Storytelling vs. Storyselling

It’s unfortunate, but “storytelling” has become another one of those overused terms in our culture. In the past decade especially, businesses and organizations have confused storytelling with storyselling. The difference is nuanced but significant.

Storyselling follows a formula. Its end goal is to try and convince us that the story is true. Because of this, storyselling is usually overly simplistic without any subtlety or complexity to it. Brands are guilty of it. Politicians are guilty of it. Pastors are guilty of it. We’ve all been guilty of it at some point. In the end, storyselling can often come off as hollow, clinical, and often, a bit desperate.

Storytelling also follows a formula (all stories are some variation of the Hero’s Journey) but takes that foundational structure and adds a healthy dose of mystery and wonder. These stories allow us to step into the gaps, read between the lines, and see ourselves in the adventure unfolding.

There’s a confidence in this subtle approach, a choice to let the story do the work for us, to break hearts, change minds, and make believers.

These stories often have a longer lifespan. Some are even timeless. Ironically, these stories are the kinds people are most likely to trust and respond positively to because they don’t stop at feeding us information, they work to capture our imagination.

So the question is, is your (company /organization/church) settling for storyselling or bravely inviting your audience to wonder and make believe?