Featured, Marketing May 18, 2018

Use Tension to Keep Attention: 3 Story Questions To Clarify Your Message

Reading Time: 4 minutes


It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” – Steve Jobs

Time is our most valuable and limited resource today. As you scroll your news feed, flip through a magazine or choose a book to read, the unconscious question is, “Is this piece of content a valuable use of my time?” If this is true for you, then it is also true for your audience. If you want to get your message in the right place, you need a powerful tool to cut through the noise.

Visuals reach the brain 60,000 times faster than any other form of communication. Our brains are amazing. And quite complex. Scientific discoveries about the brain are growing every day. And what scientists have discovered so far is that the brain is wired for story.

There are many ways that the brain and story go together. The most powerful fact is that tension is what keeps our attention. When there’s a question that’s left open, we have to stick around to find out what happens. Reality television is one clear example where you can see this in action. Because they’ve taken out almost any character development, you can easily see the underlying structure. Every single scene introduces a binary question. This question keeps the viewer’s attention until it is answered. Then they introduce another one. You can also see this very clearly in sports like football where every play is binary, leading to one final victor.

The unanswered question is the tension that keeps our attention.  This attention is what is so scarce in our world because time is such a limited resource. (If you’re interested, you can read more on this here.)

So what do we do with this?  Nothing happens in a vacuum. We don’t just decide to tell a story for no reason. There’s always an inciting incident that kicks off your journey. In the world of startups, we’re always trying to promote something, launch something or raise money for something. When a specific situation comes up, it’s tempting to jump right in and start knocking it out. But the question remains, will you be able to reach your audience effectively?

If you believe in the power of visual storytelling to engage your audience, take a moment to answer these questions first. The answers will guide you on your journey to clear communication with positive results.

1. Is there a hero?

The hero is your main character. You want your audience to form a connection with your brand. Humans form connections most deeply with other humans. Not ideas, not products, not even a cause, but real flesh and blood humans. You need a hero in your story to form a connection with your audience.

Sub Question: Will your audience relate to the hero?

You want your audience to see themselves in the hero. We call them the hero because they’re on a journey. The audience gets to go on that journey with them. Along the way, they learn what the hero learns. This produces empathy which leads to altruistic actions.

Sub Question: What does your hero want?

The way your audience will most likely relate to your hero is by a shared desire. First, what does your hero want? This is the question that drives your hero and their actions. Without this desire, there’s no tension. Without tension, your audience is either snoozing or they’re scrolling on. When we dig deeper into what your character wants, there are going to be some vulnerable moments. These moments will have your audience leaning in because they may feel the same way. Now they’re listening!

2. Is there a struggle?

This is the key to tension in your story. As we noted above, tension is the most powerful way to keep your audience’s attention for more than a few seconds. The obstacles are the thing that your product/service/cause will solve. Talk about the obstacles as they relate to your hero’s desire. What will happen if the obstacles overcome the hero?

3. Is there transformation?

After overcoming the obstacles, what is your hero’s life like now? How have they changed? What in their world has changed? How do they feel? If we’ve aligned the hero’s greatest desire with your audience’s greatest desire, then the picture of success they see in the story will compel them to want that too. They may even want it enough to take action.


So the next time you’re ready to dive into a new project, take a moment and ask yourself these questions.  Doing so will guide your decisions and turn mediocre stories into great ones.

If you want to read further about this, including real-world examples, check out our eBook called “Is This A Story? Your Guide On The Journey To Find Clarity In Your Message.”

We would love your feedback on this concept we’ve shared. We aim to turn it into an online quiz that will rate your story and give you valuable suggestions on improving it.



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