” two pages later. I’d have go back, make a different choice, and continue the story to a more fulfilling end.
It’s the same when you’re communicating—you have to make a lot of choices—except you don’t get a do over once you’ve lost your audience. Will you choose to take the time and do your homework so you can keep the connection going with your audience? Or will you simply deliver what you were handed in the way you feel most comfortable?
Choose to enter the adventure and tell better Bible stories that keep the story relevant in a person’s life long after they’ve finished listening.
If you want to learn more about personal narrative and how it interacts with theology and the Bible, check out my ebook, A Storyteller’s Manifesto.