Top 5 Business Storytelling Tips

Let’s start by stating the bleeding obvious! You should use stories. They are our oldest and most effective form of communication.

Easier said than done. What if you don’t have stories that you can use? My first tip is this:

Become a story harvester

Stories are all around us yet rarely come fully-formed (apart from John Lewis Christmas ads). We need to look for the half-remembered fragment, craft it into a short business story and add it to our growing library. And if you are part of a team, you should share that library.

Stories can be drawn from our own experience, we can use stories from people we know and we can use broader analogous stories too - and the internet can provide more stories than you can ever need.

Create Empathy

We empathise with vulnerability, selfless motives and overcoming challenges. Many business presentations only focus on the positives - what we have achieved, what awards we have won, how good we are. This can put the audience off. You think that you are establishing your credentials - they think you are boasting!

By explaining the journey, why we did it, how tough it was, mistakes we made – we become human and the audience can relate to us.

Andrew Stanton of Pixar calls this the key commandment of storytelling, “Make me care!”

Get people to buy into your stories

We can all appreciate great fictional stories as entertainment and escapism. But we will only buy into business stories if we believe them to be true. If we think a story has been invented by the marketing department, it pushes us away. To make a story sound and feel true we need three things - enough detail for us anchor the story (times, names, places), enough description so that we can picture what you are talking about and dialogue - if we hear the words or thoughts of the characters it makes them more real. These things make us believe.

My fourth tip is about making your story memorable

For a story to capture our attention it needs to present a challenge to overcome or a puzzle to solve – make us we want to know what happened next. Then we need drama – this comes from conflict, tension or suspense. When the struggle ends, an element of shock or surprise helps the story to be more memorable. Intrigue at the start, drama in the middle and a twist - these things make us remember.

And my final tip is a simple - make it short

Business stories need to be brief - we tell them for a reason, to convey a message. This often means editing a story to remove events that are not essential to the narrative - but you might need to go further by leaving out characters, reducing the number of scenes or combining events together. A one-minute business story will only be 180 words – less than a page!

Bob Keiller is an entrepreneur with a passion for inspiring others. He helps organisations to grow and does not get paid. He provides pro-bono support to charities, social enterprises and entrepreneurs. Much of the support he provides is on how to be a more persuasive communicator. He has numerous business awards and has Chaired and been CEO of several organisations.

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