Why is storytelling so important in business?
What has worked for you as a business leader over the past 20 years is not going to work for the next 20 years. The past two decades and more has been the age of information and knowledge. However, it is no longer enough to be information conveyors or to have good ideas. There is no shortage of good ideas. To successfully lead your company and business over the next 20 years depends on your ability to move beyond data and information. This new era requires a different way of positioning yourself, of communicating, and a different way of leading. If you are managing people today, you need to engage them in a larger narrative about what you and your company are about. Stories can do that. That is why every business needs powerful storytelling to create impact.
The superpower of storytelling to create impact
Stories help to create a sense of purpose, and businesses with purpose ultimately stand out. Storytelling can do miracles for a business: It can turn a brand into a legacy or re-create itself in a whole new way. In addition, stories help to create a robust marketing strategy. Finally, storytelling wins loyalty and the affection of the audience. Knowing about your business and what your business does is important. However, when you can create a story of why your business matters and how it solves the problems, that is when you create impact at a whole new level.
Ideas are not enough
Your success as a leader going forward depends on your ability to make ideas come to life for other people. I am sure you have sat in presentations where people have talked for hours and at the end you had no idea what they were talking about. Or you have read reports and documents with countless amount of data and numbers that have put you to sleep. While numbers and data are needed, there is more that is required today. As a leader of the future, you need to align people around your good ideas to convince them, motivate and inspire them. Stories can do that.
3 elements of storytelling to create greater impact with your listeners
There are some tools and techniques that can help you to convey your message in ways that becomes sticky to your audience. Whether you are speaking to a group of people inside your company, or give a presentation to the outside stakeholders, stories can help you move beyond data.
In this time of information-overwhelm, if you do not create meaning, your message will be lost in the crowd. I am not talking about storytelling as an epic journey with a hero, a villain and a dramatic struggle. Instead, small brushstrokes of color are powerful. This is called “Immersion”, and most leaders are neglecting it. Most of us live in a world of explanation and abstraction.
Let me share with you three elements of storytelling that help you create impact:
Immerse your audience
Instead of telling people about something, you want to immerse them right into your happenings. It is a difference between saying: “I have not travelled for work in a long time” and “last week, when I went on a business trip to London, my navy-blue blazer literally had dust on the shoulders.” Which one will you remember? By adding some sensory detail, a couple of things we can see or feel, you are immersing your listener into your narrative. You can even incorporate storytelling exercises at work with your team. By showing others how you feel, you can create space, for example with new team members at work to connect at a deeper level. In the end, we are all human beings–dressed in a suit or not.
A story is like a journey
A story is not a straight line. Instead, it is more like a journey with ups and downs. Think of it like using google maps when you want to drive to your destination. Instead of taking the fastest route, you take the most scenic route. Let me give you an example:
Yesterday morning at 7am, I hopped full of excitement into my red BMW and started driving to my client when out of a sudden a hailing wind storm hit the front shield of my car. I thought: “How on earth am I going to make it to my client? It feels like an ice-cold storm that is sucking me and my car into space?” After what felt like hours, I was so relieved when the sun came out. I could see some lush green fields of sun flowers warming up my face.” Showing how you struggled to overcome a challenge by giving sensory details and dialogue is powerful. Do this by bringing your audience from your darkest point of your story into the light.
A good story has a point
Where most people go wrong in the business world is storytelling without a clear point. A good story needs to have a point. Love is a topic, for example, but “Love is a battlefield” is a point. It is like a lesson you learnt. When you want to convince and influence people, you need to be clear about the point you want to make.
Knowing your audience is crucial
Stories are powerful tools to make information more meaningful and memorable. Stories have the power to inspire others, to align people behind your ideas, and create impact. Always know who your audience is.
There are times, when it is not ok to tell a private story. Such a situation for example is when you sit in front of high level business executives. In that situation where fast decision making is at stake, you will not tell a story about your husband and how you met. Sometimes, there is no time to tell a story. In those instances, it can be enough to give your listeners an image or a metaphor to make your point. And finally, when you are in a meeting and your potential investor wants to know what the ROI of your business idea is. Here, we are talking numbers. Tell them why an investment makes sense. In this case, show, for instance, how your initiative will self-fund within a short amount of time and project quantitatively how it will grow in revenue.
The secret sauce of storytelling to create impact
Therefore, prepare your thoughts wisely before you speak. Be aware of the culture and environment you are in when speaking to others and when telling a story. Words matter, and what you say matters. Understanding the other side, and where they come from makes a huge difference when creating impact. Numbers are an important factor in business to show value. At the same time, using storytelling to create impact is what makes the difference. Storytelling has the power to win the hearts of people. And we need both. As we transition into period 9, the fire element, how you make other people feel is going to be one of the secret sauces in business.