Leading On Marketing: The Art of Business Storytelling

The Storyteller vs. The Speaker

Have you been satisfied or disappointed by the quality of a webinar or business conference this year?

This year, I’ve participated in several webinars and could not agree more with Michael Santarcangelo in his recent post that we need better business storytelling and better business stories.

Santarcangelo explains that:STORYTELLERSDAWN

“Regardless of plot, twists, and approaches, good stories (even in business) have three essential elements:

  •  Characters: introduce the people involved. Move past a listing of facts to provide the essence. Explain the context. Reveal emotions. They need to be real.
  •  Conflict: the lesson is often illustrated in how the character transforms through challenge. It’s not always adversity. Take time to describe what they’re going through. Include emotions, changes in context, and changes in perspective/understanding.
  •  Resolution: how did the character(s) change? It may not be a happy ending. Provide the necessary context and emotion for the audience to make the connection and process the story.”

Frankly, it is not worth your time and money to attend a webinar or business conference where the speakers are just that, speakers. If a storyteller steps up to the microphone, we take notice. We are ready to listen.

After studying hundreds of speeches, Nancy Duarte has found that the most effective presenters use the same techniques as great storytellers.

Duarte explains how the storyteller who reminds people of the status quo and then reveals that path to improvement, establishes a conflict that needs to be resolved. By creating this tension, they persuade the audience to change – to behave differently or change their opinion.

Furthermore, by following Aristotle’s three-part story structure of beginning, middle and end, storytellers create a message that is easy to understand, remember and retell.

Beginning:

Set the scene with what the audience knows in order to create a bond with them. For example, many companies are operating with less staff these days.

Next, show the audience the gap between what is and what could be.

For example, the company is not meeting deadlines for clients because of under-staffing. This can be resolved with new hires.

Middle:

Here you can contrast what is to what could be. For example, the company has new clients to service. Some of these clients can bring in more revenue than we’ve had in recent years.

End:

What will be better if your audience changes? Will they buy-in to your suggestions?

Create an action plan that illustrates how the extra effort to do timely work will result in year-end bonuses.

Finally, if you want to motivate, persuade or be remembered, tell a story about human struggle and eventual triumph. According to Paul J. Zak, it attracts people’s hearts by first attracting their brains.

Storytelling & Active Listening

I was blessed with having a Dad who was a great storyteller. I would sit and listen to his stories, transfixed by the characters, conflict and resolution, and ultimately laughed, cried, wiped away my tears, laughed some more and finished with a knowing smile. I had experienced something special – vicariously — by hearing how my Dad had done so. He told the stories so well that I lived them right along with him.

Good storytelling helped me become an active listener.

Although active listening may be classified as a technique, one can view it as a form of art, like storytelling. Both of these art forms should be cherished and nurtured.

If you lose patience when someone is speaking, it may be that they are simply talking rather than telling a story. If you are not up to par mentally or physically at that time, you may not want to listen and your interest wanes.

A brief non-business story may illustrate the source of my admiration for storytellers.

The Baseball Bat

My Dad told me about the day his own father brought him a brand new baseball bat. For many children, this would not be a big deal. During the Depression Era, a new baseball bat was like a gold.

It was a warm summer day in Chicago. My Dad was playing in the street with the neighborhood kids. No one knew that they were poor because everyone was – they were all the same. They laughed, played and dreamed in the streets.

Late in the afternoon, my grandfather came walking down the street after work. My Dad saw him waving at the end of the block, so he and a few buddies ran towards his father. As they neared, my grandfather raised the shiny new baseball bat.

My Dad stopped in his tracks. He’d never even dared to ask, assume or dream that his father could afford to get him a new baseball bat. All of his father’s hard work and saving on the side had led to this moment.

My Dad explained that it was as if time stood still. He felt as if he were moving in slow motion. He asked himself: “How could this be happening?”

His father did not even have to speak. My Dad ran up and hugged him and the new bat. They both began to cry because they knew what this meant and the sacrifices that needed to be made in order for this gift to be here at this moment. It was a special moment, one that they would never forget.

My Dad’s buddies were choked up as well. They knew what this symbolized. They knew that they would all be able to play with a shiny new baseball bat at the nearby ball field. It was a moment, one that they all shared.

Well, I never heard this story without crying. Even now, I can see my Dad’s pride in the moment that he never forgot. A gift, even a small one, can have lifelong meaning and impact.

The real gift here was the story that my Dad told about the bat. The story had more meaning than the bat itself. My ability to listen to the story over and over again, as if it were the first time that I was hearing it, meant that the quality of the story set me right into active listening mode.

The Basketball

Last year, I bought a brand new basketball for a child in an annual toy drive. As I left the store with my purchase, I cried.

Why did I cry?

Firstly, I thought about the boy opening this gift, excited to go onto the basketball court to play with his buddies. This could be a special moment that he would never forget.

Secondly, I thought about my Dad’s baseball bat and how much I missed him and his storytelling.

Conclusion:

In the era of social media, online content is more important than ever. Tell your story, whether in a 140-character tweet, a 1000-word blog post or during a one-hour business webinar, in order to have your message resonate with your audience.

Business storytelling is not an option but a requirement. If you are presenting and unaccustomed to storytelling, then perhaps you will want invest some time to learn how to do so. If you do, you will notice the difference in how your audience responds positively you and your message.

Dawn Kristy

Dawn Kristy

Dawn Kristy has a writer’s love of words and storytelling, an editor’s keen eye for details, a risk manager’s proactive caution and an advocate’s desire to help those in need whether in the for-profit or non-profit community. Dawn is an attorney licensed to practice law in NJ and PA with over 25 years work experience in law, insurance, reinsurance, business development, writing, editing, presenting, sales, fundraising and campaigning. Dawn had the good fortune of working abroad for nearly 13 years gaining first-hand experience in cross-cultural client relationship management, business development, marketing and communications. Dawn has successfully led projects with determination and compassion, developed new business and raised funds for non-profit organizations. Disclaimer: This blog post is made available for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for professional or legal advice. No attorney client relationship is formed or implied between you and the guest blog author or the blog/web site publisher.
Dawn Kristy
Dawn Kristy

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