Story Time – Not Just For Kids
How to get started with storytelling in business
One from the Bible and one from the senior statesman of rock:
I’m more Team Keith.
I was one of those mums who couldn’t wait for her baby sons to start playing with toys that I could join in with. Thomas the Tank Engine? Power Rangers? A cash register for playing shop? I was right in there, making railway track layouts, superhero stories and memories.
When you have young children you get a free pass to play, now mine are grown-up (their opinion) teenagers (the reality), their tastes have become more sophisticated while I’m still a bit of a kid at heart (grandchildren next stop, fingers crossed?). But one thing my teens haven’t left behind is fondness for a terrific tale.
Stories – Here to Stay
Unlike the colouring books for adults that may or may not turn out to be a fad, the power and pull of a story never goes away. In a recent blog post, Juliet Travis (tech PR firm owner) writing about the future of media in a digital world surmised thus: “Media fads come and go, but authentic voices and powerful human storytelling will always endure.”
As a copywriter I help businesses and business people find the right words for them; the words that’ll get the people they’re trying to reach – sit up and take notice. Stories are often the most efficient carriers of words. Weaving in an anecdote or even something as simple as a metaphor can amp up facts and figures, and make them more memorable.
Why do Stories Work?
Stories work because they’re enablers. A narrative structure, however simple, gets information into our heads and sticks it there. Maybe not as immediate as an image but with longer-lasting effects.
Stories put facts into context, it’s where abstract ideas become tangible.
Stories are how we’ve survived and adapted as a species – parables, fables, legend and history passed down and learnt from through the generations.
They’re why group therapy is effective. Why networking works – you come together, share experiences (i.e. swap stories) and learn, drawing support from others often without realising it’s happening.
What Makes For “Good” Communication?
People who are “good” or regarded as being “good” at communicating in business – marketing, presenting, selling and networking – don’t have a code cracked or a particular vocabulary memorised, but rather a very personal way of putting things.
They add colour and context to everything they say, finding the emotional dimension that helps them connect with whoever and wherever they’re speaking.
So how do you find a bit of that storytelling magic and apply it to your own businesses and organisations?
Storytelling – Laying a Firm Foundation
Here are 3 things to bear in mind before you start mining for storytelling gold. And let’s face it, we all need to dig around a little or look at things from a new or different perspective in order to find our best and most resonant stories.
1. Know Yourself
Whether you work for yourself or someone else, or even if you’re one of thousands in a large conglomerate – know the “why” of that business. Know how it helps people. Know what you bring to your role.
Answering that “why” question (and the answer’s not just “because I need to put food on the table!”) unearths the “why anyone should listen to you.” Dare to bring a bit of yourself to the table. Paraphrasing master sales coach, Terry Mullins, we are, after all, our only USP and the best differentiator we have in business.
And make your voice – written or spoken, on or off-line – authentic. Think, and there’s absolutely no political bias here, Boris Johnson embracing his upper-class credentials rather than Ed, “man of many kitchens” Milliband trying to keep it real.
2. Know Them
And by “them” I mean your audience, the people you want to reach, to speak to and engage with; the people who will buy, donate, subscribe and listen to you.
is the truth of you,
into the language of them”
Know why your customers and prospects come to you, what issues they have, what problems they need solving and where you’ll find them – eg via podcast, blog, on a forum or visiting your online store.
Make your stories outward facing – i.e. tell the story of your product or service from their point of view; make your customer the hero, their issue the obstacle and adopt the mantle of mentor with pride!
And speak to them, one at a time, in second person “you.”
3. Say It With Feeling
Finding an emotional dimension and demonstrating empathy is what links your truth with their language and your product with its buyer.
Weaving in feeling is not just a “nice to have” option but the thing that’ll make your business story fly.
A case study, detailing a project from challenge through solution to outcome, becomes something altogether more compelling when, seen from the client’s point of view, it communicates the value of how working with you can transform a situation.
Pulling It All Together
In the interests of walking the walk, a story to finish on:
Back in August I was gathering material for homeless charity, St Petroc’s Society’s annual report. This included writing the main piece on volunteering – showing the stellar contribution made by the selfless individuals who complement the work of the charity’s core staff team.
Volunteers fundraise, organise events, cook Christmas dinners and man shelters but how can you show the difference they make? How about showing how they helped one St Petroc’s client?
The result was a short story entitled “Never Underestimate the Power of Cake.” It was about how a volunteer comes in once a week, bakes a cake in the Newquay hostel and leaves it cooling on the sideboard for the residents to enjoy when they come back in at the end of the day. It’s a simple act that has completely changed how one of the residents feels about himself:
“It’s not just cake – it’s that someone cares enough to take the time to do this for us.”
The cake has made this man feel he isn’t forgotten, he isn’t alone and that he’s still a part of a community. That boost to his self-esteem is what’s made him see that he’s worth helping. From that positively altered perspective St Petroc’s has been able to start working with him to help rebuild his life.
A story that makes us see ourselves in the St Petroc’s client – reflecting on what cake means to us (food for the soul as well as nutrition), how it’s something baked with love and care that can take us back to our younger selves when life may have been simpler – finds the sweetspot and gets the message across.
B2B or B2C? It’s always H2H
Whether it’s business to business, or business to consumer, it’s always human to human.
You’re always going to be looking to attract, interest and engage with people. People just like you, not merely prospects or leads to be converted into sales.
There’s always a story
So pay attention to the stories of your life. Chances are, if you learnt something from an experience, others will do too.
And remember if you can, this wonderful quote from the writer A L Kennedy: “better words mean more paths to the hearts of others.”