Storytelling school

Forbes India – Storytelling: not just good old practice

To drive action, a storyteller must tell the audience what the current state is, why it is insufficient, and paint a picture of the promising future state. Image: Shutterstock


The human brain likes to structure, store and retrieve information in the form of stories. Perhaps for this reason, stories of different gods, kings, rulers, and animals are used to shape children’s behaviors, cultural norms, and core values. Nowadays, storytelling has also become an essential skill in the business world. Stories work in business because audiences may not want to hear hard facts, but they pay attention to the information the stories convey, which also establishes an emotional connection.

Let me give you an example. If a company says we have great customer service, customers won’t feel anything special. But if the same company shares stories about the privacy of its customers, the public will understand that the company will do anything for its customers. As a result, the company’s reputation for excellent customer service will increase, the loyalty of existing and new customers will increase, and profits will increase.

Just in case you weren’t leveraging stories for your business, by now you’ve understood the importance of storytelling and may be considering hiring a storyteller. But remember one thing, the way you prefer a medical specialist to generalists to deal with the complexities of health, you need a business storyteller rather than a general content writer to write a story of significant business. Let me share with you some tips that would help you choose the right fit:

Intellectual curiosity
Outside storytellers wouldn’t understand your business as you know it, but do they have any interest in knowing your business? Have they tried to find out more about your business through news articles, website content, YouTube videos, etc. ? Do they show a desire to learn more about your business when they meet you? Suppose a storyteller does not have an open mind and intellectual curiosity. In this case, they might not be able to understand the context behind the circumstances, and there is no exciting story without context.

Business understanding
A corporate story is not about a controlled creative world; it is about the uncontrolled real world where various factors such as business models, industry trends, organizational culture, and market competition influence the story arc. A storyteller should gather accurate facts and convey a fair and reliable context. If you don’t want an incoherent or superficial story, look for subject matter expertise and not just excellent writing skills in a storyteller. To help you visualize, let me give you some examples of the background of the people behind some famous business stories. Nearly 80% of cases used in business schools around the world are developed by Harvard Business School professors. The author of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, Brad Stone, is editor of Bloomberg News’ global technology group. Jim Collins, the author of books like Good to Great, trained as a consultant at McKinsey and a teacher at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Knowledge of story structures
There can be business stories around several scenarios such as a market leader defending their market share, a start-up battling with a market leader, building/transforming the culture of an organization, the social impact of a company, how a company managed to survive difficult economic times, how a company developed a new market strategy, etc. A good story is not just a timeline of events; it weaves events into a well-designed structure. In his book on storytelling, Christopher Booker has beautifully explained the seven basic story plots – defeating the monster, rebirth, quest, rags-to-riches, journey and return, comedy and tragedy. An experienced storyteller understands the structures of various types of stories and applies them according to the scenario.

Ability to connect numbers and stories
Numbers lend credibility to a business story. But, it’s hard for the public to look at the numbers and make sense of them. Thus, a storyteller must frame the context around the numbers and make them understandable. Aswath Damodaran, a professor of finance at New York University’s Stern School of Business, once mentioned that he valued Uber at around $6 billion in June 2014. His entire valuation was built around its history according to which Uber is a city car service company. However, one of Uber’s investors, Bill Gurley, told him that Uber is not a car service company, it’s a logistics company. Next, Gurley said Uber is not just urban, it will be everywhere. As the words describing the company changed, the valuation increased dramatically. If you want to look for living examples of storytellers using numbers with stories, look at the characters Peter Brand in the movie Moneyball and Larry the Liquidator in the movie Other People’s Money.

Audience understanding
To drive action, a storyteller must tell the audience what the current state is, why it is insufficient, and paint a picture of the promising future state. Usually, customers are interested in how your products and services will add value to their lives, investors are interested in how you will generate revenue and profit, and employees are interested in their work-balance. personal life, salary and job security. If you just give them the information, they might forget it the next day. But if you provide them with a story, they will tell it and re-tell it to others. A storyteller starts with a deep understanding of your audience and making sure the story has meaning for them. Sometimes storytellers come up with several mini-stories to draw the audience in and help them understand why they should care before diving into the main story.

Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm, says, “The mistake people make is to think that history is only about marketing. No, the story is the strategy. If you improve your story, you improve the strategy. He believes that if you take the time to refine your story, you refine your thinking and the company’s strategy. If your strategy is key, the storyteller who works with you on your business story is also key.

The writer is author of “Booming Brands” and co-author of “Booming Digital Stars.”

The thoughts and opinions shared here are those of the author.

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