“Let me tell you a story.” These are six very powerful words. Six powerful words which immediately invoke curiosity and anticipation. Six powerful words from which multi-billion-dollar industries have been built.
Beyond film, TV and books, storytelling has become an intentional tool in many of the most successful organisations. How can you use it in your business?
I grew up in a family of storytellers. I would listen transfixed to the tales of my granddad’s adventures traveling the world, or my aunt’s escapades at boarding school. They were exciting. They were real. They were examples of how to overcome real-life challenges.
Many of those messages served me in facing my own challenges. But as I grew up and moved into the business world, I kept my love of stories separate to the job. Why?
Business meetings and presentations were fact-driven, report-based and very dry. Story was left for chats over the water cooler or at lunch, not to convey important messages or information.
So when I heard about stories being intentionally used in business, I was hugely intrigued…and confused. How could you combine story with data? How could you take a serious topic and add an anecdote?
My research into storytelling in business revealed how growing numbers of businesses use story to great effect, how businesses are using storytelling to help promote and communicate their business ethos, their values and benefits, engendering greater trust with their clients.
Facts and statistics can help convince minds. Stories interwoven with pertinent facts can win hearts and wallets too.
A good story
The research led me to reminisce on childhood stories. A family favourite is one told by my granddad, when he was stuck in the depths of the jungle wrestling a crocodile.
It’s a story that has remained vivid in the minds of grandchildren for more than three decades. It’s not a story that has any direct bearing whatsoever on the business world. Yet, it’s one that’s lasted three generations.
Querying what made it so memorable and lasting helped me to understand how to pick a good story and how to tell it.
How do you pick a good story?
So what will make a good story for you and your business?
My granddad could have shared any of the bountiful stories he had gathered from his travels around the world, but he ended up coming back to the same core few, and the crocodile one was a firm favourite with all of his twenty plus grandchildren.
Over the years, I also saw my grandfather hold in his thrall audiences from all ages. What he did so brilliantly was pick a story most suitable to the needs of who he was speaking to: what story would entertain them or what message would be the one they most needed to hear in that moment.
He shared with me his main driver for which story to tell,
“It’s all about them.”
That’s the key. What’s the gap in your client or prospect’s knowledge or understanding? What need has to be met? What are their key questions or concerns? Delve into your business’ stories and find the ones that fill the gap.
What stories show your clients how you can help them? What stories demonstrate your core values? What stories illuminate your company’s integrity? Which stories answer your client or prospect’s questions?
Choose true stories
It can be tempting to create a story when one doesn’t readily come to mind, but real ones add congruency from which trust is built. My granddad’s story wasn’t true, but for his audience it didn’t matter, for his purpose it wasn’t important.
For business audiences, where trust is paramount, it does. Take the time to talk to your customers and your employees to find the real stories that share the message of your business.
Be willing to share stories about failure
These can often have a powerful message and can have your audience respect your honesty and authenticity. People love to hear how others turned failure around, how something greater arose from the ashes. It also makes your story relatable and can build greater trust.
How do you tell a good story?
When you have your story, the next step is to convey it. Here’s what you need to do to tell your story to full effect;
1. Set the scene
Invite the audience into your story: give some detail of what you saw, what you heard, how you felt. Just a little. Too much and they get lost in the detail.
Give enough so that your audience can paint in the rest. This invites them into your story and helps to create greater buy-in to its message.
2. Purposeful movement
A great storyteller uses movement purposefully. Consider where you should stand or sit; when to move forwards or back; which parts of your ‘stage’ to move to.
Consider which gestures will enhance your message, give gravitas, or allow levity into your story.
Using movement which doesn’t support your story distracts from its message. Using movement purposefully can greatly enhance it and add real credibility to your message.
3. The effective pause
A pause allows your audience to picture your story, to feel as if they are there. It can be uncomfortable as a speaker, but a pause can often add the greatest power.
Consider where a pause in your story allows your prospect or client to make the connections with your story and its message. It is an invitation to your audience to fully engage in your story and message: to be involved, to reflect; to answer the question you have posed or that they already carried in their minds.
4. Using your voice
Voice variety doesn’t need to be dramatic, but when considered and used purposefully, it can enhance the message. When ignored, the story could be the most exciting, but monotone delivery has a story lose its impact.
5. A prop – perhaps?
A prop can help convey your message. It can add light-hearted relief and enhance a message, so can be used to good effect in the right situation.
Bill Gates famously released mosquitoes in the auditorium when conveying his message on malaria. It worked because;
- It was relevant to his topic
- It was amusing to his audience, adding some light-hearted relief to a serious topic
- It helped his audience feel and connect to his underlying message.
Keep it simple. Keep it relevant.
6. Tailoring to your audience
You’ve got your story. You’ve practiced all of the above. You’ve rehearsed your stories with friends, family and trusted associates. Now, you’re ready to tell it.
When you do, it’s time to focus once more on the most important part – your audience.
Be familiar enough with your story that when you’re telling it you remain focused on your audience’s needs. Watch and listen for their conscious and unconscious feedback and adjust if necessary.
Word of Mouth
Your business is important. Use story to communicate its value and even a seemingly dry business tale can become vibrant and memorable.
A story can entertain. A good story can educate. A great story can last in the hearts and minds of your customers and spread.
About the author
This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Rebecca Pepper, a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. With 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland, you can find your local club at www.toastmasters.org
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