Storytelling in business – 5 real examples to learn from

storytelling graphic

Storytelling in business has become the new strategic business tool of presenters.

Professionals are overwhelmed with information and demand for our attention is at an unprecedented high.

We can all take solace in a good story well told

If you still believe that stories are the domain of the 4 year old at bed time or the war veteran reflecting on the sacrifices of war you are mistaken.

Everything is a story

The next time you attend that quarterly update or project review presentation ask yourself what you remember.

The long list of facts bullet points or that one short, powerful story which gave everything meaning.

I first realised the irresistible power of storytelling in a very profound way for myself over 25 years ago.

During a business trip to Japan, I had an epiphany with a rubber duck.

When I returned home a few weeks later I found myself sharing the story at a business conference to hundreds of staff.

The next day, two members of my team came to see me completely separately.

Both of them were holding a small rubber duck which they offered me as a gift in remembrance of my story.

It didn’t stop there

This continued for not only weeks and months but years.

Every time someone went on holiday and saw an unusual looking rubber duck they remembered my story and brought it home for me.

It was a story which was instrumental in playing its own small part in making a big difference to an ailing business.

Storytelling in business is a very powerful tool. There are many different types of stories to tell.

Here are just a few of my personal favourites.

1. Values based stories

Sometimes your audience will want to know exactly what you stand for. They will want to know what you believe in and what makes you who you are as an individual or business.

Shortly after launching Mindful Presenter I responded to an enquiry from a financial services organisation. The opportunity sounded like an exciting one. The idea was that we would begin working with the executive team first and then continue through to the rest of the business.

As a key part of our development work in ensuring that we tailor a fully bespoke training experience for our clients we send each of the delegates an online skills profile questionnaire to complete. On this occasion the very first questionnaire was completed by the managing director.

One of the key questions asked in the questionnaire was:

‘What would you like your audience to feel the moment you have finished speaking?’

The executive’s response to this very important question was:

‘I don’t care, as long as they do exactly what I tell them to do’

If you are familiar with our work at Mindful Presenter, you will know that we exist to help presenters to connect with others emotionally as well as intellectually.

Everything we  do in our business revolves around helping people to feel something

Reading the response from a senior executive was extremely disturbing.

Personally and  professionally, it created an instant conflict.

As a new business we were not in a position to turn business away especially one which offered the promise of a long term relationship. On the other hand, Mindful Presenter was created with very clear and very specific values.

This comment flew in the face of everything we stood for.

I politely declined to work with him or his organisation. It wasn’t a difficult a decision once we reminded ourselves exactly what we stood for.

Do you have a values based story your audience needs to hear to influence their attitude, mind-set or behaviour?

2. People matter stories

Sometimes in business we make people do things which offers no value but we still make them do it.

I was recently coaching a senior executive who came to me to help him to become ‘more engaging’ whilst presenting. It was clear at the outset that there were a number of issues revolving around his delivery. Whilst these required serious attention, interestingly one of the biggest issues was his content.

At Mindful Presenter we believe that everything you share with your audience must be completely relevant to them.

On this occasion given the complexity and detail of some of his content I challenged the executive on its relevancy to the his audience. He told me that his content was not at all relevant to at least 30% of his audience.

Shocked by his response I asked him why he would include it in his presentation .

His response was equally disturbing, ‘we’ve always done it that way’.

Do you have a story about something being done that you know shouldn’t be done?

3. Spark action stories

Imagine this:

A large oval mahogany board table with 10 senior managers comfortably seated around it in large leather chairs.

At one end of the board table a huge screen drops down from the ceiling.

At the same end as the screen and projector sits a laptop which each of the senior managers takes it in turn to use.

Each manager presents their update.

Facing the screen they read every single word from the slide to their 9 colleagues around the board table. They do not remove their eyes or attention from the screen once. They make no attempt whatsoever to engage with their audience in any way.

At the end of each presentation the presenter asks if there are any questions. The only person who has some is the most senior person in the room.

Each time I tell this story, it seems, many people can relate to it.

Do you have a story that sparks action?

4. Child insight stories

Despite their age, our children often carry enormous wisdom and offer extremely valuable stories for us to share. One of my personal favourites was the catalyst for me immersing myself in presentation and public speaking skills many years ago.

My son is all grown up now and working but I still remember his very first day at school.

He sat with his mother and I in the front row of the assembly hall listening to his headmaster give a 30 minute presentation. Less than 10 minutes into the headmasters speech, my son looked up at his mother and I with a tear in his eye and said, ‘Daddy this story is giving me a headache, what time will it finish’?

The headmaster was also giving me a headache

Worse still I realised that after the morning assembly I would be back at work listening to professional after professional giving me another headache in the form of a presentation. As if that wasn’t bad enough I recognised that I would probably be doing exactly the same to fellow colleagues.

My son made me realise then, all of those years ago that there must be another way to present our ideas.

Do you have a story from your family that others can learn from?

5. Stories about motivation

Many business presentations are designed to motivate, influence or inspire change or action in some form.

When that’s the case it seems to me that the most powerful story you could tell is the one that motivated or inspired you the most.

In my case it was a conversation I had with one of my very first bosses decades ago.

As a newly appointed supervisor  I remember my boss telling me everything I would probably ever need to know about motivation.  These were the words which have influenced my personal and professional life in countless ways for over 3 decades.

He said:

‘Maurice, the only thing you need to know about motivation is this; the only people who need to be motivated are the people who can’t see a future and that’s your job now as a leader, to help them to see the future’.

Do you have a powerful story about what motivates you that may help others?

Storytelling isn’t something to be reserved exclusively for children at bedtime it has a huge and incredibly powerful place in business presenting. Life is in fact one continuous story and we owe it to our audience to stir their imagination with the short, relevant and compelling stories that make up ours.

If you need help with storytelling in business:

– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.

– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.

– Get yourself some excellent presentation training

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