Depending on conventional rhetoric when speaking to others is like throwing spaghetti at a wall to see if it sticks. Whether you’re the keynote speaker at a conference or leading a team meeting, relying solely on data, facts, and logic won’t capture your audience’s full attention. To be more effective, you must engage people’s emotions if you want them to hear and act on your words.
This concept is where business storytelling can have an advantage.
Since childhood, we’ve leaned on stories for entertainment, life lessons, wisdom, and insight. Stories have engaged us, appealed to our hearts and minds, and made us curious about the world around us. This is because we’re more receptive and invested when our interest is piqued. We listen better, absorb more details, and increase our memory retention when we hear a great story. There’s a reason why people may have difficulty recalling the specifics of the last presentation they went to, but most can always share a favorite story on the spot.
People need more than stats and facts to be persuaded or motivated. If someone can emotionally connect with what you’re saying, then buy-in can occur. For this reason, learning how to integrate storytelling into your communication style can be incredibly helpful for leading effectively.
This article will explore storytelling and how to use it to your advantage to lead and motivate others. We’ll cover:
- What storytelling is
- How to effectively use it in business
- Tips for great storytelling
- Professional storytelling resources to follow
What Is Storytelling?
I see all art as a complement to telling people’s stories. I’m in the storytelling business. I believe that the humanity that all of us share is the stories of our lives, and everybody has a story. Your story is as important as the next person’s story.oprah winfrey
Storytelling is the cultural art of weaving together vision and emotion with compelling information to present new ideas to others. It involves narrative, imagery, media, and props to tap into a listeners’ sense of intrigue, curiosity, and joy.
When done well, storytelling can capture attention and build trust better than conventional communication. In business, this is important because the presence of trust indicates a feeling of being understood. Feeling this way lowers one’s guard and opens up the mind. Only when this occurs can investment begin.
Without emotional engagement, people can feel disconnected or removed from what’s being said. They may even challenge your words with their own internal experiences or opinions versus considering or accepting them. So while you’re speaking, your team may be arguing internally with every point you make instead of allowing the information in. Storytelling opens up these pathways and makes deeper connections and understanding possible.
Why Humans Connect With Stories
The human world is bound together not by protons and electrons but by stories. Nothing has meaning in itself: all the objects in the world would be shards of bare mute blankness, spinning wildly out of orbit, if we didn’t bind them together with stories.Brian Morton
Oxytocin (the feel-good hormone) plays a significant role in how we respond to and connect with what we hear and see. This chemical released by the brain is the reason why storytelling is so effective in business and in life. When we hear a great story, the brain releases oxytocin, making us feel safer and more understood. As a result, this release causes us to become more trusting, compassionate, and open. Essentially, the more oxytocin we have when experiencing an event, the higher the likelihood we are to respond positively and actively to it.
Form Bonds by Following the Structure of a Good Story
Scholars believe we have a universal story structure that nearly always puts listeners into an oxytocin-filled, empathetic state of connectivity. This story structure, called a dramatic arc is as follows:
- New or surprising information is introduced to the listener
- Tension builds as the hero faces the challenge they must overcome
- The main character reaches a climax where they must look within themselves for the answer
- The story concludes with a dramatic resolution
Information “sticks” when we connect psychologically and emotionally through stories. Instead of using basic PowerPoint templates or predictable Zoom calls to present your next idea, motivate your employees and customers using the story structure listed above.
Display vulnerability and establish influence by sharing information in a way that humanizes you and resonates with your audience. Engaging your team in this way will foster more interest, inspiration, and emotional connection and make you more of an ideal team player. This will also result in higher productivity, more sales, better customer service, and boosted morale.
How Can Storytelling Be Used in Business?
Design. Story. Symphony. Empathy. Play. Meaning. These six senses increasingly will guide our lives and shape our world.daniel h. pink
Great businesses lead with story. For example, look at companies like Apple, General Electric, Nike, Gatorade, and Dove. They make story a focal point in all that they do, winning the hearts and minds of those who interact with the business.
As a leader, you can include story into your company in many different ways. It can be part of your daily or weekly team meetings or calls, woven into company social media posts, included as part of a business newsletter, and integrated into everyday leadership conversation. When you do this, the benefits include:
- Better understanding: Humans have leaned on stories for understanding since before language was written. Because of this, we have an innate biological ability to connect with stories and gain a better understanding from them than we do from traditional rhetoric.
- More memorable: Because the narratives, character relation, tension, and resolution help us engage and understand an idea, we remember it better. Without a compelling story, we may hear what’s being said, but it may or may not be memorable.
- Persuasive: Stories appeal to our hearts and emotions, making them persuasive. Relating a story to a listener creates a bond that can bring a team together towards a shared viewpoint and help others see the storyteller’s point of view.
- Entertaining: Meetings and emails can often be dry and colorless. If you want to capture your team’s attention, make your words fun. This will prevent your teams from “checking out.”
5 Tips for Great Storytelling
The average brain spends 30% of its time daydreaming. It’s a survival mechanism. But everyone pays attention when a story starts.donald miller
A great story follows the universal story structure of having conflict, tension, a journey, self-reflection, and a resolution. Engage these elements to craft a story you can share with your team that they’ll engage with. To develop a great story:
- Share what the problem or idea is. What is the problem? Why is it important to resolve? Express any urgency, heartfelt concern, or hope—this will engage the listeners’ senses.
- Describe the journey or background. How did the problem or idea begin? How has it evolved? Provide context so your team can craft a complete picture of what’s going on.
- Communicate your main message. What do you need from your team? Why are you bringing this to your team’s attention? Share what your desired outcome is.
- Create flow with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Introduce the problem or idea; provide context and your main message, and save the solution until the end.
- Stay focused. You have your team’s attention, but only for a finite amount of time. Keep the story concise with a tight focus. This will help you deliver your message most effectively.
Overcoming the 3 Challenges of Storytelling
Like anything, becoming a great storyteller takes time and practice. Most people don’t master this skill overnight. And for those that do practice, there are still some common pitfalls. The key is to not give up or become discouraged and to use the practice to overcome challenges that many may face. Find out what problems you might encounter and how to overcome them below.
- Feeling restricted: Lacking confidence in what you want to say or feeling constrained to apply titles, definitions, and solutions, can cause some to avoid doing so altogether. While you don’t want to mislead, you do want to speak with confidence. Otherwise, you may come off as non-committal and uncertain.
- Presenting without emotion: Professionalism is always important, but not at the expense of sounding robotic. The idea of storytelling is to connect with your team and audience. To do this, you have to display emotion.
- Oversharing: Sharing personal stories of challenges you’ve overcome is an excellent way to display vulnerability to establish trust with your team. But be careful not to share too much. You want to be relatable, but too much detail will leave your team feeling burdened and uncomfortable, not motivated and inspired.
Legendary Storytellers to Follow
Brand storytelling is a great way to get your point across, differentiate your brand, and work out new ideas. Today, if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur or leader, you also have to be a storyteller.richard branson
To really learn how to tell a story, study real-life examples of leaders in this area. People like Richard Branson, Tony Hseih, Oprah Winfrey, and Brian Chesky are excellent examples of those who practice charismatic leadership to glean storytelling skills from. They each have achieved monumental success in their own pursuits, and they’ve perfected the careful art of storytelling to share their insights and expertise with others.
Books on Business Storytelling
- Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller
- Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
- Talk like TED by Carmine Gallo
- Let the Story Do the Work by Esther K. Choy
No matter how you decide to sharpen your storytelling skills, the best way is to just begin doing it. For your next team meeting, pick a topic you’d like to discuss, but instead of merely talking about it, make it a story.
To continue your learning on improving business communication, read StoryBrand Increases the Effectiveness of Your Marketing.