How to Tell Stories: For Scientists

Great Storytellers

Disney, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Chaucer – From children’s tales to wise proverbs, Plato called it correctly even in 400 BC, those who tell the stories rule society. Hundreds or even Thousands of years later and the fact remains true... for Plato read Matt Cutts, and for ancient texts, parchment and scrolls read Linkedin profiles, Blogs, Videos and other content.

The reality is that information is more readily available now than ever before – Yet if you don’t tell your story to your audience, someone else will...

In the world of Science and Industrial Manufacturing, content marketing is rapidly catching up with other industries and in particular these B2B statistics serve to fortify that conviction:

  • 88 percent of business-to-business marketers in North America rely on content marketing.

  • 76 percent of B2B marketers will create more content in 2016 than in 2015.

  • 65 percent of businesses say that blogging remains their favored marketing tactic, followed closely by social media and case studies.

So far, so good—until you read a jarring statistic—and the one with which you identify most:

"87 percent of B2B marketers report that they struggle to produce content that truly engages their buyers."

While it helps to know that you're not alone among your peers, you also know that you must find a way to engage with your readers while cutting through the cacophony of “noise” on the web. You can accomplish both objectives by following three basic principles: focus on telling a story, exhibit enthusiasm and be concise.

If these principles strike you as flying in the face of conventional wisdom of the type of content that might appeal to serious-minded scientists, consider yours a reasonable reaction. But these three content principles just so happen to guide the work of journalists in both print and online venues—the very same people who have learned a thing or two about the fickle, impatient nature of readers over the course of the ongoing media revolution. (Why else have bullet points become so prevalent?)

Adhering to these three principles will help you:

  • Solve specific application problems

  • Drive quality traffic to your website

  • Generate more inquiries and leads

  • Signpost more highbrow content, such as white papers and scholarly articles in academic journals

Still skeptical? You wouldn't be a scientist at heart if you weren't. So cast these three principles under a microscope for a closer look:

Tell a Story

It's easy for scientists to become mired in facts and figures. While these elements are vital to content marketing, what readers really want is to become engaged in a story. And every scientist has many compelling stories to tell. In “Don't Be Such a Scientist,” film director and former marine biologist Randy Olson promotes the “four organ theory” of how scientists should connect with an audience.

Mark has a passion for his subject matter which is clearly reflected in his Storytelling ability, without being too technical.

The best stories, he says, forge a connection with the brain (signifying facts); the heart (passion and sincerity); the gut (humor); and, by extension, the eyes (visual appeal). The four main chapters of Olson's book take the form of what he calls his "admonitions" to scientists. They are: don't be so cerebral, don't be so literal minded, don't be so unlikable and (yes) don't be such a poor storyteller.

Show Enthusiasm

Like professors and physicians, scientists share certain traits: devotion, commitment and dedication to their discipline. These traits might be cousins of enthusiasm, but they provide a natural segue to what appeals to and engages many readers. It might be trite to say that enthusiasm is contagious, but it also happens to be true.

Professor Colin Humphreys is a fantastic example of passion, enthusiasm and natural storytelling ability.

Enthusiasm is a differentiator. It helps explain the success of some of the most effective teachers, coaches, sports broadcasters and other professionals who must not only impart information to the masses but do so in a way that fixates attention on their message. And with all the “noise” on the web, showing enthusiasm has never been more vital: Nowadays the average attention span is about 8 seconds, proving that people are easily bored. If your content is compelling—dynamic, enlightening, educational or entertaining—people will stay engaged, which naturally results in more clicks, downloads and conversions. Enthusiasm will heighten your advantage in the crowded marketplace of ideas.

Cut Through the Jargon - Be Concise!

Admittedly, jargon suffers from a bad rap. Jargon is simply the language and vocabulary of a discipline. It's the secondary definition of the word, perhaps, that shades its meaning: Jargon also means “confused, unintelligible language,” and this is the part that should be cut. Scientists who wish to stand out on the web seize the opportunity to inform, educate and enlighten their readers not by “dumbing down” the language of their discipline but by offering explanations and illustrations, invoking metaphors and creating visual pictures.

Here, too, it's worth taking a page from a journalistic “bible”: William Strunk and E.B. White's “The Elements of Style.” They say: “Don't be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy."

If you are struggling to tell your story to your audience, contact us to see how we can help.

Posted by Frank Barker

Having spent his younger years playing Rugby in the sunny climes of Spain and Western Australia, Frank graduated from Loughborough University with a BSc in International Business. Over the past 4 years, he has since forged a career in Digital Marketing and developed a passion for combining big data with great content to deliver messages that resonate with specific audiences. A sportsman at heart, Frank still enjoys lacing up the boots for his beloved Macclesfield 1st XV Rugby or pulling on the whites to represent the more serious Macclesfield 3rd XI Cricket team.

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