Corporate storytelling is a powerful tool that has multiple uses in any organisation, from communicating core strategies to defining brand values.
Managers and team leaders can use storytelling to communicate more effectively with their employees, colleagues, and business associates. Sales teams can use it to connect with prospects and clients on an emotional level, building trust and generating more sales.
In this article, we will explore corporate storytelling in the context of boardroom presentations. If you want your audience to understand and respond positively to your key messages, don’t just present the data — tell a story with it.
What is corporate storytelling and why do we need it?
Corporate storytelling involves the strategic application of narrative techniques to business data and communications. Its primary function is to present data in a relatable, compelling way, enhancing your ability to influence and persuade your audience.
For a more in-depth look at the basics, check out our recent article on The Fundamentals of Corporate Storytelling.
The beauty of corporate storytelling is that it can be used in a multitude of situations, such as:
- Quarterly Business Reports
- Business Reviews
- Project Updates
- Team Performance Reviews
- Internal Promotions
- Team Huddles
- Strategy Meetings
- Team Sprint
- Client Analysis
- Executive Briefings
On its own, data is soulless; nothing more than an assortment of numbers and letters. When you tell a story with it, however, you bring it to life and give your audience something to connect with.
This is the ‘secret sauce’ that will not only help them to understand your message but also remember it long after the presentation has ended.
What do stories actually do?
As Nancy Duarte puts it, stories are the emotional glue that connects you to your audience.
In fact, in a 2020 study on storytelling and brain activity, Uri Hasson and his research team found that as you listen to a story being told, your brain waves actually start to synchronise with those of the storyteller. This means that, as a speaker, you have the power to connect with your audience on an incredibly deep level — just by telling a good story.
And if your job is to influence decision making or communicate key information in the boardroom, this is something you simply cannot overlook.
Stories can be used to share knowledge, inspire action and simplify complex concepts, all of which are important elements of any boardroom presentation.
The latter point is arguably the most important since you won’t be able to inspire or influence anyone if they don’t understand what you’re talking about. You need to know your topic inside and out, but also be able to explain it in simple terms.
As the saying goes, ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough’.
Take Professor Brian Cox as an example of this. He has mastered the art of explaining the intricate mysteries of the universe to audiences around the world, making the most complex concepts and theories accessible to the average person. How does he do this? Through a blend of knowledge, charisma, and the art of storytelling.
Speaking With Conviction and Authenticity
The same applies to TED Talks. If you’ve ever watched or listened to one, then you’ll know that the most inspiring speakers are those that speak from the heart with conviction and authenticity. They are experts in their field, passionate about sharing what they’ve learned with others, and this is what makes their presentations so compelling and memorable.
If you want to open the minds of your audience, remember to always speak from the heart.
‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’
Like so many other things in life, preparation is key when it comes to corporate storytelling.
During a presentation, you are standing in front of your audience, yet you’re in two entirely different places. Your audience is at Point A and you’re at Point B. You know the data, you know what it’s telling you and just how significant it is. But your audience does not.
So how do you get them to where you are? From point A to point B?
Storytelling can bridge this chasm by inspiring, influencing and persuading – but you cannot achieve any of this without preparing first.
Start the process by asking yourself the following questions:
- What do I want to achieve?
- What do I want the audience to know?
- How do I want them to feel?
- What do I want them to do afterwards?
Once you’ve mapped out your objectives, think about how you can bring them all into alignment with each other. Regardless of the topic you’re speaking about or the industry you work in, your main goal is always to take the audience from Point A to Point B smoothly and naturally.
To quote sales expert and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, ‘You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want first’. This has been abridged over the years to the well-known quote:
“In order to get what you want, you have to give others what they want first”
In other words, the next step is to think about how you can best serve your audience and address what exactly it is they want from the moment you begin to present.
When trying to determine what they want from your presentation, ask yourself:
(a) Who are they?
(b) What do they already know? Are they novices or experts in the subject matter?
(Quick tip: You should always present to the novice, and share your expertise to help them climb the ‘ladder of success’!)
(c) What do they care about? What kinds of problems do they need solutions to?
The overlapping area between you and your audience is what we consider the “area of influence and persuasion”. So, how do you bridge the gap and use this to your advantage?
By taking the time to figure out what they want, tying that in with your big idea (what you want them to understand), and developing a narrative structure that aligns with both to really help your message deliver and resonate.
Using classic storytelling techniques in a presentation
In 1974, the average person’s attention span was 17 minutes. In 2022 – thanks to social media, mobile phone use, time poorness and a myriad of other factors – this is estimated to have fallen to below eight seconds.
The window of opportunity to make a good impression and get your audience’s attention is getting shorter all the time, so using a familiar story structure is a great way to draw them in and keep them engaged.
Start with the basic building blocks of any story: the beginning, middle, and end.
Bear in mind that you don’t always have to begin at the beginning (in fact, some of the best stories start in the middle or even at the end and work backwards!), but you do need to have these stages clearly defined.
Next, think about your main character and any supporting characters that are required to drive the narrative forward. These can appear in the form of people, products, services, your team, a report, or anything else. As long as your audience can relate to your main character, the core message of your story should resonate with them.
Corporate Storytelling Structure
Once you have defined your characters and story arc, it’s time to put all the pieces together into a compelling and relatable story template. One that works particularly well for boardroom presentations is ‘The Hero, The Want, and The Obstacle’.
Trust me, you’ve heard it before. Just think of Luke Skywalker (the hero) whose mission is to restore the Republic (the want), but the Empire is standing in his way, determined to defeat him (the obstacle). In your case, the hero might be your team or a recent report that was done. The want might be the organisation’s need for growth last quarter. And the obstacle might be the prevailing market conditions that threatened your growth targets.
This is a great technique that can be applied to virtually any topic you’re presenting on since the ‘hero’ can be almost anything – your team, a new product or service, even your audience. Just remember one golden rule – it can never be yourself!
So we know the data; we know what we want to achieve; we think we know what the audience wants, and we’ve outlined our story structure to help our message resonate. So it’s time to look at some other ways we can improve our message and further ‘bridge the chasm’, bringing our audience from Point A to Point B.
Bridging the chasm with the three Vs
There are many different techniques and methods you can experiment with, including ‘The Three Vs: Verbal, Vocal, and Visual’.
This is known as Mehrabian’s Communication Model, and it suggests that as human beings, we subconsciously put more stock into how people say things, rather than what they say.
7% – 38% – 55%
According to the Mehrabian model, when it comes to the communication of feelings and attitudes only 7% of personal communication relies on verbal communication or the actual words that are spoken.
The remaining 93% lies in non-verbal communication, with 38% comprising tone of voice (vocal) and 55% concerned with body language (visual).
These are powerful figures to observe when you are preparing for a boardroom presentation that you really need to resonate with your audience. A common mistake is to focus almost all of your attention on the 7% (what you are going to say) and not nearly enough on the 93% (how you are going to say it).
For your message to truly hit home and to be believed, it needs to be aligned across all 3 Vs. The 7% is the content of your presentation, the other 93% is what brings it to life.
Embrace Modern Tools To Bring Your Story To Life
One last tip to consider when preparing your corporate presentation is that it’s important to embrace modern tools that bring your story and your data to life.
Every leader should be able to take to the whiteboard or flipchart at a moment’s notice whether presenting in person or virtually. So take some of those static slides from the middle of your presentation and get ready to recreate them live and in the moment.
This will force you to simplify your data and help to paint a clear picture to your listeners while also going a long way towards keeping them engaged just when their attention might be waning.
Inspire action, teach a lesson, and share your vision
Corporate storytelling can help you to inspire action, teach a lesson, and share your vision.
NxtGEN Executive Presence are brand leaders and experts in the field of data presentation. Our Corporate Storytelling programme covers everything from the ‘how, why, and when’ of business storytelling, right down to techniques for effective delivery. If you want to hone your presentation skills and increase your powers of influence and persuasion, this programme is the ideal solution.
Get an overview of the course content here or feel free to contact us with any questions.