Secrets of Effective Storytellers

In this busy, complex and highly competitive world, capturing your customers’ or employees’ attention is tough, and keeping it even tougher. Effective storytellers gain a critical edge and develop mindshare and commitment by accessing their customers’ or employees’ imaginations, emotions, value systems, motives, memories, hopes, and fears. Using appropriate business stories to share insights or ideas, demonstrate capabilities, spark reflection or action can be a defining moment when customers or employees visualize their own situations.

Like many stories, the ancient fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood teaches the lesson: Don’t talk to strangers. This story’s power and imagery changed over time and inspired the attention of many, including the popular Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs’ song in the 1960’s.

Why do people like stories? Because stories are engaging and powerful!

Why Should You Consider Using Stories in Your Work?

• Stories use the past, present, and future to make a relevant point.
• Enable you to demonstrate humility and to relate to people in real terms and using their context
• Help customers and stakeholders grasp the meaning and importance of ideas, suggestions, and opportunities
• Are powerful in creating memorable impressions and vivid images
• Create lasting impact where memos, slide presentations, and mounds of statistics fall short
• Engage others because listeners can put themselves into the situations the stories describe
• Create an emotional connection and help to visualize a future state
• Offer a personal approach in a complex connected world

What Are the Elements of an Effective Story?

An effective story has a clear purpose and is linked to the broader purpose of the communication.

Compel the imagination.
Effective stories tap into people’s sentiments, emotions, feelings, empathy, and thoughts. Choose situations that tap into people’s imaginations and create meaning for them. Facts and data do not, in and of themselves, compel the imagination—unless they are presented in a compelling way and backed up with anecdotes/examples and stories.

Connect with others. Remember that people can see themselves in a truly effective story. This does not necessarily mean that they see themselves as, for example, the protagonist in the story, but that they can relate to critical aspects of the story.

Generate a new level of understanding. An effective story helps people create a new level of understanding about the topic; they think and feel things about it that they have not thought of or felt before. Often, you will find that if you insert a “surprise” or novel idea into the story, it will generate a new level of understanding.

What Are the Common Story Types?


These are the four most common story types to select an appropriate approach to engage your audience.

Bridging the Gap:
Used to demonstrate how a problem was solved, paint a compelling picture of a future state, and communicate business impact

Analogy: Used to explain complex or new ideas, as a Cautionary Tale, when decision making is slow or stalled

Evidence/Results: Used when others are skeptical, when proof of results is needed, and to communicate business impact

Hero’s Journey: Used to show progress over time, appeal to emotions and show how challenges were overcome

You can Do It!

Developing and telling stories is a process; skills develop over time and confidence is as important as capability. Effective storytellers are also effective story developers and presenters. They take time to profile their audience and understand their context and specific needs. They have confidence from knowing their audience and have the ability to choose relevant stories that prompt customer action or provoke the desired feeling.

The best stories can be reused many times and mature in their telling. Solicited feedback from your audience, colleagues, and sponsors is critical to this process, and how it’s used to update your story to make it more effective and authentic. Using this cycle approach helps create and tell impactful stories that resonate with your audience, and compel them to action—that’s when you know you have developed mindshare and secured real commitment.

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