When you are trying to convey a message, storytelling is a powerful tool to use. Stanford University research shows that retention of stats alone in a presentation are 5-10% – this rises to 65-70% when coupled with an anecdote. So this article focuses on the power of storytelling in business. It’s a close link with my previous articles about charismatic leadership, and promoting the work of your department.
Why use storytelling?
Stories are so compelling and memorable because they talk to our hearts more than to our heads.
Stories can be used to:
- Reduce anxiety about organisational change, by explaining why it’s important or why it will be better in the end
- Inspire people to action
- Teach people
- Help bring your vision to life
- Connect people through a shared experience
Storytelling goes back to the dawn of time. Stories were drawn on the walls of caves, and stories were told to us as children. We find stories in books, adverts, film and TV, and in every aspect of our lives. They help us learn and grow, and influence how we think, feel and act.
By telling stories, your topic becomes more interesting and easier to learn.
What stories really grab you?
Can you work out why?
What can you learn from them about your own storytelling style?
Ingredients of a good storyteller
Once you’ve worked out what you are going to tell people, here are some tips on how to do it.
Consider the audience
Put yourself in their shoes and work out what they already know as well as what they need to know. This helps you decide what story to use and how to shape your message. Remember WIIFM (what’s in it for me) as it may be their starting point, particularly if you are informing them of upcoming organisational changes.
Pick a theme
A strong theme always runs through a well-told story. The theme should summarise your message.
Appeal to the emotions
Studies show that people make decisions largely based on emotions and then use rational logic to ‘justify’ their decision. Think about how you could use a story to appeal to the emotions of your audience.
All great stories give a promise at the start. A promise that lets you know it’s worth settling down to listen. That you’ll be entertained, or moved, or will learn something useful.
Have the concerns of your audience in your mind. Anticipate concerns and deal with them upfront, otherwise people won’t really listen. Then you can move to solutions.
Tell your own stories
When you tell a story about your personal experience, you’re more likely to make a personal connection with your audience. Your personal experiences are more authentic and powerful. Show vulnerability – don’t just talk about your successes; share how you overcame your struggles and what you learned from your failures.
Share your beliefs
Talk about what you believe and why. Explain what purpose you are trying to serve as an organisation or as a leader. Make your audience care, and you are more likely to win their hearts and minds.
For example, Martin Luther King’s most famous speech hung on: “I have a dream…” His higher purpose corralled people around him to share his belief.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
You need to communicate the same message at least three times before it’s truly heard. The first time, people don’t really hear it. The second time, they hear it but ignore it. The third time, they hear it, then stop and think about it (hopefully!). This is particularly important when communicating the company vision or new initiatives. You have to keep repeating it otherwise people won’t hear it often enough for it to stick, whilst also being consistent in the message.
Cut any detail that doesn’t move your story along, but include descriptions and dialogue to bring it to life.
It helps people when they have something to look at, whether it’s a cartoon, a still, or a video story.
Use metaphors or rhyme
These are powerful techniques. They stick in the mind more than data or statistics. You are more likely to land your message if you summarise it with a strapline that people can remember. Metaphors are a great shorthand way to get your message across.
Make eye contact
A presentation skills course I attended many years ago taught me to focus on one person at a time for five seconds, rather than scanning the audience.
What storytelling style is appropriate for the culture of the organisation? How likely are they to respond?
Model the great orators
Who have you seen tell great stories? What is it that lets you know they are great storytellers? What do they do that makes millions of people follow them? How could you adopt those skills for your own role at work?
Structure of a story
Freytag analysed ancient Greek and Shakespearean drama to come up with a theory of dramatic structure. I hope this helps you incorporate the storyteller tips to decide how you are going to tell your story. And please remember to live happily ever after! Good night…
Typical story arc (modified Freytag’s Pyramid)
If you found this information useful, please click the social media buttons below, to share a link to this article with your network, and let me know if you’d like more details about this topic.
Next month links to this, as we focus on the power of vulnerability.