Business storytelling is about conversation and the type of story you’d tell someone when having an informal chat. The aim is to get as comfortable telling your stories at work as you are telling stories to your friends and family. Good business storytelling is invisible.
There are some simple ways to improve your business stories. Some of these ideas I’ve touched on before on this blog but when you see them together they provide a handy checklist to help you bring your stories to life.
Have a point and tell them right up front. Business people don’t have time to waste and they want to know why they’re listening to a story. So start with your point THEN tell your story. Something like this: “It’s so important to know your point before you tell your story. Last week I was coaching a CEO …” And if you do it this was you will double your listeners recall.
Make it visual. The most effective stories are visual so focus on moments with specific details and let them see what you’re saying. For example, instead of saying “the decision was made to create an auction system” say “we were downtown in the boardroom on the 35th floor when Boris lent forward and said, ‘we should just create an auction system.’ We all just nodded in silent agreement.” But don’t give too much detail. This is not a Hollywood script.
Make it human. Humans want to know what humans did. Instead of talking about what the company did, find out about the people involved and describe what they did. Use their names and when that’s impossible use pseudonyms and introduce a new character by saying things like, “ and we will call him Dave.”
Pause. We shouldn’t be in a hurry to tell our story and at the same time it usually can’t be any longer than 3 minutes. Make sure you pause at the moments when people need time to reflect on what just happened or when you are moving from one scene to the next. The pauses add drama.
Test it. No matter how much planning you put in to your story nothing beats a road test. This is how the comedians do it. They tell their stories at small comedy clubs to see what works and what doesn’t. Rinse and repeat. This only works if you are noticing your audience’s reaction to the story.
And if all that doesn’t work, get another story. There are plenty out there and sometimes it’s just easier to find a better one.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:
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