Business storytelling techniques that win hearts and minds

2 February, 2019
Business storytelling techniques that win hearts and minds

How do you communicate your story effectively?

Storytelling has been used to inform and entertain since the birth of man – cave walls were the original Instagram. In the corporate world, business storytelling techniques help to communicate purpose and value. Done well, this delivers a significant uplift in profits, as discussed in Corporate Culture and Performance by John Kotter and James Heskett.

In this article, we’ll discuss why employing business storytelling techniques proves so effective in shaping organisational culture and how you can ensure your storytelling delivers on its promise.


Why successful leaders adopt business storytelling techniques

Business storytelling techniques have their foundation in the human psyche. From the moment we are born, storytelling is a big part of our lives. Fables and parables help parents to shape their children’s appreciation of the difference between right and wrong. Teachers use stories to demonstrate the usefulness of their subject matter. We tell stories every day, when socialising with friends and families.

Stories are a part of every culture, and they help to shape that culture. They help us to humanise complex ideas, remember important lessons and evolve our thinking. In a business environment, storytelling techniques enable leaders to improve employee engagement and communicate vision.


Why storytelling motivates employee engagement

Storytelling acts as a catalyst for personal and organisational change and growth. When people hear stories of success (or failure), it often translates into an acceptance of personal benefits and consequences of taking similar actions and following the same path.

Most people will react to and remember stories in more active and positive ways than if they are just presented with data and facts. To understand why, it is necessary to understand a little about the human condition. When developing business storytelling techniques, this appreciation will aid more effective communication. Here are six ways in which storytelling encourages motivation and engagement.

1.    Stories grab attention

Stories grab people’s attention, because they engage emotion. They help people imagine their life in different perspectives. As the American civil rights activist Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

2.    Stories make it personal

Storytelling enables the storyteller to frame business concepts in personal experience and make it personal to the audience. It provides meaning behind numbers and statistics, and helps to answer the question “What’s in it for me?”

3.    Stories challenge current perspectives

By providing new perspectives, stories challenge current assumptions and cultural norms. We see this concept in the rewriting of stories, too. For example, the Women and Memory Forum in Egypt has undertaken the Women’s Stories project to reread and redefine Arab cultural history. They do this by rewriting and retelling fables and stories to challenge the ‘normative social beliefs about gender roles that marginalize women’, reframing those stories to show ‘an egalitarian or woman-centric perspective’.

4.    Stories create empathy

Stories work because they create empathy with characters and situations. They connect people to the story, and envelope them within it. Readers of books, watchers of movies and listeners to stories put themselves in the position of protagonists and antagonists, experiencing their pain and joy. This emotional connection makes the experience real.

5.    Stories are likely to be revisited

When was the last time you were with friends or colleagues and the conversation existed around statistics? People remember good stories, and they will revisit them and repeat them. Good stories develop culture and survive the test of time. If government was able to portray itself as an administrative Robin Hood, it may decrease resistance to it exercising redistribution of wealth.

6.    Stories inspire change

Stories inspire people to change, whether they are stories of tragedy caused by not changing or stories of success by making change. Stories that envelope all of the above five qualities motivate people to do things differently. By employing effective business storytelling techniques, companies can inspire the collective individual change that is necessary to execute organisational change.


What do effective business storytelling techniques look like?

A good story will compel your employees to engage with your business plan, vision and mission. How you tell your story is key to attaining these benefits.  Here are three steps to follow:

1)    Create a storytelling environment

Storytelling must be given a platform, and an environment in which sharing is encouraged. It is important to develop a connection applicable to the audience, using methods that motivate participation and eliminate embarrassment.

2)    Develop the story

Stories should be developed to link events, risks, behaviours and outcomes and shaped within personal contexts to create realities that make the stories memorable.

Stories must also be authentic. They must be truthful and supported by evidence and framed in a way that encourages questioning and discussion – so people can learn “what’s in it for me?”. Stories may include both internal and external sources, helping employees to understand their value and contribution to the organisation’s current state and future vision.

3)    Share the story

This last of these business storytelling techniques is vital. A story takes on exceptional power when it can be shared. To enable this to happen, an organisation should ensure that it develops a straightforward process for story sharing – one that encourages participation, motivates the memory, aids the visualisation of vision, and personalises perception.

These three business storytelling techniques will help your organisation to benefit from why storytelling works. You’ll access greater employee engagement, and help your people identify with the cultural behaviours that will drive your business forward toward its objectives.


Want to know more?

Get in touch with The Big Picture People today to discuss how our Learning Map methodology could help your organisation tell its story more effectively.

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