Business Storytelling – How to be Memorable

By | July 4, 2017

Lisa Evans - Speaking Savvy - Storytelling

5 Secrets to Memorable Business Storytelling.

Business Storytelling. Everyone is talking about it, few do it well.

Business Storytelling is a buzzword among entrepreneurs and leaders. But honestly, how many people actually do it well? You are probably a “natural” storyteller, think of the “water cooler” stories. But what may happen when you present to a group on a topic that is business related, is that you default to a formal data-driven approach, leaving aside your natural charisma and conversational style.
Most people agree that business storytelling is a useful tool of influence, but then continue to create another presentation that is top heavy with poorly designed slides or chock full of data. Often this common method of presentation is the fall back. Perhaps you are ready to try storytelling, but you are not sure where to start?
We live in an information economy. We have access to more information than we can use, more facts than we can process. What we do crave is help to “join the dots,” to make sense of data, to find inner wisdom. When we hear a balance of logic and emotion, we are far more likely to take action.
Lisa Evans - Speaking Savvy Storytelling Logic Emotion

“Logic makes people think, but it is emotion, that makes people act.” Zig Ziglar.

It’s not about telling fairy tales

Business stories are supported by facts. Leaders are not there to tell fairy tales! Instead, the idea is to create a story narrative that is compelling enough to stick in the minds of the listeners, long after they have heard it. A good story lives on, and on.
The good news is, that you have all have all the tools you need to be an effective storyteller, but you may need to sharpen the tools to fully unlock your storytelling prowess.
If you really want to make a lasting impression, aim to be a master storyteller. It takes effort and practice, but I believe it is worth it.

An effective story has key ingredients

You have plenty of experiences and material for stories at your fingertips, but for many, it is the link between a story and a strategic objective that is not so clear.
The difference between personal and business storytelling is, that the latter has a purpose. A good story also has a plot, at least two central characters and a call to action.

Once you learn to capture and harness your stories, you will have a story suitable for every occasion. If you want to foster real change, then be prepared to dig a little deeper. Just scratching the surface, rarely will do the trick. Storytelling is not about perfection, not every story will have a happy ending. Be prepared to share the “warts ‘n all version”, it may even be a little messy, but so is life and business. Aim to be vulnerable if need be, but most of all be authentic.

In business storytelling, remember that you or your business is not the hero of the story, the customer is.


Without emotion, there is no change

According to Steve Denning, author of The Leaders Guide to Storytelling, “the idea that storytelling is a rare skill possessed by relatively few human beings is nonsense.  We tell stories naturally in the informal setting, it is only when we get up and stand in front of an audience that we forget to be ourselves and enjoy sharing the ancient art of storytelling”.
Forget the rational and objective, that will get you so far but quite simply without emotion, there is no change. Data alone won’t get your message across in a way that is easy to remember and recall.
To be memorable in your message, aim to appeal to the full array of senses if you want to get through to people. It is one thing to get information “out” but entirely different to get “through.” No-one feels inspired or motivated to change by being “talked at,” we prefer a two-way interaction, and that is what a story can bring.

Storytelling – a skill worth learning?

The person with the title leader is not necessarily the one who naturally inspires others to follow. As leaders, we have to be able to demonstrate our values, our integrity, and our purpose. It is not enough to have a mission statement framed on the desk or a set of company values printed on the stationery.

Leaders who embrace storytelling as a strategic tool can share “values in action” stories, translate lessons learned to pass on to others, express the struggles fought and won, and tell stories of success. A real and relatable story will break down barriers and demonstrate the essence of your leadership style and intention.

People want genuine heartfelt leaders, who are willing to share their core, what makes them tick, and the stories they can bring to the table to provide meaning to their actions.

Leaders who are exceptional storytellers are entertaining, engaging and memorable. Their listeners can recall and repeat their stories long past the event. Why? Becuase they know how to create a “sticky” story, and have learned not only to put together a story plot but to deliver a story while capturing the imagination of the audience.

According to Annette Simmons author of The Story Factor, “The power of even a simple story to affirm someone’s connection to your organization’s people, values, and vision, can mean the difference between mere competence and fully realized ownership. Simply put your stories help your people feel alive”.

Where do people go wrong when storytelling in business?

“I’m going to start by telling you a story….” This is a sure way to ruin the spontaneity and curiosity that surrounds any great story.  Yet so many people begin like this. There is a better way!
Telegraphing is a term commonly used in sports, particularly in boxing.
According to Wikipedia, “Telegraphing is to intentionally alert an opponent to one’s immediate situation or intentions.”The boxer may move his shoulder and body in a particular way before throwing a punch and this movement can be read by the opponent.
The skill is in being able to hide telegraphing so that you don’t give your intention away.
If you want to create a memorable and sticky story there are a few golden rules to create a memorable story without giving too much away or “telegraphing,” and to keep people curious to know more right to the very end.

 5 Secrets to Memorable Business Storytelling

1. Avoid Telegraphing when storytelling

It’s not necessary, to begin with, “I’m going to tell you a story” or another one I hear is “May I start by telling you a story?”.  The best thing to do is jump right in and start your story. There is no need to ask permission or to “telegraph” what is ahead.

You can launch into your story with a short preamble line that sets the context. For example “I remember a time, back in the 70’s growing up..” or “As the sun was rising, I was walking along the beach this morning”.  A good story that is relevant to your topic can be spontaneously woven into your material with a seamless transition between the content and your story.

2. Ensure every story has a plot

Every story needs a plot, otherwise, it’s not a story. People often think they are storytelling when all they are doing is sharing a short anecdote or a case study. A story has to have a plot.  There is a lot of in-depth information and theories on the structure and shape of stories. The most well-known is the Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell. There are 12 steps in the Hero’s Journey. If you are interested in storytelling, The Hero with a Thousand Faces is an in-depth read. For the average storyteller or someone new to this form of narrative, it is quite complex.  I have created a simple framework to use when plotting your story. It’s called the 5C’s of Compelling Storytelling™.  The stages of the story plot are as follows Context, Challenge, Choice, Change, Carryout. For the average storyteller, or someone new to this form of narrative, the Hero’s Journey can be too complex.

I have created a simple framework to use when plotting your story, called the 5C’s of Compelling Storytelling™.

The stages of the story plot are as follows:

  • Context
  • Challenge
  • Choice
  • Change
  • Carryout


3. Create characters to bring your story to life

Your story needs characters. Often when people tell a story they talk about other people in an impersonal way. My husband, the boss, my dog. Take your character a step further and develop them. To help our audience to feel drawn into our story, they need to be able to relate to our characters, either by seeing themselves as that character, or someone they know. Experiment by giving your characters the personality and character traits that help others experience them more fully.

Your story needs characters. Often when people tell a story, they talk about other people in an impersonal way. “My husband, the boss, my dog.” Take your character a step further and develop them. To help our audience to feel drawn to our story, they need to be able to relate to our characters, either by seeing themselves as that character, or someone they know. Experiment by giving your characters the personality and traits that help others experience them more fully.

Name your characters. Tell your audience a few key things about them. For example, if my grandmother is part of my story, I would say, “my Nana Doris is 89, despite her bird-like arthritic frame, she still loves to play Cockney sing-along tunes on the piano; she smells of mothballs, mixed with 711 perfume”.

By describing some of my grandmother’s characteristics, I’m able to paint a picture of her in your mind.

4. Use dialogue in your storytelling

Rather than retell or regurgitate your story, bring your story to life with dialogue. Instead of saying, there is a lady who gets on the bus every day and tells people how many days there are until Christmas (this is a true story!). If I were retelling this story, to make this scene come to life, I may say something like, “every morning, this larger than life, middle-aged woman would climb aboard the bus. With a great big smile she would buy her ticket, then announce to the whole bus in a rather loud voice, ‘today is Wednesday, there are 203 days until Christmas’, then she sat down and didn’t say another word”.

Instead of telling you what she said, I would become that character for that line of dialogue. Try out voices and accents to take on any characteristics of that person. This adds another dimension to your story.

5. What life lessons does your business storytelling offer to others?

The most important part of your story is the lessons you learned that you could share with others. I believe that storytelling is a great way to share your life wisdom. It’s not about saying, ‘Hey, look at me and where I am now”. Any good story has its’ share of challenge and struggles.

People don’t want to know how successful you are; they want to know what challenges you over overcame along your journey to get where you are today.

Are you prepared to share your challenges warts ‘n all? We have all made mistakes, there may be times when we wish we had done something differently or we messed up.  This is what makes up the rich tapestry of life and becomes parts of your story.

Here is a free e-booklet called The 7 Secrets to Spectacular Storytelling

Lisa Evans, MBA is a Certified World Class Speaking and Storytelling Coach, Keynote Speaker and TEDx Speaker Coach. Based in Perth, Australia, Lisa works with leaders globally to help them craft and deliver powerful presentations and compelling business stories.



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