Top 10 business storytelling tips

Business storytelling helps us connect, persuade and build rapport

We all are intuitive storytellers but have learned to use logic, slides and hard data at work as it seems more professional. Telling stories seems too simple, emotional or even manipulative. So we stick to the facts and the numbers. The truth of the matter is that real emotions, relatable concepts and authenticity always work better as that is the way to reach our audience’s hearts and minds.

Trying to convince people with logic alone is tough:

  1. As you are speaking they are often arguing with you in their heads.
  2. If you do succeed in persuading them with data, you’ve only done so on an intellectual level. We buy emotionally and justify our behaviour intellectually.

The proof of storytelling’s effectiveness is more than just anecdotal. Studies at Ohio State University (Green & Brock) have empirically shown that our beliefs can be swayed more effectively through storytelling than by logical arguments. Stories tend to have a higher recall rates than data or plain facts. However, if stories are not delivered effectively they can be less effective. Business storytelling helps us connect and build rapport

Here are some top tips to make your business storytelling more effective:

  1. Start with a clear takeaway message. It is important to know what you want them to remember before you start. Why are you telling them this story? Make sure your message relates to the audience. Think about what’s important to the audience. If our message is clear and reinforced by the story the idea will linger with the audience. 
  2. Make it relatable. Relatable experiences are the most memorable. Audiences often tune out a story that has no relevance to their lives. So make sure to ground your story in something relatable and tangible for your audience. Stories work best when they are linked to our experiences.
  3. Personal stories work best. You don’t need to have an “Everest” story to share. A simple story that is relatable and memorable is far more powerful than something foreign to your audience. The story just needs to illustrate the idea and allow the audience to experience the journey.
  4. Keep your stories short. When it comes to business storytelling 3-5 minutes long is about all we can digest in today’s noisy, time strapped world. Each story should make a point, if it doesn’t don’t use it.
  5. Transition smoothly. Avoid the “Let me tell you a story” transition. This approach is a little dull and can seem “fluffy” to a room full of busy business people. A transition prepares the audience member’s mind for what’s coming next and can directly impact how they react to and retains the message. Share the story as an example of how something works or start with the take away message: “Nobody cares what you say, they watch what you do. A few weeks ago …”
  6. Great business stories have challenge or conflict. Without conflict stories aren’t very interesting. The memorable part of a story is how the characters deal with conflict. So make sure your business storytelling includes people and conflict.
  7. Have a clear structure. Think of your story as a movie. A story has to have a beginning, middle, and end. Start with a bang with the main character and their challenge, and intensify interest by adding specific descriptions. “A friend” is not as memorable or effective as “John”.  A story needs relatable characters, a distinct time and location and an event. Without these you are just sharing facts. The is trick for your audience to want to ask the question: “What happened then?”
  8. Paint a picture. Be creative, build drama, allow your audience to picture the scene in their heads. Tap into your audience’s emotions with descriptive  language. Use metaphors, analogies and words that have emotional associations. “Pretty” is not as effective as “I couldn’t stop looking at her, she was … captivating.” Let them see her in their minds eye.business storytelling tips paint a picture
  9. Practise, practise, practise. Stories require practise. Practise in front of a friendly audience and get some feedback. Was it relatable? Could you imagine the scene? Of course this is a benefit of using personal stories, we have probably told them 1000 times to friends and family. We can often tell them with more confidence them when we discover the message they illustrate.
  10. Simple slides are best. If you are going to use slides remember that simple is better. Using a PowerPoint presentation can augment the story if the slides are simple and add to the drama (NO BULLET POINTS).

Business storytelling helps our audience recall more than a list of statistics or facts, but we still need to be sure our audience leaves with our key points. Sharing your point once is often not enough. Call backs (referring back) to the story and the key take away points multiple times during a presentation can help ensure the right things stick.

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Richard Riche

Change Communication and Employee Engagement specialist at One Clear Message Consulting
Richard specialises in helping you build real human communication skills. Employee Engagement / Experience, Emotional Intelligence skills, building high performance teams and a great place you want to work. TED style speaking and presentation skills. Training, consulting and coaching.
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