Think that implementing storytelling in your business is a challenging feat?
We asked 30 business storytelling experts a simple question: “What is an effective storytelling tip you would recommend for business leaders?” As an emerging field, the concept of business storytelling is still relatively new. Hence, I wanted to learn the mindsets and techniques they use so that newbies like myself can get started. To recap, here are the key learnings we got from these interviews.
- Be human, it’s fine to be imperfect. This means displaying your vulnerable side and showing empathy as a fellow human being
- Present a compelling ‘Why’. By simply offering your service without a strong ‘Why’, you risk getting commoditised within a competitive marketplace
- Introduce contrast to your stories. This could come in the form of ‘good’ guys versus ‘bad’ guys OR the current situation vs a better future
Here are the responses we received in the order of time received. Simply click on the contributor’s name ‘jump’ directly to his or her response. Nancy Duarte, Joe Pulizzi, Bernadette Jiwa, Michael Margolis, Alex Barrera,Vladimir Gendelman, Cynthia Kurtz, Andrea Fontana,Casey Hibbard,David Hutchens, Stefanie Kilts, Molly W Catron, Neeta Patel, Nico Prinsloo, Sean Buvala, Carol Mon, Mike Wittenstein, Thaler Pekar,, , Lori Silverman, Paul Furiga, Lina Srivastava, Raf Stevens, Shawn Callahan, Terrence Gargiulo, Susan Luke, Doug Stevenson, Gabrielle Dolan, Ian Sanders, Valerie Khoo, John Kratz, Antonio Nunez Lopez
“Empathy is the most important storytelling mindset for business leaders. The audience is the hero. Without them, your idea will die. So, you need to take the posture of the mentor, you need to get to know your audience and understand what resonates with them. For storytelling techniques, the key is contrast.
When giving a presentation, you need to contrast the current situation with a future, better situation if they will adopt your idea. You need to move between “what is” and “what could be” to convince your audience that they should join you on the journey to the future. Change is hard, and your idea will require your audience to make a change, so you need to empathetically show them an alluring future to make the risk and sacrifice worth it.”
Nancy Duarte is the founder of Duarte Agency. She is well known for her three best-selling books, including Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences You can follow her at @nancyduarte
“I come from a publishing background and have had the opportunity to interview the most successful online platforms in the world. Each one follows the same formula – 1) focus on one content type (audio, video, textual) 2) focus on one content platform (blog/website, iTunes, YouTube), 3) consistently deliver content (every day, week, month, etc.) 4) over a long period of time. Those leaders that actually have a differentiated story and do the above, will be successful with building a loyal audience over time.”
Joe Pulizzi is the founder of Content Marketing Institute and authored “How Entrepreneurs Use Content to Build Massive Audiences and Create Radically Successful Businesses“. Follow him at @JoePulizzi.
People don’t just pay a premium for different or better. They pay more for a product or service that anticipates, accommodates and sometimes celebrates the context of their situation. Understanding not just what our customers will buy or pay, but why they will buy or pay more, provides us with an opportunity to innovate and add value.
Bernadette Jiwa is a freelance brand story strategist, marketing keynote speaker and the author of four #1 Amazon Bestsellers Difference, Marketing: A Love Story, The Fortune Cookie Principle and Make Your Idea Matter. Follow her at @BernadetteJiwa.
When you’re learning how to tell a better business story, presence trumps performance. It’s not about finding those perfect words that can help you dominate the marketplace. It’s about being confident in and connected to what you do, why it matters, and why it’s a gift that makes a real difference in people’s lives.
There’s nothing wrong with selling — we’re all selling something. But how much do you really believe in what you’re offering? This reveals some part of your own humanity.
As a mindset, I would recommend to always look at problems and solutions as the quintessential story ground. There is no best way to communicate a problem as with story. Don’t tell me the problem, show it to me through a story.
As for a technique, it’s more about getting the whole company to think in stories. That requires a cultural change, that’s not often easy. Stop presenting boring ppt, and start getting everyone to illustrate their needs through stories.
Be authentic. If you’re not dishonest about what you’re selling, about your company’s character, or how you plan to interact with customers, consumers will smell your phony story coming a mile away—and they will run the other direction.
More than anything, today’s buyer wants to work with brands they can trust. Telling a story that matches your actions will show them that you mean what you say and that working with you is worth their time.
Vladimir Gendelman is the founder and CEO of Company Folders, Inc., an innovative presentation folder printing company. He is also a printing and design expert and a graphic design blogger. Follow him @vgendelman.
Stop telling stories. Start listening. Only when you have listened to all the stories that matter (to your employees, customers, whoever matters to you) should you start telling stories. And when you do tell stories, you might find that telling the stories you’ve heard has more impact than telling any stories you can create.
Cynthia Kurtz authored the book “Working with Stories” which provides practical advice on collecting and working with the unique and valuable stories of your community or organization.
Storytelling for me is like a good cup of coffee, it warms and awakens.
When I do is a “storytelling operation”:
I listen to the public
I build the great plot necessary for them
I take care of the different media platforms in which the stories will incarnate.
To make a connection with their audiences – whether customers, investors, shareholders, peers or partners – business leaders need to have a variety of specific stories in their back pockets. For a rich trove of possible stories, look at your most successful customers. Then systematically collect, document and practice telling them.
Casey Hibbard authored “Stories That Sell” and a champion for the cause of organizational storytelling, Casey has crafted compelling stories for dozens of companies, such as EarthLink Business, Avaya, IHS and Acxiom Corporation. Follow her at @Casey_Hibbard.
A big part of my message to leadership storytellers is that “telling” is only part of your activity… and not even the most important part of the transaction. As a leader, after you tell a story, change happens when we invite the team into a conversation about the story; and then when we invite team members to tell their stories as well. The idea is to create a storytelling culture, or an interpretive community, that builds the organization’s capacity for meaning-making and co-creation.
Thus, I would argue that story listening is an even more potent leadership skill than story telling. Leaders should be the role models for this. I like the fact that this is a surprising message, because it does sound counter-intuitive to storytelling. But this is the shift I like to challenge leaders to make.
So even though you are creating an article about “telling” steps, I think it is absolutely appropriate to say to challenge the leader’s mental model and shift them to the side of listening and meaning making. My book, “Circle of the 9 Muses,” is loaded with actionable ideas that leaders can use to invite their teams (and customers, and partners) into this critical meaning-making, story-creating conversation.
David Hutchens is the author of Circle of The 9 Muses: A Storytelling Field Guide For Innovators And Meaning Makers. Follow him at: @DavidbHutchens
The most important mindset for effective storytelling in business is thinking about your audience first. The most powerful story is not about your business or service, it’s about your customers and knowing your audience will help narrow down how to most effectively deliver that content. A clear distinction in our digital world is whether you want to develop a passive or active audience with storytelling. There are numerous platforms, tools, design and visual components, content types and messaging to build stories so your customers not only see the stories but engage and interact with the content. In the end, it’s not enough to create great stories; you need to create great stories that spread, morph and multiply.
Stefanie Kilts is passionate about harnessing the power of storytelling through multimedia and social media. She shares that passion through videography and marketing businesses. Follow her at @stefaniekilts.
Molly W Catron
The most critical element of storytelling in business is authenticity. The listeners know when someone has “manufactured” a story to influence them in some way. Change or buy-in happens from a personal decision made in the 18 inches between the head and the heart. Stories tell the facts in an emotional context. The facts must be accurate and the emotional context must be authentic. Listeners read the emotion from not only the words but from every element of the teller’s body language. Don’t fudge the facts and if you are a leader and you have not experienced an emotional connection to the story being told, don’t tell it.
Leaders are effective storytellers when they tell stories that have influenced them to change, to see differently, to learn a valuable lesson or illustrate a principle played out beautifully. Listeners sense authenticity and if they don’t see it, they will reject the story and the teller. The leader’s rejected story will become fodder for the powerful “water cooler” stories and will work against the leader’s efforts.
Molly Catron has worked with practitioners from various organizations (IBM, Disney, Harvard University, Capitol One, World Bank, etc.) to study the use of story in business. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
I think a critical skill that all business leaders need to have is an ability to paint a compelling vision of the company, where it’s going and how the company staff can help to achieve that vision.
A powerful technique that many leaders use is through storytelling. This is not about telling ‘tall’ tales or outlining fictional stories but bringing the companies challenges to life by showing analog situations and allowing people to draw conclusions from that. In my book titled ‘ Creative Business – the creation of addictive content’, my co-founder and I use analogies from the TV, Film and book publishing industries as examples of compelling and ‘addictive’ stories.
A good technique to identify the drama (a company is trying to break traditional business models), the good guys (the company and its staff), the bad guys (regulators, competitors etc) and then paint a picture of how the good guys will win. In film, the good guys always win!
My favourite practical technique for telling stories on behalf of my clients, is what I call the Why technique.
If you can answer the question why your business exists, then it is easy to get to the What (you do) and How (you do it). Most business stories answer the What and How first, but that is not what the prospective client is looking for.
If you can tell the prospective client why you exist, they will understand better what you do and accept how you do it.
Most companies confuse advertising and storytelling. Leaders need to understand that advertising is not storytelling. While companies need to develop solid stories about their work and mission, the expression of those stories needs to be diverse.
Storytelling is a part of that. Storytelling can only be done live and person to person, CEO’s to reps, reps to customers, customers to other customers and other such connections. Various forms of story-expression, such as video, social media graphics and testimonials, aren’t storytelling. Yes, they are great tools, but only storytelling is storytelling.
If your “C”-suite team doesn’t know that and then model and practice it, I think you should quit using the romanticized word “storytelling” and just call it advertising or marketing. You are hurting yourself otherwise. There’s nothing wrong with creating good advertising with your stories.
When telling stories remember this simple formula.
1. What was the world like before, give a brief background to lay the foundation.
2. What was the conflict or struggle to overcome.
3. What was the result? How was the problem solved?
Too often business leaders want to “pump up the troops” and they give presentations that are all positive. That’s not what real life is like. We have ups and downs and stories should too. Without the natural arc the audience becomes suspicious, thinking they are listening to some wild fairy tale.
Carol Mon helps people unlock the secrets of creating and telling compelling stories to strengthen communication skills. Follow her @corporateteller.
If you’re a leader, you probably achieved your position by having your own ideas and opinions–then by getting others to believe in them and carry them out. Congratulations! When you’re telling business stories, your audience doesn’t have to listen to you. You must earn that privilege.
So, remember this: others prefer to ‘discovery’ your story not to have you ‘tell it’ to them. The most important advice I have for business leaders who share stories is to first stand in your audience’s shoe–long enough to see the world from their point of view. Get close to their needs and concerns. See what they see and think about what they might want to see. Hear what they hear and think about what they might want to hear.
Then, adapt your message and your stories to connect with them. Remember to use vivid picture words, incorporate the emotions of others (especially others’ reactions), and to pause so that people can imagine what you’re saying and discover key points for themselves. The more they discover on their own, the more they will understand and the more they will care.
Mike Wittenstein speaks globally on a variety of topics to retail, service, tech, and B2B companies. He dives head-first into research, becoming a cultural scientist of sorts, discovering essential stories — the ones that resonate with customers. Follow him @mikewittenstein.
Storytelling has become the holy grail of the marketing and advertising world in the past few years, but as a former journalist, I’ve been telling stories for decades. After I shifted my career into marketing and public relations, it was a mindset that just naturally followed. Stories make ideas, facts and statistics relatable. We don’t relate to numbers. We relate to people. As Joseph Stalin said, “A million deaths is a statistic. One death is a tragedy.” We must find examples of the many and tell their stories so that facts and figures come alive. The quickest way to our brain is not through spouting statistics, but through the heart. And the quickest way to our heart is through stories. The mythographer Joseph Campbell, author of “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” discovered in his study of world myths that they are all basically the same story. The archetypal formula he unveiled works whether you apply it to “The Odyssey” or “Star Wars.” While it is important for businesses to look for opportunities to tell their stories by creating great content, it is important to keep in mind that the purpose for telling them is so that the customer can see himself as the hero. The business is not the hero, but the mentor. So when the business is offering solutions to the customer’s problems, help the customer visualize herself as the heroine in her own life by telling stories about how other customers became heroines when they took your advice or used your product. When an organization embraces a storytelling culture both internally and externally, it not only attracts customers, it creates an ethos that inspires loyalty from its “internal customers” or employees, arguably its most important stakeholders.
“Although your story can feature yourself as the protagonist, the story has to be about your listener. Can your listener relate to the experience you are describing? Do the details, and, most importantly, the emotions you are offering, resonate with his or her own life? You want your listener to imagine themselves inside your story, rooting, not simply for you, but for themselves should something similar have happened or might happen to them. If you can pull them in with empathy, you can fully transport your listeners into your story.”
Imagine you’re the leader of a large technology group. The organization has just completed its strategic plan, of which you’ve been a key player. In the plan is a strategy to make technology a core competence in the organization.
How will you get staff – both inside and outside of your group – to understand and embrace this? By using three types of future stories — “did we make the right choice,” dream, and vision — you’ll be able to translate strategy into to action.
“Did we make the right choice” stories inspire people to overcome reticence for embracing a desired future by leveraging a leader’s personal credibility and confidence in the chosen path. The story you’d tell here (or the CEO might tell) is a personal one. It answers the prompt: “Tell me about a time in your life when you greatly resisted a change … and when you came to embrace it, you found there were many benefits for yourself (and others).”
This is followed by your personal dream story: a story that creates desire and excitement – fueling people’s imaginations for what you believe to be possible if everyone works together. It, too, is a personal story, one that uses visual language and powerful metaphors in a heart-felt way.
Then, it’s time to sit down with a cross-section of all staff to co-create a vision story: what “done” looks like once technology is embedded throughout the organization as a core competence. Bring potential results to life by choosing a main character and work activities that everyone can relate to. When you transform concepts and ideas into concrete behaviors, you make everything real and doable.
What will you do the next time you have to translate strategy into action? Will you provide data and facts that cause people’s eyes to glaze over? Or will you turn to story to fuel peoples’ passion? It’s my hope that you’ll say it with a story.
Lori Silverman has authored three best-selling books on business storytelling: Business Storytelling for Dummies (with Karen Dietz), Wake Me Up When the Data Is Over, and Stories Trainers Tell (with Mary Wacker) and provides keynotes, training, coaching, and consulting. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
Storytelling is so powerful that it should be the primary goal of all your business communications. When I say “storytelling,” I mean your capital “S” story. The capital “S” story answers why someone should work for you, invest in you, buy from you, promote you, be your neighbor, etc.
What is your capital “S” story? Once you know that, you can take your story to the marketplace of ideas by answering these questions:
• Who is our audience?
• What do we want the audience to do or feel?
• Who are the key characters in the story?
• What is the plot or plot lines for the story?
• What is the story’s climax or key success point?
• What is our happy ending?
The most important measure of business storytelling is YOUR happy ending. Your organization’s happy ending is not the same as a competitor’s. So how will you make sure your happy ending is the one that defines your story? Think like a storyteller rather than someone who is simply chasing the next sale or marketing tactic. Remember your capital “S” story, and small “s” stories will come by the bucketload, with more and more of them bearing your happy ending.
“There are quite a few ways in which you can become a effective storyteller. One of mindsets to adopt, perhaps counterintuitively, is to become a good listener and observer. Observing the contexts in which people live and work, and listening to people’s needs, wants, grievances, and desires, is the key to understanding lived experience. And it is through communicating the richness of lived experience — your own, as well as that of your customers or constituencies — that your stories will become universal and a way to connect to people.”
Lina Srivastava catalyzes and amplifies social impact through creative media. She is a strategist who combines technology, culture, art, and storytelling for social transformation. Follow her at @lksriv.
5 techniques to achieve innovation and change through effective storytelling.
1. Using stories to empower data.
2. Not allowing your ego to stand between you and your stories.
3. Choosing ”pull” stories instead of ”push” stories.
4. Listening to stories to create a story culture.
5. Leaving fiction to Hollywood.
Raf Stevens gives keynote speeches and seminars about the power of storytelling and works as a business coach for leaders and their organizations. He previously authored the book “No Story No Fans”. Follow him on Twitter @RafStevens.
“The first thing a leader needs to do to be a good business storyteller is to be able to tell a story from a non-story. I call this story spotting. Too many people are calling things stories when they are not and you only get the benefits of storytelling when you tell a story. Here is a simple infographic that explains how to spot a story. You can test their story spotting skills here.
Second, it’s vital in business that your story has a point. Yes, it seems obvious but so often business people tell a story without thinking about the business point they’re trying to make. And to make it absolutely clear for the audience they should share their point in once sentence before telling a story. I call it a relevance statement because the audience needs to know what the relevance the story holds before the really listen. Here is a little video clip of me talking about relevance statements.
Thirdly, stories are more about pictures than words. When you can see the story happening you get the best impact. The easiest way to make a story more visual is to zoom into small moments rather than staying at the stratospheric level.
Finally, whatever a business leader does it’s vital that their story is NOT a performance. Stories in business should be invisible.
“The shortest distance between two people is a story.”
Stories are fundamental to the way we communicate, learn and think. They are the most efficient way of storing, retrieving, and conveying information. Since hearing stories requires active participation on the part of the listener, stories are the most profoundly social form of human interaction communication, and learning.
Stories certainly do a great job of encoding messages and conveying emotion
The “leaders develop leaders,” movement started 20+ years ago in places like GE, Pepsi and Shell brought forward the power of teachable moments and conversation. Story-based forms of communication are present in meaningful conversations.
Leaders need to spend more time eliciting stories than telling them. Actively listen to the stories and watch how they can improve communications and build satisfying, productive, rewarding relationships.
Story-based communication skills can be developed in leaders and throughout the organization. We’ve all got them. These skills go beyond “telling stories” skills.
In my experience the ‘mindset’ for effective storytelling for business leaders needs to be one of transparency and openness/vulnerability (not always easy for many in leadership positions). Leaders who are comfortable in their own skin, so to speak, and have a true desire to relate their own experiences to a current concern/issue in their organization, gain both understanding and can affect true change in both behaviour and decision making from their employees and/or clients.
Susan Luke is the corporate mythologist. She writes about tips and techniques on Corporate Mythology and Leadership. In addition how your Communication, Attitudes and Ability can affect your corporate culture, your working relationships, and most importantly your bottom line. Follow her @susanluke.
Every story you tell has the potential for making a number of points or teaching a number of lessons.
My philosophy is this: make one point per story each time you tell it. Keep it focused. When you force yourself to use the story to make one clear and concise point, you make it easier for the listener to learn what you want them to learn. And, it stops you from going off on tangents!
Storytelling in a business context is about strategy. You have to ask yourself: “What is the right story, that makes the right point, for this audience?” The process of deciding on the point of your story is absolutely essential to your success.
There are many techniques you need to learn to be a great storyteller in business but initially, the right mindset is critical.
The leaders that do this well have a mindset where they are prepared to show vulnerability and emotion. They see showing vulnerability as a strength in leadership and they have the courage, confidence and wisdom to do so.
Without being prepared to step into vulnerability, our stories are often business examples or case studies. These stories are less engaging and effective than stories that show vulnerability and emotion.
Gabrielle is the co-author of Hooked: How Leaders Connect, Engage and Inspire with Storytelling. and the co-author of Eliminate Death by PowerPoint. Follow her at @GabrielleDolan1.
First, make sure that the story you are telling your organisation fires YOU up. Because if it doesn’t get your fist-pumped, how on earth do you expect it to inspire others?
Second, make your story simple. Don’t reach for the dictionary just because you’re telling a story in a business context. Speak in the same way you’d speak to your friends or family.
Third, keep it human. Your story should be about people, not products. If you want to change hearts and minds, make sure your audience can relate with the people in your story.
Ian Sanders is a creative consultant, business storyteller and speaker. He co-authored Mash-up!: How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier. Follow him at @IanSanders.
In the world of business, we are often told that data is king. But, in fact, it’s the story framing the data that can ultimately change behaviour or inspire a team or convert a customer. So whenever you are presenting data, make sure you also tell the story behind it. I’m not suggesting that you don’t use data or numbers in your presentations. Just remember that while numbers appeal to the head, it’s the stories behind the numbers that will appeal to the hearts of your audience members. And it’s your stories that will make you – and your message – memorable.
Valerie Khoo is the author of the bestselling book “Power Stories: The 8 Stories You MUST Tell to Build an Epic Business“. Follow her @valeriekhoo.
“Establishing trust and belief is job number 1 for salespeople meeting with prospective customers for the first time. Clients need to trust you before they will share their pain. This can be especially difficult for a 25 year-old salesperson calling on a more experienced 50 year-old manager. One of the best ways to put the prospective customer at ease, and in an open state of mind, is to share a 90-second story about a peer who you’ve helped solve a problem, meet a need or achieve a goal. We call this a peer story. Always ask permission first. For example, if I were selling cloud-based manufacturing resource planning software to a materials manager I might start the conversation with ” Can I tell you about another materials manager I recently worked with who was looking to reduce product shortages?” Try to identify an issue that is common to the title and functional area of the person you are calling on. Rarely will you get a “no.” Make sure you make the story about a person and build out the setting, complication and resolution using both facts and emotion. Pass the baton by stating ” but that’s enough about me, what is going on in your world of material management?” Most times they will voluntarily start sharing their pain.”
Antonio Nunez Lopez
“In order to create an effective story, we must resist the human tendency to seek our audience´s total agreement about our story´s message. We must instead be bold and audacious and create debatable conflicts. If there is No conflict, there is no story. Stories work like “Case Studies”. Your audience will identify with their narrative conflicts in order to learn a real life lesson: If I were to encounter a similar conflict in my life, what would I do? How would my company, family, friends or society reward me if I succeed? How will they punish me if I fail? A successful story usually illustrates a cultural truth that is being reviewed by our audience. The existence of diverse opinions and interpretations about the conflict is perfectly normal and a healthy sign of storytelling success. If your story doesn’t provoke debate, that means that your conflict was irrelevant. As a storyteller, you cannot afford to be afraid of creating conflict. Conflicts are your stories “basic pillars.”
Wow, thanks to everyone who contributed to this gigantic post! It has been incredibly useful for leaders who are incorporating storytelling into their business.
To recap, here are the key learnings I made from these interviews:
- Be human, it’s fine to be imperfect. This means displaying your vulnerable side and showing empathy as a fellow human being.
- Present a compelling ‘Why’. By simply offering your service without a strong ‘Why’, you risk getting commoditised within a competitive marketplace
- Introduce contrast to your stories. This could come in the form of ‘good’ guys versus ‘bad’ guys OR the current situation vs a better future.
Is there any other business storytelling experts we should include in this posts? What insights did you gain from their sharing? Do comment down below!