Business Storytelling – A Critical Skill For Great Leadership
Who doesn’t love a good story?
Seriously. If you were in the shoes of your staff, and you had to listen to yourself talk about why you need to restructure so-and-so division or what your company intends to do about your new competitor, would you rather: Sit through half an hour of graphs and charts? Or 30 minutes of a spellbinding narrative?
Writing for the Business Times, Helmi Yusof relates how it’s become second nature for us to pay attention to, and appreciate stories. When told skilfully, the best stories are riveting, keeping listeners bent on tenterhooks until they find out what happens next, all the way up to a satisfying, if not always happy, ending.
In the capacity as a leader, you’ll often have to use words to explain, encourage, empower and evangelise—actions that take a whole lot more than dry data, a Powerpoint presentation, or impersonal instructions to get started.
To spur people into taking productive action on your explanation and encouragement, into using the power you’ve given them, and into believing in what you have to say, you can say it through masterful business storytelling.
Let’s take a look at what storytelling is, what storytelling is in the context of business, why leaders need to know how to tell a story, and some advice for boosting your business storytelling as a leadership skill.
Anatomy of a Story
Stories are facts, wrapped in context, and delivered with emotions.
Stories work because it’s concrete, for example, the language used is specific, and not abstract.
It’s memorable. Stories are often visual and convey emotions.
It’s impactful. Narrative is the oldest method of holding attention, human beings are “hard-wired” to listen to stories. Remember all those stories that your grandmother used to tell? I’ll bet you still remember a couple of those.
It’s credible. Stories use concrete examples. And examples way more powerful than facts.
So what makes a powerful business story?
It’s when it has a definitive time, and place marker. When a sequence of events lead to something happening. People’s names are mentioned. Dialogues happen. The unexpected happens, and finally there is a business point!
Becoming an Effective Business Storyteller
There are several reasons why leaders need to become better storytellers. Stories humanise a business and its brand, making them more relatable, engaging, impactful and memorable in the eyes of their audience. The more your audience is able to relate, respond to and remember your story, the more likely they will become loyal to your brand—particularly if they are given opportunities to take part in the story itself.
You might consider turning your brand story into an interactive, evolving saga—creating room for growth or new chapters written by your audience while staying true to your core storyline. Reflect on how many of the world’s best stories are created not just by one author but through collaboration, or are expanded upon by succeeding generations of writers.
A good story can help you differentiate yourself from the competition. If you should happen to tell a similar story to that of your competitor (after all, how many fairytales have a prince, a princess and a “happily ever after”?), your chances of standing out depend on how you tell your story.
Now, here are some ways to help you become a better business storyteller. (No, NEVER start with “once upon a time.)
1. Share a single story, or several.
Many business leaders already have the habit of telling an anecdote or two to illustrate a point, which is laudable insofar as the anecdote is relevant. You might share your short story at the start of your talk, or tell one every time something that needs a little reinforcement crops up.
But another way you might use this technique is to tell just one story. Begin your narrative at the start of your presentation, and lay the rest of the story out during the different parts of your talk, until you wrap the sequence up when the presentation ends.
Which leads us to the next point.
2. Build your story library.
Source for stories … your own stories, stories other people tell you, or from books, movies, TV.
Keep these handy by recording them down, and developing your personal storage system.
3. Learn the story.
Don’t try to learn the full story, rather, focus on capturing the key details, imagine it happening, and be clear what is the business point you want to hit home. And finally, practise, practise practise!
4. Know your audience.
There are different stories for different purposes and objectives. What do you need to achieve? Establish rapport, and make a good impression? Or do you need to introduce a new strategy or explain business decisions? Or do you need to influence the audience, or simply to share a success story?
Whatever the objectives, you need to be clear what you need to achieve from your audience.
Bear in mind that storytelling shouldn’t be formulaic, and that storytellers should be able to adapt to specific audiences and specific strategies and objectives.
5. Remember: It’s not about you.
Storytelling is about building a relationship between the storyteller and an audience. As a storyteller, you’re talking to your audience in order to reach them and get them to react.
Speakers who speak only about themselves, e.g. here’s what we can do, our capabilities, our track record, our resources, portfolio and so on—are bound to lose their audiences long before they make it to the punchline.
Focus your story about your audience, and they’ll be more likely to listen to what you have to say.
6. Get help if you need it.
Understand what makes a powerful business story, the different types of business stories, developing impactful business stories using the Story Framework, and how to sharpen your storytelling abilities from our master storyteller, Paul Stuart.
And here’s a parting thought:
“The shortest distance between two people is a story.”
At Kaleidoskope, we have programmes designed to help key decision makers like you hone their leadership skills and storytelling proficiency, particularly when making presentations. To start telling better business stories and becoming a master storyteller, get in touch with us, today.