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Business storytelling: What is it and why is it crucial to your business

Learn how stories can help you better connect with stakeholders

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“Reports inform, while stories entertain.” – Nancy Duarte


Stories are a powerful tool in business. As Nancy Duarte, author of Data Story and Resonate, says, stories are the ‘sugar that helps the medicine go down.’

“If a report primarily conveys information, then stories produce an experience,” she says. “One of the reasons presentations are dull is because there are no identifiable story patterns.”


Leaders need to connect people to ideas with their words, often to bring people together or to change behaviour. Stories are ideal to do this.

There is a growing trend in business storytelling sohere we explore what it is, and how you can be a better storyteller.


What Is Business Storytelling?


“Today storytelling is as critical as data.” – Yamini Naidu


Business storytelling is tapping into the emotions of others to persuade and inform them or change their behaviour. 

Business storytelling expert Yamini Naidu says storytelling is a soft power.

“Hard power is about coercion. Soft power is about attraction. Hard power is push, and soft power is pull,” she says.


Pulling and attracting customers, staff, and others to join you in a journey (as opposed to pushing them) is what business storytelling is all about.

As Microsoft Corporation corporate vice president Dan’l Lewin says business storytelling is about “being purposeful about how and where you take your audience.” 


Free Download: How to Create a Culture of Accountability in 2023


Storytelling In Business: Why Are Stories So Powerful?


As On Purpose author Karen James says, “Our minds are story processors, not logic processors – we retain more from a story.”

Stories are the way humans connect with each other. 


“When we see or hear a story, the neurons in our brain fire in the same patterns as the speaker's, a process known as “neural coupling.” You also hear it referred to as “mirroring.” (1)


For a business, this connection draws in stakeholders’ interest, encourages them to want to know more, and helps them remember your main messages.

Here are the reasons why:


Stories Are Relatable


Anyone who’s seen a Specsavers ad will know how businesses can make themselves relatable with stories. 


Instead of listing features or prices of their prescription glasses, the retailer’s ads are short stories - like a surfer mistaking his ironing board for his surfboard.

“Should’ve gone to Specsavers” is splashed over the image of him running into the waves, ironing board under his arm.


The audience relates to the frustration and embarrassment of poor eyesight, and sees the glasses retailer as an ally who knows and understands this. 


Other successful business storytelling may include business struggles, inspiring moments, mistakes made, humble beginnings etc. 


Stories Are Memorable


“People retain up to 70% of information shared via a story versus only 5% to 10% via statistics alone.” – London School of Business


We all know the story of the Trojan Horse, where Greek warriors hid inside a giant wooden sculpture of a horse to get inside the walls of the city of Troy.

As Jonah Berger, author of Contagious points out, this story has been passed on for thousands of years. Put simply, stories make information highly memorable.


“While people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride,” he says.


Expert Yamini Naidu says businesses can take advantage of storytelling to make their message memorable.


“When you share a story people connect with it in a moment. What’s more they understand, remember, and will often retell it.” 




3 Reasons To Incorporate Business Storytelling


“When we hear a story..our brain lights up like Las Vegas.” – Daniel Coyle, The Culture Code

In a world noisy with social media and email, stories have valuable cut-through.

Business storytelling simply takes advantage of this human compulsion to tell stories to communicate data, ideas, and our purpose to stakeholders.

Read on for reasons why.


Stories Help People Resonate With Your Brand  


“To achieve the success that come with developing passionate fans of your business of your business, fandom culture is necessary,” David Meerman Scott and Reiko Scott, co-authors of Fanocracy.

Stories helps to create fans of your business by helping them resonate with your brand.


Your fans could be customers, employees, peers, or suppliers who can envision a shared future (such as a goal or behaviour) thanks to your stories.

“What matters is stablishing the link and consistently creating engagement around it. What matters is the story,” says author Daniel Coyle in The Culture Code. 


Stories Can Be Persuasive (Without Being Pushy)  


“Earth is now our only shareholder.”

If you want to read a persuasive story, look at Patagonia founder Yves Chouinard’s story about donating all profits to help the planet.

By being relatable and memorable, stories like those from Patagonia are highly persuasive.


In Made to Stick Dan and Chip Heath describe what makes things ‘stick’ in our brains.


They list out six qualities using the acronym S.U.C.C.E.S:

Simple: Simplicity is the key.

Unexpected: Surprises you and makes you want to know more.

Concrete: Creates a clear mental picture for people.

Credible: Uses statistics, expert endorsements, etc.

Emotional: Appeals to deep human instincts

Stories: Takes you on a journey that helps you see how an existing problem might change.


In a nutshell, they say stickiness is “Can you understand it, can you remember it, can you re-tell it?”


Stories Help People Connect With Your Business 


“Connectivity can be supercharged when it links someone, along with her peers, to a larger belief or philosophy.” – Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms, New Power

We follow people we believe in; those we feel connected to.


As Heimans and Timms say in New Power, the most resonant ideas are not those that get flashed at the highest number of people, but those that become ‘individualised expressions of affiliation and identity among peers.’

Telling stories about your company taps into the identity of the person hearing your story. You see them, you know them, you are there for them.


4 Tips To Deepen Your Business Storytelling Skills  


Know Who You’re Talking To


You can’t rally troops if the troops don’t get motivated by the same things you do. For this reason, it’s hugely important to know who you’re talking to when constructing your story.

Leadership speaker and author of Leading Well, Holly Ransom, taught our masterclass that the 6 core human drivers are:

1.     Variety and challenge

2.     Contribution and impact

3.     Love and connection

4.     Growth and development

5.     Certainty and safety

6.     Significance and worth

Be aware that a story that you tell because it motivates you could scare another. “They can’t see their why in our why,” explains Holly.


Sharpen the Message You’re Trying to Convey  


“We sell feelings, status, and connection, not tasks or stuff.” – Seth Godin


What are you trying to say when you tell a story? Apple founder Steve Jobs famously launched the Apple iPod as ‘1000 songs in your pocket.’

His message was not selling his audience ‘a smaller Sony Walkman.’ He wasn’t selling ‘stuff.’


Yamini Naidu says a sales team not reaching targets (because they hate calling up leads) may not respond to their manager urging them to make more calls.

But she shared how a CEO telling a story of hating Brussels sprouts as a child but eating them first so he could get on with enjoying the rest of his meal did help to convey the message:

“Can we treat the sales leads like Brussels sprouts, and deal with them early in the week so we can enjoy the rest of the week?”


Use Hard Data But Use The Story Too


Yamini Naidu says there is no need to lose hard data when storytelling. Instead, add in the story.

Stories have been described as a ‘bridge’ for data to be absorbed by the more influential, emotional side of the brain.


A study by Stanford professor Chip Heath found 63% of those tested were able to remember stories, while only 5% could remember a single statistic.

As well, we tend to suspend disbelief and get ‘carried along’ when told a story, whereas we might look for faults in a raft of data.


Tell The Truth And Be Authentic


‘On the Titanic’s maiden voyage 700 people arrived in New York.’


This is factually true but there is no mention that the ship sank and 1500 people died, says Yamini Naidu, quoting speaker and author Steve Denning.


Speechwriter and author of Leading Lines, Lucinda Holdforth, told us in interview how enthusiasm is no excuse for not telling the truth. 


“Business people have to be passionate, excited about what they do but that can often mean that they can glide over negative issues or problems in the business.

“That lowers your credibility. It actually, weirdly, increases your credibility by being open and transparent.”


Stories must be authentic and true, says Yamini.

Business Storytelling Masterclass  


The world’s only economist turned business storyteller Yamini Naidu conducted a business storytelling masterclass for Growth Faculty. She explained how she helps leaders shift from spreadsheets to stories.

Her clients include Google, Adidas, Ford Motor Company, Goldman Sachs and Tiffany & Co. Read our summary here.


If you'd like to increase your professional and personal development why not consider becoming a Growth Faculty Pass holder? Unlimited access to 40 live virtual masterclasses and Global Headliner virtual events - PLUS year-round leadership content at On Demand with videos, podcasts and book summaries. Join a community of knowledge seekers who are inspired by the best. See who's up next.



Reference:

1.     “The Neuroscience of Storytelling’’, The NeuroLeadership Institute website

Photo by Matthew Osborn on Unsplash

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