10 Tips for Becoming a More Effective Corporate Storyteller

Fast Company LogoDavid Lavenda’s August 8 “Leadership Now” column in Fast Company online lists 10 Storytelling Tips from Israeli-based Susan Fisher.

Fisher acknowledges the fear some executives have about telling stories since they might be seen as manipulative and emotional. These are presenters who like to stick to facts. However, she points out:

…the truth is that real emotions always work better, because that is the way to reach hearts and minds, and also people get to see the real you. It’s authentic.

Here’s her 10 tips for becoming an authentic and effective storyteller–with my comments in parens:

  1. Plan your story starting with the takeaway message. Think about what’s important to the audience. The ending is the most important point of the story. This is the message we want to deliver, and the one that will linger with the audience. (This implies that you also understand what voice coach Kate Peters calls the power of intention.)
  2. Keep your stories short for the workplace. Three to five minutes long is about what people can digest in today’s ADD world. (That said, anyone with a young child knows that a good story can hold the attention of an audience like nothing else.)
  3. Good stories are about challenge or conflict. Without these elements, stories aren’t very interesting. The compelling part of a story is how people deal with conflict–-so start with the people and the conflict. (I’ve read too many case studies in the technology industry where there is no conflict. This despite customers having to choose between multiple solutions and needing to solve real problems. These are the issues that should be highlighted, but are often ignored.)
  4. Think about your story like a movie. Imagine you are screenwriter with a goal to get your message across. The story has to have a beginning, middle, and end. (And as all screenwriters know, it’s important to have an inciting incident early in the story. This marks the turning point. In this moment, you answer two questions: What do your characters want? What might prevent them from getting it?)
  5. Start with a person and his challenge, and intensify human interest by adding descriptions of time, place, and people with their emotions. (As world-class public speaking coach Patricia Fripp often says, one the secrets of successful storytelling is to use specific descriptions: specificity builds credibility.)
  6. Be creative. Create a storyboard; draw it out, while listening to music or reading something for inspiration. A good story always has ups and downs, so “arc” the story. Pull people along, and introduce tension, just like in a fairy tale. (“From out of nowhere, the wolf jumps onto the path …”) (Fiction writer and corporate storyteller Justina Chen urges us to lean into the messy, creative process that storytelling involves.)
  7. Intensify the story with vivid language and intonation. Tap into people’s emotions with language. Use metaphors, idioms, and parables that have emotional associations. (Note: For more on this, see Leo Widrich’s article entitled, “Which Words Matter Most When You Talk” and studies on intonation performed by Ingrid Johnsrude at Cambridge University). (The Widrich article touches on the ways the brain processes language. For a more complete discussion of the importance of Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas of the brain and the importance of action verbs in speech, see Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads by Roy H. Williams.)
  8. When using a story in a PowerPoint presentation, use appropriate graphics/pictures to convey your message. Stay away from text and complicated graphics. A single picture interlaced with emotional language will go a long way to convey your message. (As explained in the books of Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte.)
  9. Most of us have not told stories in front of an audience since English class in high school. So you will need to practice. Tell your story in front of a friendly audience and get feedback. Gauge your pace, and take note of the story’s length and your use of language. It will be a bit rusty at first, but underneath it all, we are all born storytellers. (Don’t just ask the audience what they thought of your story, ask them what they wanted to hear more about, and what could be cut.)
  10. The most important point is to make the switch within; because once you internalize that today’s “left-brain” communication style doesn’t work very well and you realize that stories are how people really communicate, you will find it a lot easier to proceed…because it’s authentic. And that is what really persuades. (Indeed. The specific techniques of persuasive storytelling have been known in detail since the time of Aristotle and Cicero. Today’s savvy politicians use every trick in the book with stunning results.)

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thanx for the comments. Much appreciated.

Storytelling is a method of developing an emotional bond with the audience. Once they perceive that you are one with the audience, moving them becomes much easier.

Thanks for the tips!

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>