Storytelling for strategic, business purposes is a big topic, and I can’t claim to be an expert. But over the course of producing this podcast, I’ve learned a few things. In this episode, I share my thoughts on how you can tell your stories. As I see it, there are 5 main keys to using storytelling to connect with your professional audiences.
In this episode of the Storytelling Companion, I reveal my 5 keys to business storytelling success.
This is The Storytelling Companion, Episode 11
I’ve mentioned a couple times now that the reason I created this podcast is not to build a large, adoring audience. It’s not to gain widespread recognition and have clients beating down my door.
It’s not to feed my ego by having my name on a on a production that gets global distribution.
Okay, well, those things actually were the underlying reasons for starting the podcast.
But those things haven’t happened yet.
The reason I KEEP doing it. The reason I enjoy it so much, is that it gives me an opportunity to learn from smart, interesting people about how they connect with people. I can then share those insights with you, my loyal listeners.
But at the very least, it helps me to get better and smarter at what I do.
Storytelling for strategic, business purposes is a big topic, and I can’t claim to be an expert. But I can do my best to learn.
In this episode, I’d like to share my thoughts on how you can tell your stories. As I see it, there are 5 main keys to using storytelling to connect with your professional audiences.
Before I get into this, a caveat.
The situations in which someone would use storytelling, or just storytelling techniques, are endless. So there is certainly not a one-size-fits all solution.
However, I think these five keys will cover the vast majority of business storytelling situations.
Also, I reserve the right to amend this list, adding to it later, maybe subtracting from it. Like I said, this is a lifelong process.
Okay, enough already. Here are my five keys to business storytelling success.
The first is… Know your audience.
This one is pretty much universal, immutable, infallible.
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.
If you go back and listen to Episode 2, in which I interview Jen Jones, who owns New Love City, a Brooklyn yoga studio, you know what it means to know your customers.
She knows them. She sees them every day. She walks among them. She is them.
She knows what’s important to them. What they like and don’t like. What sets off their BS alarms.
She uses this innate knowledge of who her clientele is to keep things real with them. She celebrates her customers, keeps things transparent and authentic. And her customers love her for it.
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.
The second key to business storytelling success is…Embrace Your Purpose.
In the most recent episode, I spoke with Scott Morris, the Real Estate broker from Los Angeles who incorporated social purpose into his business. What he does is he contributes a portion of his commission to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and/or a charity of his clients’ choosing.
In this case, that’s not what I mean about business purpose. Not entirely anyway.
What Scott has done is layer social purpose on top of his normal business of buying and selling homes. But his real purpose is just that, helping his clients get the best deal possible when buying or selling a home.
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.
Right now, my car needs an oil change. When I take it to Firestone, they will serve the purpose of changing my oil. But they’ll also inspect the car and make sure the brakes are in good shape, that the tires have life left in them, and so forth. Their purpose is making sure my car is safe and lasts longer.
The business purpose might be as trivial as selling a sweet treat in the form of a candy bar, or as profound as developing medical devices that save lives.
Sometimes, a social or altruistic purpose can be woven into the business, or layered on top of it, as in the case of Scott Morris.
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.
The third key to business storytelling success is…be curious, be vulnerable, be brave
Okay, I’m cheating here a bit. This is kind of 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.
We’re up to the fourth key, and it is…Look for emotional angle
A few years ago, I was working with a client, who shall remain nameless, to write a series of articles for them.
Their product was highly technical. It was cutting-edge technology at the time, and it solved an important problem that affected millions of people in developing areas around the world.
In my articles, I focused on that human aspect. I tried to bring forward the human, emotional element of the work they did, and how their technology literally saved people’s lives.
They would have none of it. They wanted to focus on the data and the facts. They wanted to talk about how their technology worked.
They wanted to talk about themselves.
They told me I didn’t know how to write for business, refused to pay me, and that was the end of that relationship.
Again, I won’t say who this company was, but I guarantee you never heard of them. But maybe, if they were open to telling a human, emotional story, you might have.
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.
Any my fifth and last key to successful business storytelling is… 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?
Well, for Erica Suter, who was a guest in episode 5 of the podcast, it meant being who she is. She uses colorful language and pop culture references and humor. She’s not afraid to be who she is, and her audience loves her for it.
Again, I admit this is harder for a company.
But 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 you have it! Those are my five keys to successful business storytelling. These keys are universal and enduring, until such time as new ones come along to replace them.
Seriously, take these as a general guide to shaping your communication and storytelling. Not all of them apply to every situation, but it’s my hope that 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.