Business Storytelling

Leaders be they CEOs, Prime Ministers or Coaches of an AFL Football team are often great story tellers. They use stories to convince their investors of a strategy, to align their employees to a vision, and motivate their players to succeed.

However, many leaders don’t see what they do as storytelling. They are focused on getting a message across or a statement out or making sure every single dot point that represents their company performance in the last quarter appears on the slide.

When I first started working in communications no-one referred to what we did as ‘storytelling’. It was about advertising or media engagement or internal communications. After all, how could I be a storyteller. I worked in business and wore a suit, and my job was serious. I was responsible for the CEO’s message to employees, and providing a quarterly update, and on some days managing an important issue that posed significant risk to the company.

Many leaders and executives similarly don’t see their role as story tellers. They perceive the concept of telling a story as perhaps something confined to the classroom, or to the big screen. For those who are brave enough it might even be something they imagine themselves doing on a Remington typewriter over the summer while looking out onto the waves smashing the shore.

Storytelling – bah!

Despite this, when leaders use storytelling techniques to influence an audience their message is more likely to resonate. Their audience is more likely to remember what they were saying. And their ability to persuade and influence is greatly enhanced.

Telling stories is what good communicators help a business do. Telling stories, telling the right stories and telling them better. It wasn’t until mid-way through my career that I realised that this is what I was doing, and that it was something I enjoyed immensely.

More important than whether I liked my job or not was that telling stories was important to the company, if told well they can create an impact and deliver change that is needed amongst the audience listening.

When leaders reframe their role in business communications in this way, how they approach their own communications becomes vastly different. It becomes less about getting a message out there through whatever medium you happened to choose on a particular day, and more about delivering an outcome. And when leaders start thinking about outcomes and objectives the practice of telling stories becomes strategic in its own right.

But good storytelling is not easy. Just ask the thousands of authors who have plied their trade for years without success. Good story telling takes an audience on a journey. It often has a conflict that needs to be resolved. It may have heroes and villains. It also requires a good narrator that takes their time to clearly tell the story rather than rushing to the end or confusing the listener with so much data and facts that they become bored or lose the plot.

And more than anything, a good story requires leaders to invest time in not only telling the story but creating it. After all the stories you tell will always be a reflection of you, not the communications team helping you prepare. If you start with this first principle in mind you will be 10 yards ahead of your competitors before the whistle blows.