Storytelling for business audiences is a big topic, and there are a lot of variables.
However, there are some rules, or keys, to successful business storytelling that are useful in guiding your approach in just about any situation. The situations in which someone would use storytelling, or just storytelling techniques, are endless.
There is certainly not a one-size-fits all solution. But these five keys will cover the vast majority of business storytelling situations.
1. Know your audience
Any time you are communicating to an audience, especially if you are going to try to really engage them with some kind of story or even just an element of storytelling, you need to have a pretty good idea of what will resonate with them.
And the best, and only way to do that, is to know your audience. As much as possible.
This is easier for small, community businesses who see their customers every day, and are on a first-name basis with many of them.
They are more tapped into what their customers want and need, so it’s easier to keep things real.
For larger companies, who don’t have the luxury of being on a first-name basis with their customers and seeing them every day in the coffee shop, this is a challenge.
But it can be done.
Spend time with your customers. Talk with them. I’m not talking about surveys and research.
I mean talk with them. Find out who they are as people. What their fears and challenges are. What makes them happy. What motivates them.
It’s an ongoing process, that for most companies has no end in sight. But the more you can interact with customers outside the context of the sales transactions, the better prepared you’ll be to engage them with stories that will resonate with them, and that will allow you to enjoy the kind of relationship Jen enjoys with her clients.
2. Embrace your purpose
When you think about the purpose of your business, I can almost guarantee that at the heart of it is some kind of customer problem or challenge. Your purpose is to help that customer solve that problem or meet that challenge.
So they can live better lives, do their jobs better, save time, save money, or enjoy some other larger benefit.
A lot of companies see their purpose as selling their products or services. But it’s deeper than that. It’s about the impact your products and services have on the people who buy and use them.
Whatever it is, when you embrace your business purpose, and know the impact that you have on your customers, beyond your products and services, you have the basis for powerful storytelling.
3. Be curious, vulnerable & brave
This is a three-in-one, but I think they’re related because they all have to do with how you find the right stories to tell, and how you approach them.
In any kind of business or professional endeavor, you’re surrounded by stories that you may not even know about. The same is true for nonprofits, educational and other institutions. I’d say that’s especially true for those organizations.
Every customer, every employee, every person you serve or who interacts with your company is a potential resource for a really compelling, human dramas that will engage your audiences. You just need to find them, and that requires curiosity.
As a company, an organization, and as an individual, you have to put yourself out there. You have to be willing to lay bare your flaws and imperfections, and show the world who you are and how you think.
That’s difficult for a lot of people. It’s difficult for me. You want to show the world how good you are. You don’t want people to see your mistakes and blemishes.
But, that’s what makes you human. Even as a company, because after all, what is a company but a collection of humans.
And that’s what your customers, your audiences are looking for. If you are authentic, real and vulnerable in your storytelling, people will trust you, and trust is really the most valuable currency you can have.
This goes hand-in-hand with the first two. You have to be unafraid to share your stories and your ideas, and put yourself out there for the world to see and pick apart.
I’ll use myself as an example. With this podcast, I’m sharing my view of the world of business, culture and communication.
When I hit publish, I’m taking a risk. I have no idea how the ideas will be received. People might think I’m full of it, or I’m off-base. And in some cases, maybe I am.
But in the act of sharing my ideas and stories, I’ll learn more about their efficacy, and I’ll continually get better in my approach.
You can’t wait for perfection. You have to put your stories out there. Without fear.
4. Look for the emotional angle
As humans, we’re drawn to stories. Stories, by their nature, contain some kind of human emotion. When we are exposed to those stories, we have a reaction in our subconscious that makes us pay attention.
When we see emotional messaging and stories, we are then more receptive to further messaging.
Sooner or later, when you’re selling a product or a service, you need to get to the facts and logical reasons for why your product is better.
But if you lead with that, you’ll never get the attention of your audience. Find the emotional angle in your stories – a real one, not contrived or over-stated – and you’ll stand a better chance of connecting with your audience.
5. Use your voice
This one might be the hardest. But it’s imperative that when you’re telling your stories, or simply communicating to your audiences in any way, that you have a distinctive, authentic voice.
What does that mean?
Too often the temptation is to use dull language that is meant to not offend, instead of connecting with people. Or worse, companies fill their communication with jargon and corporate speak.
But that’s not how people like to be talked to and communicated with. Taking that kind of tone undermines any trust we might have, and we tend to tune it out and roll our eyes.
We’re human beings, and we prefer to be talked to accordingly.
So as a company, an organization, or an individual, find your unique, authentic voice, and use it.
So there are my five keys to successful business storytelling. Take these as a general guide to shaping your communication and storytelling.
Not all of them apply to every situation, but perhaps you can take something from at least one or two of them to make your communication better, and to use storytelling to form connections and relationships with your audiences.