When storytellers ‘hyperlink’ they still pull you back. Do you?

I had to explain what a hyperlink is to my class last week.

It’s odd to see, through the eyes of a new audience, how the words we take so much for granted, are really a tad arcane. Yet we continue to use words and phrases such as URLs (no-one cares what it stands for), Cloud, hyperlink.

But just to explain hyperlink by focusing on the word link, made me look of how stories used to be constructed in a pre-Internet era, with built-in hyper-links. The storyteller used his craft to send the listener to a place and then craftily pull him back, thereby enriching the story. The whole back-and-forth link-out/link-back process is how we intuitively learn to write. To keep an audience engaged. (for this experiment I am not using any hyperlinks in this post.)

Take Hamlet, for instance. When he speaks to the ghost of his father:

Yea, from the table of my memory

I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,

All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,

That youth and observation copied there;

Shakespeare piles on metaphors of books, records, copying etc, to take the audience –an outbound link– to a place that provides some background to Hamlet’s state of confused state of mind, his ‘distracted globe.’

Now, nearly 400 years later, even as we experiment with ‘media snacking,’ we are increasingly aware that we don’t advance knowledge by reading headlines and summaries.

But while an actor could pull us back, we who abuse the hyperlink (just to show we know more about a topic), inadvertently encourage readers to drift off into some abyss.

Hamlet was, by his own admission,  ‘distracted,’ but he made sure we are not!

What could digital storytellers use to pull an audience back, to enlarge the story?

What’s your story? Dump the ‘pitch,’ find your story!

I’ve said it before: radio, which seems a lot like ‘old media’ has one leg up over new media because it’s where people come to expect to hear stories. Not sound bytes, not pitches, not bullet points, not all those forms of condensed communication snacks we have come to expect in every other form of media.

Don’t blame it on TV entirely. There are TV programs that refuse to do the truncated story, shun the fast cuts, and slick camera work so as to let the story unfold. We have ingested this packet switching mentality that the Internet brought with it, and forced our stories into the tiniest bits of content. It’s become the default format, and we go along with it.

But guess what? It is not the only format that works.

Exhibit A: I listened to a long segment today on a new trend Daryl Hall started, called Live From Daryl’s House. It’s an internet phenomenon. But if it hadn’t been thoughtfully told as a story by NPR reporter Robert Smith, I would have skipped it.

Exhibit B: Radio again. This time I have to bring in the show I co-host with Derrick Mains as an example of how we make  ‘talk show’ (in most people’s minds it’s where the hosts yak all the time) into a storytelling space. We bring people around the topics of business entrepreneurship, innovation and corporate sustainability, and let their stories unfold.

Everyone’s tired of hearing pitches. Too many people tell you what they do in that distilled, dehumanized format. Stories have a different pace, and in fact, different goals. Yet they break through the clutter in a more powerful way.

What’s your pitch? Could you turn it into a story? Try it. Record it and listen to it. You’ll never want to talk in bullet points again!