Everyone loves a good story…

01 June 2016

Content Editor Reshma Gumani shares with us why using story telling is a powerful way to communicate and how it can be used to speak in a meaningful way about the work we do at City Hall.


The way we learn, work and communicate is in constant flux but one thing remains the same – we all love a good story. That is, a narrative, either true or fictitious, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the reader.

And City Hall has brilliant stories to tell – we are an organisation that diligently works to make London a better place to live, work and visit. We’ve been involved with the biggest and best international events, from London Fashion week to the Olympics. We provide critical insight and guidance in fields like planning and economics, laying the groundwork to ensure London remains one of the most, if not the most, popular city in the world.

We have a duty to communicate this work properly – to capture the attention and interest of the people who are fundamentally affected by what we do: Londoners. Communicating well can build Londoner’s trust and confidence in us. It can build faith that we’re doing  what we can for all Londoners.

So we spent a day with storytelling expert Anthony Tasgal to learn techniques to humanise and ‘storify’ our writing. This blog post shares some of the things we learnt.


You can't write for every Londoner

A story can exist in pictures, text, video and even infographics, but before we start to craft our story, we first need to know who we are crafting it for.

Londoners, you might say, but that’s the problem.  Londoners do not think or feel the same way as each other. They are not a uniform group so it’s pretty unlikely they will all see themselves in your story. If you identify a specific audience however, you can build your story around their interests and concerns. You can make unique references particular to that audience, showing empathy through subject matter and language, helping to build trust and relevance.

In the past, demographics like age, gender, income and location have been used to divide and identify audiences, but splitting Londoners based on demographics doesn’t really teach us anything about their interests. Just because two people share the same age and income doesn’t mean they both care about what will be on the fourth plinth or how much Mayoral advisors gets paid.

The best way to understand your specific audience is by looking at their values and attitudes – this is called ‘psychographics’. Psychographics reveals what types of interests and concerns people have and whether they are culture vultures, environmental enthusiasts or protective residents that don’t like change. And with this insight you can construct a story tailored to your audience’s interests and concerns, and build their confidence in your voice.


After reading your page – what exactly do you want your reader to do?

It could be to find out more information, attend an event, share or change their opinion about an issue – these directions are called Calls to Action (CTAs). They are an instruction to the reader to provoke a response.

CTAs are a great way to interact with your audience. We can learn a lot from how they respond to these (via analytics) because your request is returned with an action, which in turn builds and strengthens your relationship between you and your reader.

The best CTAs are supported by powerful images and insightful data. Images appeal to our emotions and data appeals to our logic.


Is your writing true but useless?

Every sentence should lead to the next. After writing, always ask yourself – is this true but useless? If so, get rid of it, don’t clutter your page and distract your reader.


And finally…five steps to the perfect page:

  1. Identify a specific audience – remember, you can’t write for everyone
  2. Make it meaningful - build your content around their values, interests, and concerns
  3. Don’t give them absolutely everything on the subject – give your reader enough information to come to the conclusion themselves
  4. Identify the peak of your story and position your call to action there for maximum impact
  5. Keep it succinct so every sentence leads to the next – get rid of useless information

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