“The shortest distance between a human being and the truth is a story.” – Anthony de Mello
Stories are in our blood. As humans, we’ve been telling tales since the days when our only tools for doing so were our voices and some cave paint. Our means of communication may have changed since then, but our storytelling instinct has remained intact. Whether it’s a book, film, magazine article, speech, TV show, digital interactive exhibit, or a 30-second commercial about beer – it doesn’t matter: we want to be moved by a good narrative.
Even though we’re a technology company, we’re actually in the storytelling business. Creating interactive experiences that are engaging and memorable requires more than just the latest touchscreen; it also requires a captivating narrative that will make a connection with the visitor.
Bobette Buster, in her book Do Story: How to tell your story so the world listens, outlines ten principles of storytelling that work together to elevate a good story into a great story. According to Buster, striking an emotional chord with the audience is the key difference between good and great.
To bring these principles into the realm of interactive exhibits, I’ve selected four of her ten principles and framed them around the content development work that we do here at NGX:
1. Tell your story as if you’re telling it to your friend.
Try not to talk down to your audience. At the same time, don’t expect your audience to know everything about the topic. This is a tough balance, especially when your target demographic ranges widely, which is often the case for interactive exhibits designed for a general audience. However, if you share content like you would a conversation with a friend – with honesty, patience, and good humor – chances are you’ll make a connection with your audience.
2. Give the place, time, setting, and any factual context. Keep it factual, short and sweet.
Give your audience the facts they’ll need to experience the story to its most impactful effect, nothing more. If you drown your audience in content, you run the risk of disconnecting them emotionally. One of the advantages of digital interactives is that additional information can be made available at the visitors’ fingertips if they’re curious to know more details and choose to dig deeper on their own, beyond the surface facts.
3. Tune into your audience’s sense memory.
Highlight one of the senses so that the story lingers longer with the visitor and makes a deeper emotional connection. Interactive exhibits allow for the creative use of sounds, images and touch, which can immerse the audience in the story (taste and smell aren’t utilized very often, but maybe that’s for the best). Depending on the context of your story, employing one of these elements more than the others without going overboard can act to heighten the emotional experience for the visitor.
4. Let your story build to its natural, emotional punchline, then end it and get out fast.
For digital interactives, this is probably the most difficult of the four to achieve – primarily because a clean narrative is not always immediately evident when interpreting content for an interactive exhibit. But when developing content, creating some form of beginning-middle-end structure does a lot to create a storyline that a visitor will naturally respond to. An interactive game, for instance, might introduce a problem that needs to be solved (beginning), the visitor tries to solve the problem (middle), and then the results of their effort are examined (end). And when it ends, try not to linger too long or you risk diluting the story’s emotional impact (I’m looking at you, 9 endings of Lord of the Rings).
It’s important to keep in mind that these are just guidelines – there isn’t a magic formula for creating the perfect story or digital interactive exhibit. But if you make an effort to connect with your audience at the emotional level, you’re probably one step closer to getting there.
– Jason Clarke, Interpretive Writer & Content Researcher