Leaders new to business storytelling often struggle with mastering techniques essential for success. Here are my top 5 business storytelling techniques that will turn a business storytelling apprentice into a master.
Clarity on purpose
The most important business storytelling technique is to be clear on the purpose/message of your story. When you are in the pub or sharing stories with your friends and family, the stories don’t really have to have a purpose. In your personal life, people are more forgiving. However, for your stories to succeed in business, they must be purposeful–this helps your stories land on a message. Having a clear purpose also helps you, as a storyteller, find and share the right story. Purpose is like the foundation block of your storytelling. Get this right, and your story is set up for success.
Does it serve the room?
At a recent networking event, I met an entrepreneur who had set up a new business. When I quizzed him on his target audience, he replied, “Anyone with a pulse, really!” In storytelling, that is a sure-fire way to fail. Every story has to be carefully designed with an audience in mind. Is it going to be for your customers, your channel partners or your suppliers? How does your story serve them? None of this is easy to do, but this business storytelling technique guarantees that your story will resonate with your audience.
Sharp and short
Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing the six-word story, “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” Poignant.
In business storytelling, short and sharp is best. Perhaps not six words, but a rule of thumb is that most of your stories should be under two minutes long. This time frame ensures you are punchy, and your audience stays with you for the whole duration. Importantly this lets you dodge the terrible curse of diminishing returns, which is when, after a point in time, the more you put into something, the less you get back. By keeping your stories short, you maximise their impact. This sounds contradictory, but would you rather leave people wanting more or wondering when you will be done?
A powerful business storytelling technique is to use personal stories to land a business message. It sounds counterintuitive as the field is called business storytelling, so we feel compelled to use stories about business. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Conversely, in this realm, the personal packs a punch. The minute you share a story that starts with growing up on a farm, or being on a holiday in Canada, your audience is hooked. They are intrigued and want to know what happens next. Business stories about business are boring and predictable―a death knell for any storyteller. So go personal and reap rich rewards.
There is, unfortunately, an earnestness that has seized the whole business-storytelling world. The gravitas common in company announcements, meetings and presentations is now seeping into storytelling. With the exception of some stories that will merit a level of seriousness, the most important thing we can do is to have fun with storytelling. Share stories that you enjoy telling and that are meaningful to you. We once heard a CEO squirm his way through a story about his childhood. It was very uncomfortable for the audience, and it later turned out that he had been persuaded to share the story by a well-meaning advisor.
There’s an ancient Hopi Indian proverb that says “He who tells the stories, rules the world.” So, are you ready to rule your world?