How do I know my story worked? What does success look like in business storytelling?


As soon as you tell a story, the first thing you want to know is ‘did it work?’.  We crave that immediate feedback and sometimes, someone will tell us right away or maybe later….if we are lucky.

This would have to be the number one question leaders ask when they use a story.  “Did it work? How do I know it worked?’  We all want to know what success looks like with storytelling.

I love the elegance and simplicity of Noel Turnbull’s measure of success with storytelling. ‘Success looks likes two things – when other people start to repeat the stories and when people smile sincerely.   That’s why you tell a story’.

Of course people won’t repeat every story you tell – only the memorable sticky ones get this extended lease of life.  That is in storytelling the gold standard! So it still comes to you in a room with your audience wondering…did it bomb?  In that common scenario building on what Noel says trust your intuition.  Look  around the  room when you are narrating your story.  You can always sense the level of engagement in the room.  One of our leaders described it as ‘It felt like there was a spotlight suddenly shinning on me and and for that minute I had every one’s rapt attention’.

But this is harder said than done – we are often our own harshest critics.  Another option is to ask someone you trust.  Prep them for it and say ‘I am going to be using a couple of stories can you please look around the room and help me gauge the response to see if they worked’.  This person might also pick up the informal chatter after when people talk about your stories and give you the feedback you crave.  They can also help to validate your expereince or provide another perspective or some fresh insights.

Good stories also have a long tail. We have some clients who thought their stories didn’t work and 6 months later someone told them very casually “I still remember the story you told us about customer service ‘.  Or they get a repeat request out of the blue when someone says “John I really think you should share that story on innovation you told us in last year’s forum!”  And poor John had been wondering all that time if his story had worked.

Of course if you were hoping we would give you some hard measures of success and are disappointed please feel free to check out our Ericsson success story, which does just that.

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