Storytelling: The most human business skill

February 23, 2021

During our Humans Come First Summit in November, Doug Landis (Growth Partner at Emergence Capital) hosted a talk on how to be an effective storyteller, and why it’s so important that we focus on it at work. He believes that we don’t focus enough on storytelling as a skill in the workplace, explores the reasons why we don’t tell more stories at work, and encourages folks to make it part of their “DNA” at work.

As someone in sales, Landis believes that when you have “sales” in your job title, people automatically don’t trust you. To work against this, you have to be ready to provide value through what you deliver and who you support. 

In practice, storytelling is an exchange between the storyteller and the person or group listening to the story. As human beings, we have the innate desire to find patterns in the information presented to us as a way to make sense of the world around us. 

 

Why stories matter in business–and how to tell them  

Stories matter because everyone leans in for a good story. Stories allow the storyteller to teach, inspire, enlighten their audience, and simplify ideas. They’re also a great way for the storyteller to build a bridge that creates alignment between themselves and their audience–which results in community-building. 

When it comes to presentations, they don’t need to be rigid in form. In fact, Landis wagers that 65% of your presentation material should come across like a story. If you have a 10-slide presentation deck, 6 out your 10 slides should give you the opportunity to tell a story. 

Every story that you tell–whether at work or otherwise–needs to have a point, and you should be able to get that point across in a single sentence. When you’re thinking about the point of your story, that’s a great time to determine whether or not the story is relevant to your audience. If it’s hard for you to articulate what the point of your story is, take a step back and re-evaluate.

 

The power of storytelling in business 

When you’re telling a story, it’s important to be aware that the listener is more likely to pay attention to this format versus just plain facts and stats. If you can inject surprise or emotion into your story as you tell it, you’ll increase the likelihood that your audience remembers the finer details of your story. 

In a general sense, stories are a way to organise information. Not only do they make facts easier to remember, but they also provide a connection to earlier knowledge, and the story arc you’ve created becomes something to remember. 

 

How being a persuasive storyteller builds your company story 

When you tell your story with confidence, it gets in the way of the human tendency to confront facts. The more likeable and credible you are, the more likely your audience is to deduce the logic of your story for themselves. 

When it comes to your organisation, a compelling story is a big part of what puts your company in motion. The more you tell the story of your company, and likewise the story spreads throughout your team, the easier it becomes to solidify a “signature company story.” 

Your company’s signature story should be both intriguing and authentic from your audience’s point of view. On the business side, having a strategic message will drive company growth by enhancing your brand. 

A good rule of thumb is this: Your company’s signature story explains yout “why,” rather than your “what” and “how” as an organisation. 

 

Framework for storytelling in business

All stories follow the same sequence: Setting, Surprise Event, Turning Point, and Resolution. In the context of work, the resolution is the business point. If nothing else, remember this: Companies are not characters. When you’re talking about organisations you’ve worked with, don’t focus on talking about the logos themselves. Instead, talk about the people working at those logos. For example, if you’re working with the marketing director at a company, pull them into the story of your relationship. 

Doug explained his “TRANCE” acronym as a framework for telling stories in a professional setting. 

T = Take your listener on  a journey from what is to what can be. 

R = Remember the rule of three (beginning, middle, and end). 

A = Analogies and metaphors make abstract concepts real. 

N = Organise the narrative and make it relevant to your audience. Have a clear point.

C = Identify the characters in your story. 

E = Get emotion out of your audience. 

Your aim as a storyteller in the workplace? Put your audience in a trance.

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