The role of storytelling in business

Dame Edna Everidge on Parkinson ShowThere’s a saying that goes, “Facts tell, but stories sell.” Stories are a terrific way to persuade and influence others. But some people have a problem with this. For some it’s all a bit too fluffy and not serious enough to be, well…taken seriously!

But consider what sections of an article or presentation grab our attention. You guessed it…the stories. Provided they’re well-chosen, nicely structured and delivered skillfully, stories can have a strong emotional impact on your audience.

Well-chosen means appropriate and relevant to the listener/reader, something they can identify and empathize with. It might relate directly to the audience’s industry or situation, or maybe there’s a metaphorical significance to the story. It’s up to you to be creative and make that link. Remember too that stories about people tend to work well. We like to hear about personalities, conflict, emotions. Even an apparently dry topic can be brought to life through characters.

Nicely structured refers to the narrative framework – the beginning, middle and end. You might introduce the context and key characters, explain what happened to them and finish with a resolution of some kind – again, with a point being made about what it might mean to the audience.

And then there’s the ‘performance’ of the story. Some people try to relate an anecdote but absolutely murder it! As the Irish comedian Frank Carson used to say, “It’s the way I tell ‘em!” If you’re going to tell stories, practise them until you achieve the kind of emotional impact you’re after.

One great benefit of a strong anecdote is the way it allows the audience to make its own mind up. For example, you might CLAIM to put customer care at the top of your agenda but on its own, it’s just an empty statement. It requires the audience to accept your word for it. Much better to relate a fantastic customer service story that PROVES it. Let the strength of the story and the emotional impact it has do the work for you. And with a bit of luck your audience will spread that story and function as an un-paid sales force!

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