Business Storytelling

The best communications device one can use in a presentation or pitch is to tell a story.  Stories are easier to tell than a conventional narrative. They are way more memorable and the audience usually understands the point of the story right away.

People who are nervous about giving a presentation would do well to start with a story that makes the point they are trying to communicate.  We are at our least nervous when telling a story.

I love to tell stories and really enjoy hearing them.  Some people are natural story tellers and they are incredibly fun to listen to. David Letterman is a spectacular story teller who, unfortunately, rarely   tells a story.  It may not fit into his show’s format. But, when he does tell one, it is a treat.

What makes a good story teller so compelling are many things:

-Just look on their face as they tell the story and you can see they are enjoying telling it as much as you are listening to it.

-Patience. Good story tellers don’t rush through the story. They take their time and milk each area of the story.

-The use of the pause. Not only does a good storyteller take his time telling the story, he/she pauses every once in a while to build tension or surprise, especially in delivering the final line or segment of the story.

-The telling of a great story is done in anything but a monotone. Good storytelling mixes it all up – the pace is slow in one section and hurried in another. The voice is soft then loud and excited.

-Good storytellers are fantastic editors.  They only give details and sidebars if it helps to make the story stronger. But, they eliminate most of frivolous information. The acid test is if you enjoy the story and get out of it as much without the details then with, drop the details.

-The #1 crime that most storytellers violate is a heavy handed use of chronology.  Because most stories are based in fact and based on events that really happened, some people feel compelled to tell everything that happened and in the order it happened.  You’ll know they are doing that because they’ll start to say “Then we did this and then that happened, and then the phone rang and then the cat jumped on the table.”  The “then’s” give it away.  It often sounds like they are reading a list instead of telling a story. And, these kinds of storytellers get almost fixated on making sure the chronology is precise.  They’ll say “then we did this and then we did that…no, no, first we did that and then we did this.”

Great storytellers weave the chronology into the story, sometimes using it as a surprise. They don’t worry if a factoid of the story is told out of order. They only worry about the impact on the audience. And, if they do tell something out of order, they are the only one who knows.

Stories are well suited for business presentations because it allows you to communicate some facet of how the company does business in a very believable manner.  It just doesn’t ring true when someone says “we give excellent service to our clients” or the ever-present “we are driven to exceed your expectations…”  A much better way to say that is with a story of how you gave excellent service. Perhaps you encountered a situation that you didn’t need to address for the client, but did because it helped the cause. Those stories always work and always ring true. They don’t need to be long or complicated. Companies would be wise to gather their stories and write them up for all to use, and all to remember.

Stories should have an ending and some insight that comes out of it.  Sometimes the insight is so obvious you didn’t need to say anything else. Sometimes it helps to discuss the insight and tie it to the theme of the rest of your presentation.

I’ve found in my workshops that people are hesitant to use stories in business situations because they think it’s not appropriate.  What is appropriate is communicating powerfully and if a story helps you do that, by all means use it.  It should be short and applicable for the business issue you are discussing.

It’s probably no coincidence that the leaders of companies tend to be strong communicators.  Next time you hear one speak, count how many stories he/she tells.  That will convince you of the power of the story.




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