Ask one simple question to breathe life into your stories

Facts are essential, but their context and significance can elevate your storytelling. A simple two-word query can unlock the door to landing your message with your target audiences.

News is not just about the facts.

Who, what, where, when, why and how are all important questions, of course, whether you’re launching a product, announcing a partnership, showing off a recent award or letting the world know you’ll be at an upcoming tech show.

However, those announcements are not the story. They are not the news.

Facts do matter. They’re the skeleton of any business story, the structure you build a narrative on, but to create the story, you can’t just list the facts. You have to identify the bigger picture, fill in context and answer one simple question:

So what?

Why business storytelling begins with ‘so what?’

The “so what?” test is an exercise in understanding what matters to your audience. When describing a product, too many companies simply list features—the facts. The best, however, use the “so what?” test to uncover and convey why those features matter to their customers.

The same applies when you’re telling a technology story through mainstream media outlets or on your own blog and social media channels.

Filmmaker, journalist and author Nora Ephron learned this lesson in her high school journalism class: The news is not just about the facts; it’s about what the facts mean.

Why are they significant? What’s the point?

So what?

How to create a compelling story from the facts

Consider Elon Musk introducing Tesla’s electric semi-truck.

He runs through all the facts: 0–60 speed, how it handles a 5 percent grade, its drag coefficient and its mileage range on each charge.

Throughout, he compares the Tesla semi against its diesel counterpart—and against a supercar—to show how far ahead it is. That context of what’s currently possible and available adds meaning to all the stats.

If you just state the facts and assume readers will understand their significance as deeply as you do, you leave open the door for misunderstanding—or just plain apathy.

You must broadcast to readers from your headlines and first sentences why they should care and why the facts they’re absorbing have weight and significance.

The questions that will lead to your business story

Let’s look at a few scenarios in which “so what?” can help you elevate your story.

1. You have a new product or service.

So what?

  • What customer needs does it fulfill?
  • How does it compare to similar products or services?
  • What are its superlatives—is it the first? Fastest? Best?
  • What big picture trends does it connect with?

2. You just entered a new partnership.

So what?

  • What does the partnership mean for your industry and customers?
  • Why was it necessary?
  • What does it improve?

3. You won an award.

So what?

  • Why is the award notable?
  • Who else has won in the past?
  • What does it mean for your company at this stage of your growth?

4. You’re attending a tech show.

So what?

  • What new products are you introducing?
  • What products will you demo?
  • Why should reporters stop by your booth instead of hundreds or thousands of others?

In the end, the facts are the easy part. How to convey those facts in a compelling narrative is always the challenge, and it’s different for every organization.

Some stories, after all, are better than others. Some resonate more with your customers. Some resonate more with journalists, but a story will always resonate more than facts alone.

Look at your last press release. Think about your next announcement. What’s the meaning behind it? Why does it matter to your audience?

So what?

Fran Merlie is executive editor at Gregory FCA. A version of this post first ran on The News Hackers.

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