What’s the secret sauce that makes some stories better than others and some storytellers more successful than others? The answers might surprise you.
Small beats big
In business storytelling, David beats Goliath every time. Quite often, my clients start by putting themselves under pressure, thinking that their stories have to be mega—about scaling Mount Everest or sailing around the world solo, for example. With products or brands we feel we have to share the entire history, instead of focusing on individual customer experiences.
But surprisingly, what works best is small, everyday, relatable stories. In a world in which bigger is better, brash is bought and bold is rewarded, this is a hard truth to face. In storytelling, every time you go small and intimate, you set yourself up for success.
Even in a small, everyday, relatable story, something has to be at stake. Your reputation? Your integrity? Your career?
A story about a barista not making your coffee right, while annoying, simply doesn’t have the stakes to engage your audience. We almost dismiss this as a first-world problem and you as a princess/prince! On the other hand, consider a story that starts with dropping your child off at school (most people can immediately relate to this) and then you discover (during the ride) that he is being bullied. The stakes are suddenly high. When that happens, your audience is immediately engaged. Equally important is that you are sharing something that matters to you as well.
Make it personal
A client recently highlighted how one of his CEOs used to obsessively share stories about Jack Welch and GE. The minute either of these two words was mentioned, everybody would roll their eyes, thinking “here we go again.” Sadly, that CEO (who didn’t last very long in the role) interpreted business storytelling very literally—meaning stories about business.
Business storytelling is about humanising us—allowing us to make an H2H (human to human connection) at work. There is no more powerful yet simple way to do this than through personal stories. You can occasionally use business stories, but successful storytellers know to always go personal.
So, are you ready to use these 3 secrets to become an epic storyteller?
Please share, I love hearing from you.
I introduced myself at a recent event as a business storyteller, which is what I am. There was a time when no one understood what the word meant. Not so today. The person next to me then introduced himself: ‘I am a storyteller too and tell stories with numbers.’ Everyone just looked confused. We later found out that he was an accountant!
One part of me celebrated. The word storyteller is now so sexy that it’s being hijacked. But another part of me was unconvinced.
Stefan Semester, of the design firm, Sagmeister & Walsh, doesn’t mince his words when he calls this bluff: “I think all the storytellers are not storytellers. Recently I read an interview with someone who designs roller coasters and he referred to himself as a ‘storyteller.’ No @%$#head, you are not a storyteller, you’re a roller coaster designer! And that’s fantastic and more power to you, but why would you want to be a storyteller if you design roller coasters?”
Until I read his work, I thought I was being precious about labels.
It turns out we all can and should story tell—it makes what we do engaging, interesting and relevant. But using storytelling as a tool versus being a storyteller are two totally different things.
It’s not (just) that my nose is out of joint (really!). I worry that it reflects a deeper problem. If you describe yourself as a storyteller when you are an accountant, then the very first story you are sharing is spin. Not cool.
I totally get that in a fluid agile work environment, the work we do cannot always be distilled into one or two words. Right till the 1980s the census job question only asked what is your title? Today the census features a 2-part question: What is your title? What do you do? Because titles like ‘Chief Fun Officer’ beg for more information.
So whether you are filling a census form or describing what you do to someone my advice is the same. Celebrate what you do! And find a sexy way to describe it (without hijacking the word storyteller). Unless, of course, you really are a professional business storyteller.
How would you describe what you do?
Please share, I love hearing from you.