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April 02, 2023

Tips for Business Storytelling

What do Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Marvel have in common? They’re all examples of great storytelling!  

Storytelling has been around for thousands of years, and for good reason. It’s perhaps the most compelling way to communicate. Telling a great story is about conveying a message in a powerful way by engaging people’s imagination and emotions. The most epic stories highlight universal themes and truths, like persevering through challenges or the importance of honesty.

Okay… So does storytelling have anything to do with leadership or the workplace? 

As a leader, you’re often tasked with communicating important ideas to a wide variety of audiences. Whether you’re presenting to investors, leading a team meeting, or recruiting new customers, the ability to effectively convey your message is essential. One of the strongest ways to do this is through storytelling. 

By using stories, you can draw-in your listeners and get your message across in a way that’s memorable and impactful.

“Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.” Dr. Howard Gardner

Tell me more about why storytelling is so dang powerful.

At its core, storytelling is about making a connection with your audience. It allows you to create a shared experience with your listeners. When you tell a story, you’re not just relaying information; you’re creating a narrative that people can relate to and empathize with. Think about any great motivational speaker or comedian – they use these techniques! 

When could you use business storytelling as a leader? Here are a few examples:

Presentations: Whether you’re giving a sales pitch or presenting to colleagues, incorporating storytelling into your presentation will grab your audience’s attention. By relaying a story that illustrates your main point, you can help your listeners see the value of what you’re proposing in a more concrete way. Try incorporating a story arch (AKA a beginning, middle and end) to give your presentation shape and direction.

Public Speaking: If you’re giving a keynote address or speaking at an event, a little bit of storytelling can go a long way when it comes to keeping people interested. By sharing personal stories or anecdotes, you can create a sense of rapport with your listeners and make your message more relatable.

Team Meetings: Storytelling is one way to motivate your team and inspire them to action. By sharing stories of past successes or challenges, you can help your team see the value of their work and the impact they can make.

Attracting Sponsors or Investors: If you’re looking to attract new sponsors or investors, storytelling can help you make a compelling case for your business or product. By telling a story that illustrates the potential of your idea, you’ll get investors to see the value of investing in your venture.

Now that we’ve established when you might use business storytelling, let’s take a look at some simple structures you can use to create effective stories.

Here are a few ways to structure a story:

Beginning, Middle, End (Three-Act Structure): This is considered a classic literary structure (thanks, Aristotle!). It’s simple and effective. Act 1 has an introduction that sets up the story and includes an “inciting incident” that moves the story into motion. This is followed by a middle section, Act 2, which involves a change, challenge, or conflict. Act 3 ends with a resolution that ties everything together and emphasizes the underlying lesson or message.

The Hero’s Journey: This more involved multi-step structure takes the listener on a journey with the protagonist. It starts in the character’s ordinary world, followed by a call to adventure, a meeting with a mentor, a series of trials and tribulations, and, ultimately, a return to the ordinary world with newfound wisdom and insight. Go here for more details about The Hero’s Journey.

The NPR Story: This two-part structure is super common on National Public Radio because it works well in an oral format (a win for presentations!). First, start in the thick of the action – think about some details that put the listener at the heart of the conflict. Then, zoom out and explain how this story you just told is representative of a trend or something bigger. 

Follow these general tips for business storytelling:

No matter which structure you choose, there are a few key elements to keep in mind when crafting your story. 

First, be sure to start with a strong hook that grabs your listener’s attention. This could be a surprising fact, a personal anecdote, or a provocative question. Whatever it is, it should be something that immediately engages your audience and makes them want to hear more.

Next, be sure to focus on the emotional core of your story. What is the feeling or emotion that you want your audience to take away from your story? Is it hope, inspiration, determination, or something else? By focusing on the emotional core, you can relate to your listeners or readers and make your story more memorable.

Think about what someone would feel, hear, see, smell, or touch if they were in the story. Including sensory details will bring your story to life and help the audience connect their experiences with the story you’re telling. 

Finally, be sure to keep your story focused. While it can be tempting to include lots of tangents, a well-crafted story should be tight and focused. Stick to the main point of your story, and avoid trying to communicate too many different themes. 

Whether you’re giving a presentation, speaking at an event, or simply trying to motivate your team, incorporating storytelling into your communication can help you achieve your goals and connect with your audience in a meaningful way. So next time you’re preparing to communicate a message, consider how you might use the power of storytelling to create a more impactful and engaging experience for your listeners.

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