Storytelling and The Language of Flowers: Writing Content that Takes Root
A few weeks ago, our book club gathered in my garden to discuss The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Kelly arrived first carrying a plate of appetizers labeled with the herbs she’d used and their meanings (basil stands for hate and rosemary is remembrance). Rachel arrived next with her copy of the book in hand (she’d read the Kindle version, as had the rest of us, but bought the book because she wanted ready access to the dictionary of flower meanings). Kelly and Rachel wandered through my garden pointing to flowers for me to name, while they looked up their meanings. We learned that Clematis means poverty, Gerbera Daisies symbolize cheerfulness, Chrysanthemums stand for truth, Honeysuckle for devotion, Iris delivers a message, and Lilies are majestic. Barb arrived, announcing that her favorite flowers, Peonies, represent anger. We laughed that one of my favorites, Lavender, symbolizes mistrust. As the other guests arrived, they found us uncharacteristically already engrossed in the book discussion (we usually chit chat at length before even mentioning the book we’ve read). Delving into the characters and this beautiful story of transformation, we kept circling back to how flowers and their hidden meanings played a role in this compelling narrative. As usual, our discussion meandered away from the book, but for some reason, that night we found our focus returning to this wonderful tale of flowers and transformation. Our insights and understanding became deeper and more rooted with each cycle, and everyone left imprinted with this story along with images of a memorable evening – reflecting on the meaning of flowers.
We have all experienced a movie, book, sermon, or song that sticks with us for days, weeks, months . . . even years. If you reflect on the last time this happened to you, my guess is that you weren’t compelled with facts and advice, but instead with a rich story that struck an emotional chord and inspired you to think differently about your life. So how can you create meaningful content that moves people to remember, share, and change?
In his article, The Incredible Power of Strong Narrative in Your Content, Omar Kattan (a New Age AdMan) describes four key principles for creating content that leaves a mark on the hearts and minds of your readers. I think that he is spot on and have embellished on his points, linking them to health education and communications.
- All great stories have great character arcs. Use people, place, and plot to build a narrative arc that leaves a message or moral that people will remember. So what does this have to do with the scientific basis of health? Everything! If you want your science and advice to transform lives. Tell a story about someone who faced a similar health challenge, describe the tensions they experienced, and how that struggle resulted in growth and transformation (emotional, cognitive, social, or lifestyle change). Every health professional has a war chest of stories that can impart hope and inspiration to others. You will need to fictionalize them slightly to protect yourself from HIPPA issues, so think about the emotional meanings behind these health journeys and how you can bring them to life through your own character arcs. Marketers can look to focus groups and consumer research to find these tales. (More storytelling tips can be found on my website under Storytelling Basics.)
- Use stories about yourself or people you know to drive your point home. Make yourself real and relate-able by sharing a time when you learned a hard lesson or survived duress. Your own story is one that you can tell authentically, and everyone is motivated by the Truth. Even if you have always lived a healthy, active lifestyle, share a part of your life that might be hard for you, like balancing your budget, cleaning your closets, or following driving directions. You might tell a story about when you were injured, sick, or bed-ridden and how you coped with that challenge.
- Mention how meeting a guru or an expert in your particular field made all the difference. Who are the heroes in your life and how did they shape your choices? Your parents, grandparents, spouse, teachers, bosses, friends, mentors, and kids have taught you lessons large and small. Do any of these experiences relate to the challenge your audience might be facing?
- Tell a story about your journey, or the inception of your company or career. Transparency about “who you are” and “why you chose the path you’re on” helps to build your credibility and engenders trust with your audience. Sharing your story – beyond your resume – will help your listeners know who you are and relate to your health messages.
Whether you are promoting health as a brand marketer, health professional, public speaker, or business leader, Omar’s principles can help your communications resonate with your audience at a deeper level that will take root and live with them for days, months, and years.
So I conclude with the language of flowers: Use your Bougainvillea (passion) and Lupine (imagination) to connect your heart to your facts when planting your Irises (messages). Less Rhubarb (advice) and more Rosemary (remembrance) will instill Hawthorn (hope) and Polyanthus (confidence) to motivate Scarlet Pimpernel (change).