Wednesday March 26, 2014

7 sure-fire tips for powerful storytelling

The power of storytelling in business: Part 2

Are you sitting comfortably?

Then I’ll begin.

Storytelling in business should help you fulfil your business goals. Don’t get too caught up in the drama – this isn’t Jackanory (showing my age here…a popular 1970s’ children’s BBCTV storytelling programme). This is stories, and they can, for example, be anecdotes, case studies or how-to’s, with a purpose.

Without stories we just have raw data – statistics, figures, dates – informative, sometimes necessary (not everything can be “storified”) just not as fascinating. Headstones commemorating the dead bear legend to the date they were born and the date they died, but it’s the dash – the vibrant lived-in dash – that holds what really matters, the story of their lives.

Sign pegged on a tent: will tell stories for beer

Here’s 7 sure-fire ways to help your stories work hard for you:-

1) Answering questions is good

A good place to start using storytelling is answering the question “why?” Businesses come into being because they’re plugging a gap in the market, they’ve identified an unaddressed need or they’re taking advantage of an emerging trend. There’s always a story in the “why” you’re there.

Taking it further, answering questions that your customers and prospects are asking you, is also great. It opens up conversations – the back and forth, the “social” of social media between a business and its audience.

2) Structure is important

A story needs to be structured. It needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end; or a challenge, action and transformation. Know your ending, what you’re aiming for, before you work out the middle.

If you’re stuck, try filling in the blanks (via Aerogramme Writers’ Studio, the folks who work for Pixar):-

“Once upon a time there was…Every day…One day…Because of that,…Because of that,…Until finally…”

3) Your audience, your priority

Always, always remember who you’re writing for or telling the story to. How many of us can recall being bored by the stock family tales told to all and sundry by relatives at Christmas? Make it interesting for, and specific to, your audience and don’t get too caught up in just what you find fun to do.

The traditional approach to brands telling stories, usually through advertising, was to cast the brand as the hero with the audience as the “damsel in distress.” The resulting narrative saw the brand rescue the audience. Far better to lose the “how great you are” and show how great your audience could be (with a little help from you), i.e. your audience as hero, you in a support role as mentor.

4) Keeping it simple

Concentrate on the essence of your story and the most word-saving, economical telling of it. Simpler is better and more immediate. Sometimes it can be enough for you to be mindful of your narrative and use anecdotes or brief insights to make your business come alive.

Andrew Mulhern is a photographer whose website showcases landscape images that immediately engage. He’s a professional who makes himself approachable with a single line about how his fascination with photography and the Cornish landscape started on the Cornish coastal path with just a phone camera. You can see the professionalism in the images but he uses the accompanying words to come across as someone his potential clients can identify with: his inspiration resonates with us.

5) Making characters count

It’s all about people: work from a real-life perspective but don’t be afraid to embellish and accentuate for effect. Make the people you write about easy to identify with. Challenge your characters, stack the odds against them, make them triumph and overcome.

By all means make your characters likeable, but never bland. You can never be all things to all people, so it’s far better to stake out your territory and show you know yourself and your audience.

Website designer Catherine McManus recently wrote a blog post about why she started her own business entitled “Not meant for the cubicle.” In the telling of her own story she reached out and showed how working for yourself doesn’t have to be an impossible dream (and, how she can help you make it come true).

6) Overcoming writer’s block

If you get stuck, think about the stories that you like in the general, wider world (films, books, TV series) and also the businesses that, in your view, are communicating well. Perhaps you’d like to channel the style of a Red Bull or Innocent brand? The parts that you like are those that resonate with you and are a part of you. Recognize them and make them work for you.

Most of all, get your stories or possible stories written down in a durable form – on paper, on your laptop or mobile. Don’t leave them in your head as perfect ideas that never see the light of day.

7) Never disappointing

Have you ever sat through a film and thought at the end – “that’s two hours I’ll never get back?”

Make sure your stories deliver on their original promise and fulfil their business goal, for example, show how with your help a customer was able to go on to greater business success.

The “jelly bean house”

Jellybeans heart

One estate agent I know suggests vendors differentiate themselves by doing something like providing viewers with a bowl of sweet treats to help themselves to while they walk around the house. Result? A house will be remembered and spoken of, as the “jelly bean house.”

So, make like the jelly bean house and use storytelling to become memorable.

If you’d like more help telling stories that’ll make you stand out in our noisy world, do get in touch or comment below to start a conversation.

Thanks to Anderw Mulhern and Catherine McManus for the inspiration; visit:
Andrew Mulhern, at
Catherine McManus at

(Images: iStock.)

2 comments on “7 sure-fire tips for powerful storytelling

  1. Pingback:

  2. Pingback:

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: