There’s no debate about the power of storytelling in business. Stories persuade and inspire. They help people visualize the future, and they bring complex data to life. They build trust and understanding between the storyteller and the listener.
If you’re like many people, you’re currently thinking, “Yes, stories are useful, but I’m not creative enough to tell good stories and I’m much too busy to learn.” If you’re one of those people, here’s my response:
Good! We agree that stories are powerful communication tools. I can just about guarantee that you’re better at telling stories than you think, so let’s build on your existing skills and find an easy way to craft and tell a good business story.
You Already Tell Stories
We all tell stories. We complain about traffic. We share what the kids are up to. We share vacation recaps every time we return home. We talk about what might happen when we arrive at a game.
You may not think of these examples as stories, but they are. Each of them describes events that took place or will take place at another time and another place. By defining stories in this simple way, we can see how frequently we tell them. Granted, these examples may not be particularly compelling stories – but that’s because they lack intent.
Business Stories Are Told with Intention
Successful business stories always communicate a specific goal and always fit within the context in which they are told. Here are some examples:
- During a sales meeting, a salesperson tells a story to illustrate a key benefit of the service he is selling.
- During a staff meeting, a manager asks her reports to imagine how a new process will make life easier.
- During onboarding, tenured employees tell stories to help new hires understand how work is done.
- At a company-wide meeting, a CEO tells a visionary story intended to paint a picture of a bright and successful future.
No matter what your business story is about, you should tell it to reach a specific goal, with a particular audience, at a certain time.
Four Steps to Telling Better Business Stories
When you’re planning your stories, there’s no need to tangle yourself up in the traditional storytelling components, like antagonists, protagonists, rising action, climax and denouement. While the stories you tell may have these parts, don’t let them confuse you as you prepare. Keep it simple. Here are four steps for crafting your stories.
1. Identify the Goal
Figure out what you’re trying to achieve with the story, and write it down using as few words as possible.
2. Figure out the Raw Material
The raw materials are made up of the five Ws. Whether the story took place in the past or could take place in the future, here are the questions to ask:
- What happened?
- Who was involved?
- Where did it happen?
- When did it happen?
- Why did it happen?
3. Shape the Story
With the raw material mapped out, you can shape the telling of the story with commentary and texture. These elements can be dialed up or down, summarized or elaborated on. They are what make the story compelling. Here are some examples:
- Emotions: Was the event scary, frustrating or heartwarming?
- Senses: What did it look and smell like? Was it loud or hot?
- Relevant details: What aspects should you emphasize to bring people into the story more effectively?
- Dialogue: What did you or other people say that adds to the flavor of the story?
- Visuals: Could you add a picture to the presentation, or maybe describe what happened using body language?
4. Bring It Home
Relevance is key to telling business stories, so each story should end with the goal you established. Use phrases such as these to link the story to the goal:
- The reason I wanted to tell you about this is…
- My point is that…
- The gist of my story is…
- This is important because…
Insert Your Story into the Conversation Taking Place
Now that the story is crafted, it needs to find its way into the conversation. Don’t enter a meeting with the singular goal of telling your story. Wait for the appropriate time during the conversation, and use a lead-in phrase that makes it feel like a logical extension of what came before. Here are some examples:
- That reminds me of a time…
- It’s like that time…
- Imagine, if you will…
- Something similar happened to me…
- Several years ago…
Using this strategy, you will be able to craft and tell compelling stories to help you achieve business results.