The Art of the Story
Storytelling has become a hot topic in 2022. From numerous blogs, endorsements from renowned thought leaders, to published research on the topic, storytelling is everywhere. So, what exactly is storytelling? And how can you adopt storytelling to further your vision and make an impact?
Storytelling is the strategic approach to telling a narrative or sequence of events. Rather than listing off an endless series of events that lead to no point, storytelling relies on thoughtful crafting. If done correctly, storytelling has the power to inspire others and drive action from your customers, colleagues, stakeholders, and even management. Regardless of job role or industry, you can benefit from adding storytelling into your toolkit.
The art of storytelling has been around for centuries. As humans, we have endlessly been drawn to tales and lore. Think about what draws you to binge watching that Netflix show on the weekends. The story! So why do we resort to only data and unfamiliar strategic orders from top management to express our objectives? We too can leverage storytelling in business.
What Makes a Good Story?
There are some common traits that all good stories share. When it comes to storytelling for business, a good story should be:
- Easy to follow/Memorable
- Educational and/or Inspiring
Key Tips for Storytelling
Show Your Personality
If your story is about your own experiences, it’s important to be true to yourself throughout the story. People can sense inauthenticity and fluff. Integrate some of your personality characteristics throughout the story so that it reflects your personality on a day-to-day basis. By displaying your true self, the story will ring credible and genuine to your audience.
Know Your Audience
A story told to your team will be vastly different than one told to your manager or board of directors. Knowing who you will be speaking to will help you craft your story. Prior to creating your story, think of your audience and how they may respond. Develop some key themes that you think the audience will resonate with.
Keep it Concise
Be wary of including details that aren’t relevant to the primary theme. A human’s average attention span is less than 10 seconds. Adding unnecessary details to your story will distract your audience from the key points you are trying to convey. Focusing purely on the main points will enable your audience to retain the information and apply it more easily.
Everyone has emotions. Tapping into people’s emotions will make your story that much more powerful.
How to Craft a Moving Story
Set the Tone
Tone is the attitude behind the story. What attitude does your story need to be most effective? What is its natural attitude? Is it serious, humorous, inspiring? Tone is often set by our choice of words, level of formality, and our use of punctuation. It’s important to set the tone at the beginning of telling your story. By doing this you are weaving a subtle thread throughout your story that will engage the listener while connecting key points from beginning to the end.
Outline a Storyline - Beginning, Conflict, and Resolution
German writer, Gustav Freytag, created the Freytag pyramid to understand the elements of a compelling story. Each storyteller should have four parts: exposition, rising action, climax, and falling action.
- Exposition: The exposition introduces the characters and the setting. The exposition should provide context for the rest of the story.
- Rising Action: During the rising action, establish the conflict. Throughout this portion of the story, the conflict should be building continuously until the climax. You can explore character’s motives, backstories, or even foreshadow.
- Climax: The climax is the height of the story. The conflict in the story reaches its peak.
- Falling Action / Resolution: During the Falling Action, characters will need to respond to the conflict during the climax. Loose ends in the plot will start to be tied up.
Determining how your story will end is important. Theoretically, all loose ends will be tied up in the resolution. Your ending should reemphasize the key themes of your story.
Make it Actionable
A story needs to drive action. At the end of a story, your audience should feel compelled to complete an action of some sort.
This action may simply be to reflect on the story theme. This can be done by summarizing the main point or even asking the audience a question. In other cases, it might be a formal call to action or some other indication of where they can go to “get involved”, “get in touch”, or any other option that makes sense given the purpose of the story.
Stories are a powerful way to illustrate and impart specific business principles and ideas. Crafting a story around a specific person (or group) and their experience can help readers imagine themselves as the protagonist, making the story feel more ‘real’ – and the ideas contained within more tangible, memorable, and actionable.
Here are a couple examples of short stories designed to convey important leadership ideas.
The Importance of Leading Without Emotion
Debra was the CEO of a startup. Her company was working on a website overhaul. The primary web developer fell behind on the project, so they couldn’t launch on time. Consequently, the org's planned email, paid advertising, and organic campaigns needed to be pushed back. Debra was extremely angry about the delay and laid off the main developer for underperforming. Given Debra's emotional reaction, she did not realize that without the main developer they would be even more delayed! Now, instead of a slight delay, she had to move another developer on the project and hire another developer for the team. In the end, it took two months to launch the website. Debra realized that reacting out of anger caused a major delay and a huge disruption to the team.
Leadership is Not Your Rank
Leadership is not just a position. Leroy was a mid-level associate on the team however, he always went above and beyond in his work and to help his team. Although he lacked technical authority, he was a true team leader. Leroy's team started working on a complex project with stakeholders from multiple departments. Throughout the project, Leroy's team faced multiple operational hiccups and major pushback from stakeholders. The team regularly looked to Leroy, rather than their manager, for support and guidance. Regardless of time of the day or issue, Leroy was always there for them. They viewed Leroy as their leader because he would go to bat for them. Real leaders don't require a job title.