Although ‘Corporate Storytelling’ might seem like a relatively new concept, it’s far from just another trending topic or buzzword.
The art of storytelling has been around for centuries — the oral tradition of sharing knowledge helped our ancestors to survive and to explain their place in a complex and uncertain world. Our brains are still hardwired to respond to stories.
In the context of a well-crafted narrative, data is given a whole new meaning. Facts and figures come to life, and complex ideas become easier to understand. And when your audience understands what you’re trying to tell them, you stand a much better chance of persuading and influencing them.
What is corporate storytelling?
Countless articles and books have been written on the topic, but what does it really mean?
At its core, storytelling is about relaying information in a way that appeals to human nature. We all have innate responsiveness to stories — it’s why children and adults alike enjoy Disney movies.
But in the corporate world, storytelling has nothing to do with fairytales or happily-ever-afters. When used correctly, it’s a seriously powerful business tool that can affect everything from revenue to company expansion, productivity levels, staff retention and the company’s bottom line.
This is why storytelling is such an important skill to have in your toolkit, and one that anyone can learn to leverage.
Achieving your goals often depends on getting others to see things the way you want them to and then acting accordingly. Therefore, knowing how to craft and deliver an effective story can be useful in all sorts of situations, including:
Closing a sale
Influencing boardroom decisions
Affecting a change in strategic direction
Invigorating and inspiring your team
When it comes to presenting data, storytelling is what gives it soul and meaning. It makes the information more accessible to your audience. It helps you to connect and engage with them on an emotional level, and thereby greatly increases your powers of persuasion.
The science behind storytelling
When we listen to a story, neural pathways are created between the emotional and logical parts of our brain. This solidifies the experience, influencing our thoughts, feelings and even our actions.
Stories also improve our ability to process and store information. The more we relate to a story, the more likely it is that we will be able to recall the information. This is particularly important when you are presenting data — if you want people to remember what you’ve said, tell a story!
Matthew Dicks, the author of Storyworthy, writes about the technique of leaving ‘breadcrumbs’ for your audience to follow. These are tiny details that hint at the resolution of the story. Breadcrumbs heighten their curiosity, giving just enough away to leave them wanting more. As a result, they feel compelled to listen until the end to find out what happens.
Fundamentals of storytelling
The primary benefit of corporate storytelling is its ability to influence and persuade people.
It can also help to simplify complex concepts, share a vision, inspire action and of course, sell a product or service. When done right, it acts as a magnet between you and your audience, drawing them in and making them wonder “what’s coming next?”.
So how do you come up with good story ideas?
If you ask any of the great leaders of our time about their daily habits, most of them will tell you that they write in a journal. Journaling helps us to process our emotions and learn about our inner selves, and it provides a rich resource of ideas that we can draw on at any time.
Journaling events of the day, especially the unexpected ones, are all future opportunities to share a story – these stories can be used in many different ways and can be recalled much easier if documented. It’s not even a prerequisite to go into significant detail. Simple prompts and keywords will be sufficient to remember the essential ideas and lessons you wish to draw on.
And while the stories we tell are unique, there are some fundamental elements that they all share. These include things like:
1. A simple structure
Every story needs to have a clear beginning, middle and end.
2. A clear message
Don’t confuse your audience or make them work to figure out the point of your story.
3. Recurring themes
There is always an obstacle or struggle of some sort, followed by a course of action that leads to a resolution.
4. A Hero / Protagonist
So long as the hero isn’t you, it can be the audience, another industry leader, or even an idea or concept.
Every story has a main character and sometimes supporting characters. 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 in some way, the core message of your story should resonate with them.
Because all good stories share these common elements, it’s easy to craft your own using a tried-and-tested template. You simply fill in the blanks and adapt it to suit your own situation and your audience.
Situation, Action, Result
Some effective examples include ‘Situation, Action, Result’, which is where you paint a picture of the situation and the problems that were being faced, outline the action that was taken to resolve it, and show how things changed as a result of taking this action.
This is the ‘wow’ moment, where your audience ponders how the situation started in one place and ended up in another, with your eager listeners all along for the ride.
The Hero’s Journey
Another highly effective storytelling template is ‘the hero’s journey’, in which the main character goes on an adventure, learns a valuable life lesson and undergoes a major transformation.
This story structure has been around for hundreds of years, and it still works because it speaks to our emotions on a deeper level than most.
The golden rule to remember here is that the hero of your story should never be you. You want your audience to relate to your story, but if you’re making yourself out to be Superman saving the day, you risk being seen as narcissistic, conceited and tone-deaf.
The key to delivering a great story
The best speakers are those who know how to draw people in and appeal to their emotions.
Think about the traditional Irish storytellers known as Seanchaí. These masters hook their audience with every word, drawing them deeper into the story and bringing it to life with rich visuals and perfectly timed delivery.
This is arguably the most crucial element of any story… it’s not the characters, or the struggles, or even the success at the end. The secret lies in the delivery, and this can often be the trickiest part to get right.
Our Corporate Storytelling programme covers everything from the ‘how, why and when’ of corporate storytelling, right down to techniques for effective delivery. If you want to hone your skills and increase your powers of influence and persuasion, this programme is the ideal solution.