In this article you will learn everything you need to know about Business Storytelling.
What Is Business Storytelling?
Business Storytelling refers to the use of the story for the purpose of internal and external communication, collaboration and marketing. Storytelling can be used to persuade peers, to sell to clients, to develop new marketing narratives, and even to reposition the company amongst the competition.
The science of storytelling can be a powerful tool in the hands of business people, as it empowers them to transcend the confines and tropes typical of business speak, and to start breaking boundaries with a powerful narrative to support their message.
What Is Storytelling in Business Communication?
Storytelling can be especially powerful when used for business communication. The story arc lends itself to the polished form of advertising formats. A storytelling structure can be used also to organize conferences, talks, and conventions. The typical three-act schema can also enable powerful communication inside the company and can be used by managers dealing with change management and in HR.
Storytelling plays a role in institutional communications and in PR, where a well-constructed narrative can change the views of lawmakers and influence the public at large. Great leaders usually are also great storytellers because they know that ideas stick better if they are delivered in the form of a story.
How Can Storytelling Help in a Corporate Setting?
A profound knowledge of storytelling is an essential trait of the modern manager, of the innovator, of the smart marketing and communications officers, and of the HR department.
Storytelling in the corporate world can be used by companies while drafting press releases, preparing corporate presentations, creating content for the end users or for the employees. The outcome of any ad, article, presentation, video will be enhanced by the use of the right storytelling knowledge.
Why Is Storytelling Important?
Storytelling is as important as language, since it enables us to bind facts and ideas in a coherent, digestible way that helps us spread our agenda.
Storytelling is the most adopted and spontaneous form of human communication, as it exploits our natural curiosity and our instinctive desire to follow a story till the end. It also taps into our wish for coherence. Moreover, storytelling plays an important role because we get better at committing to memory what we understand not just rationally, but also emotionally.
How Do You Do Effective Storytelling?
The mastery of storytelling derives from the study of the basic three-act structure of most human narratives. This ever-present structure, when profoundly understood, allows us to construct any sort of narrative. It’s like having an infinite set of Lego blocks to build a story.
Once you profoundly understand the “traditional structure”, you can also learn how to freestyle and create your own structure for any medium.
How Can Storytelling Be Used to Communicate Ideas?
Ideas don’t travel far without a compelling story to support them. Storytelling can help in providing the right structure to tell an idea in such a way that the audience will relate to it both rationally and emotionally.
Storytelling structures are also suggestive of the fact that the new idea should become a daily fixture for the target audience, should be implemented in their day-to-day life and – if applicable – become a habit.
If you relate your idea through a story, you also increase the chances that your audience will use your story when they relate your ideas to third parties.
Why Are Stories Powerful Communication Techniques?
From an evolutionary standpoint, not much time has passed since the only form of entertainment was hearing stories around the campfire. Even today the advertising that captures us, the Facebook updates that we remember, the Instagram stories that make sense to us, are all focused on a story.
The most popular social format that is being adopted by all companies is also called “Stories”. That should give pause to anyone discounting the importance of storytelling in communications.
As long as we remain as human as we are, we can trust stories to be an almighty powerful communication tool.
How Do You Become a Good Storyteller?
What techniques do I need to learn?
There are two ways you can proceed: you can start from your favorite stories, presentations, and ads, and try to deconstruct the principles and learn the formulas of these stories.
Otherwise, you can go to the source and learn the principles of storytelling. The tools of the trade are The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell and The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Chris Vogler. They provide a story structure that is complex, multifaceted, and bulletproof.
There are many students of these masters, like me, that also provide coaching and training. Click here to get informed and join one of my next seminars on business storytelling.
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What Are the Methods of Storytelling?
The main method used for storytelling is the story arc. In simple terms you give your narrative a beginning (a hook), then you give it a dramatic evolution (a climax), and finally you bring it to a close (an ending).
Each storytelling moment gives you the opportunity to engage with your audience, to show your point of view, to get a dramatic and transformational moment, and then bring your ideas to a close in the ending.
What Is the Traditional Dramatic Structure?
There is one traditional dramatic structure, summarized by the three-act structure. We find this structure in Greek theater and in the latest Avengers movie.
This structure can be further divided into the 17 steps belonging to three acts of the Hero’s Journey as codified by Joseph Campbell. Next to the original name of each chapter you will see how this informs business storytelling.
- The Call to Adventure – Introduction
- Refusal of the Call – Motivation
- Supernatural Aid – The Reveal
- Crossing the First Threshold – Entering the Topic
- In the Belly of the Whale – Too Much Information
- The Road of Trials – From Chaos to Order
- Meeting with the Goddess – Access to Knowledge
- Temptation – Temptations and Errors
- Atonement with the Father – The Mastery of Knowledge
- The Encounter with Death/Resurrection – End of the Old Knowledge
- The Ultimate Boon – The Birth of the New Knowledge
- Refusal of the Return – No Way Back
- Magic Flight – Birds Eye View
- Rescue from Without – Actionable Takeaways
- Crossing the Return Threshold – Ready to End
- Mastery of Two Worlds – Perfect Mastery of the Old and the New Knowledge
- Freedom to Live – The Epic Wrap-Up
A simplified view of the Hero’s Journey can be found in the work of Christopher Vogel. This is geared more towards movie and book writers.
- Ordinary World
- Call to Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Meeting the Mentor
- Crossing the Threshold
- Tests, Allies, Enemies
- Approach to the Inmost Cave
- Reward (Seizing the Sword)
- The Road Back
- Return with the Elixir
At La Fabbrica della Realtà we have elaborated our very own Storytelling Mountain and during our courses we will help you climb it with ease.
- Tell your audience who you are.
- Tell your audience why you’re there.
- Tell your audience why they’re there.
- Transform your audience.
- Everyone reacts differently.
- Mark the most important concept.
- Provide a summary.
- Provide actionable to-dos.
If you wish to go into details of each of these steps check the Bonus section and I will provide examples for each of these storytelling moments.
What Is a Story Arc?
The story arc helps us locate where in the structure of a narrative we find ourselves. The form of an arc is especially good at describing the fact that we start on the ground, we get to great heights, and we land back on the ground at the end of our adventure.
Story arcs usually respect the three-act structure and follow the 17 steps of the hero’s journey. However, the order in which these features of the story arc appear can be shuffled around to follow the needs of the narrative.
Do I Need a Storyboard for Storytelling?
Storytelling can be visual, but it doesn’t need to be. You can tell a compelling story just by laying out your ideas along the story arc, without the need to draw out your scenes.
What Is Transmedia Storytelling?
Today almost everything is transmedia storytelling. By definition, it’s the use of different media, predominantly in an interactive setting, to tell a story.
If you open any social network, you will be the first to witness the combination of writing, videos, pictures, memes, animated gifs that form a collective (somewhat coherent) narrative. That’s transmedia storytelling in the most grassroots of expressions.
Transmedia storytelling can also be the carefully planned and executed juxtaposition of many different mediums on a website or in a video to tell your story.
What Are Some Great Storytelling Examples?
Let’s see three examples of contemporary storytelling.
“One more thing”: That’s the staple of Steve Jobs’s presentations. By leaving the best for last, he managed to end every presentation on a high note and hold the attention of the audience waiting for a final nugget.
“The TED personal story”: This is a formula used in the opening of most TED talks, where the speaker will relate something intimate and seemingly unrelated to the topic. This will then become a core element of the talk going forward.
“The joke”: Jokes are one of the most widespread forms of storytelling and are often used, especially in advertising. The joke has two components: the setup and the payoff. This is a perfect two-act structure in order to drive home a laugh, or just to break through to the audience and get their attention.
What Are the Best Storytelling Companies?
Tesla: This relatively new car company has captured the imagination of thousands of people by introducing models years in advance of production, calling their functionalities with evocative names like “Autopilot” and “Ludicrous mode”, polarizing with the speeches and acts of their founder Elon Musk.
Disney Pixar: Movies like WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story are the maximum expression of the power of stories. They hook 3-year-olds and 99-year-olds with the same passion by exploiting our lust for adventure, beauty, truth, and love.
Netflix: The streaming giant is using data from its users to generate interesting stories and introducing new concepts. Binge-watching was a consumer behavior observed among the platform data before becoming a global buzzword.
Look at this PR story for example: 2017 A Year in Bingeing
There are many more companies that create a narrative which defines their brand. Volvo: family and safety. Nike: freedom and an active life. Toyota: dependability and no frills. IKEA: simple design at a low price. Samsung: high tech for everyone.
How Is Storytelling Used in Corporate Communications?
Storytelling is often used to craft press stories that can travel and give visibility to the messages of the company. The story is used to make data more relevant and memorable and to drive the conversation.
Storytelling is also used when companies need to produce sales materials, presentations for conferences and conventions, and training materials.
How Do You Write a Business Story?
The vision and objective of the company must be clear in order to write a coherent business story.
The purpose of the story is to use the medium (video, text, slides) in order to drive the vision forward. Once this purpose is clear, the storyteller’s job is to find the elements that are most transformational for the audience. This means collecting facts, experiences, data and finding the connection between this material and the target audience.
Finally, the business story should follow one of the most common storytelling structures described in this guide.
Who Is the Corporate Storyteller?
Any individual can be a corporate storyteller as long as they grasp the principles of storytelling and they have access to the core message that the company wants to spread.
Ideally, corporate storytellers work in the communications and marketing departments. Some companies have expert storytellers in the CEO and CMO positions.
What Is Digital Storytelling?
Every media outlet benefits from storytelling, and digital is one of the most flexible spaces in our media landscape. For this reason, storytelling applies to all aspects of digital, starting from articles and blogs and ending with the latest social formats.
How Does Storytelling Apply to Marketing?
Storytelling is involved in most aspects of marketing. A brand can choose to tell their story in a humble or epic way through storytelling: this means putting the brand in context for the consumer and emphasizing the role of the company in the life of the consumer. This can have an effect on all marketing materials produced by the company.
The company may choose the consumer as the hero, and tell their stories. By highlighting how the brand is an enabler of life experiences for their consumers, the brand is lifted up and comes close to the needs of the users.
Overall, any good marketing material uses storytelling to a certain degree. Every payoff, every headline, every video ad follows the rules of the story arc and thus is an expression of storytelling.
How Can I Apply Business Storytelling to Sales?
Storytelling has the power to evoke sensations and emotions in the minds and souls of the audience. This is exactly what successful salespeople want to do to highlight the need or desire for a product or a service.
Storytelling can help sales teams set the stage, introduce the roles of the product/service, highlight the solutions, show the pitfalls of not having the product/service and the lasting benefits of living with the product/service for a long time.
In this sense, storytelling can help through the first engagements with the prospects, all the way to closing the deal.
Can Storytelling Help in B2B Sales?
What we just said about sales applies both if the company is consumer facing, and if the subject of sales are other companies.
The boardroom is the ideal “campfire” because it’s the theater of so many dry, fact-based presentations. By entering a meeting with a well-structured story to tell, you automatically set yourself at an advantage from your competition.
Can I Use Storytelling Within the Workplace?
Storytelling plays a role within the workplace, as it helps create better relationships and experiences. It also helps spread ideas.
Using narratives to manage conflicts: One of the basic skills that need to be introduced in conflict resolution is the ability to see the object of contention from different perspectives. Stories serve exactly that purpose and enable us to step into the shoes of our counterpart to see their point of view and start releasing the tension of conflict.
Using a narrative to interpret the past and shape the future: Storytelling techniques are used for change management and innovation each time the company needs to spread a new vision for the future, or needs their employees to make sense of an event that happened in the past.
Using a narrative in the reasoning process: The decision making that happens continuously in the workplace can be supported by embedding facts into narratives. This makes the facts more relevant, and easy to grasp and to remember.
Where Can I Find Storytelling Courses?
La Fabbrica della Realtà offers – among other topics – professional storytelling courses that dive deep into the principles of storytelling and give participants a rich toolbox of story elements, tactics, and pre-made narratives that can be used in all contexts of a business.
These courses can happen online or in person at your company location. Our coaches can travel to you and customize our workshops by focusing on specific aspects of storytelling that are more relevant to your sector or positioning.
What Should I Expect From a Storytelling Training?
A great storytelling course leaves you with a useful package of practical tools that you can use to craft an email, prepare a presentation, design an ad, and lead a meeting.
A course should transmit the ability to de-construct the story and understand its principles, and it should provide you with the principles that will allow you to create your own.
A storytelling course should highlight the types of archetypal characters we are most likely to relate with and the combination of story points that can make your narrative more relatable and understandable.
Finally, a great storytelling course should provide a universal set of tools that you can use to create stories in every medium: from writing to presentation, from photography to film.
How to Find a Storytelling Seminar
Storytelling seminars are offered worldwide by La Fabbrica della Realtà, both in the form of events open to the public and in private classes for teams and organizations.
Your next seminar could be just around the corner: check our dates and locations, or simply inquire to organize an in-house seminar.
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When Is World Storytelling Day?
World Storytelling Day is an international celebration of storytelling that takes place every year on March 20th. Born in Sweden, this tradition has spread internationally.
World Storytelling Day is a day to listen and to tell great stories. Each year a theme is chosen. Check next year’s theme on Wikipedia.
Bonus Content: The 17 Building Blocks of Business Storytelling
In this bonus section I explain all 17 steps of the business storytelling journey looking at them through the eyes of corporate narratives and with the help of movie scenes to better explain each step.
The Call to Adventure – Introduction
The protagonist of every story doesn’t wish to leave the comfort of her home or her life. She’s contempt in her skin, has friends, is well connected. Yet she receives a call.
Our business narratives need to reach our audiences. Yet these audiences don’t yet know about the journey they will soon make. They need a hint, an introduction.
Messages rarely reach their recipient without a little bit of struggle, as this famous scene from the original Harry Potter movie demonstrates very well.
Refusal of the Call – Motivation
As the message about a new adventure reaches our protagonist, she is adamant that nothing needs to change in her life: all is perfect as it is.
Our business narrative will also be judged as irrelevant, non-necessary, immaterial by our audience. This is why all our efforts will initially be focused on motivating our audience to even pay attention to the new narrative.
In movies even the most effective and motivated heroins and heroes refuse the call to adventure. As is demonstrated by Neo in this scene from the original Matrix movie.
Supernatural Aid – The Reveal
Those who prepare for an important journey need assistance. The heroin in our story is not ready to leave her world, but she receives an unexpected visit that forces her decision making.
Our business narrative could remain stale if we are not able to make it relevant to our audience: how will the world look like when our business story has come to fruition? Our boardroom story need a supernatural aid.
Sometimes this aid does not look like a helper, but rather like a hindrance. Case in point is the first encounter between Master Yoda and a rather restless young Luke Skywalker.
Crossing the First Threshold – Entering the Topic
The time has come for our protagonist to accept that the adventure has begun, that she walks in a new adventurous world with old shoes.
Our business narrative needs to start somewhere, we can’t linger on the introduction from much longer. We need to show our audience what would happen if our narrative went mainstream. We need to reveal what the journey is about. Nothing is going to be the same.
Old shoes, new shoes, old world, new world: none of these metaphors can find a better explanation that the one provided in The Wizard of Oz: “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore…”
In the Belly of the Whale – Too Much Information
New worlds come embedded with the pain of changing. Our heroin at first is crushed by the sheer amount of new lessons that are coming from left to right. The first reaction is sheer confusion. She doesn’t know which way is up.
Our business narrative faces similar perils. New ideas, concepts and principles need to encounter resistance before they are adopted. We wish to change our audience, and the same audience is confused about this change. Once we accept it we can start honing our message and cut through to our target group.
George Lucas hired Hero’s Journey author Joseph Campbell to help craft the Star Wars universe. This is why the confusion here is represented by the “mechanical belly” of a trash compactor, a direct reference of the belly of the whale.
The Road of Trials – From Chaos to Order
Our protagonist may be overwhelmed at first, but the confusion helps her focus on the goal. The adventure challenges her progressively, and she faces the trials one by one.
Our business narrative is starting to make sense. Each audience group will have objections to our proposed change. And for each change we will have persuasive arguments: this is how we will bring our audience from the chaos of too much information to the order that is needed to comprehend it and accept it.
Most movies feature trials and tests. Certainly one of the most memorable is that of Ripley in Alien.
Meeting with the Goddess – Access to Knowledge
Engaging with the trials gives our protagonist new powers. She gets closer to being able to understand the supernatural. This is why in the hero’s journey she is now ready to meet the powerful and all knowing Goddess.
Our business narrative needs to deliver a big revelation to our audience. They need to see the rational and the emotional elements of the transformative journey we are presenting to them. Once they can see the precise frame of our narrative, they can access its true nature in detail.
Our cinematic example is the encounter of the scruffy and likeable WALL-E with the almighty EVE and the start of their friendship.
Temptation – Temptations and Errors
The protagonist of our story is a human after all. And she will fall prey to temptation: specifically she will feel drawn to less savory aspects of the new world she’s exploring.
In the same vein once your colleagues in the boardroom know a little about your message, they will think they know it all. They will start to look for shortcuts. They will make assumptions that lead to mistakes.
There is no better example of temptation that the call of the “dark side of the force” in the Star Wars universe.
Atonement with the Father – The Mastery of Knowledge
Storytelling speaks to us through tropes and archetypes. This passage has nothing to do with your or anybody’s father. It’s a about gaining permission. Our protagonist has learned the theory the hard way through her trials, now she has to apply what she learned. But she can execute only if and when she finally gives herself permission to practice what she knows.
In the boardroom this means showing our audience the depth and breadth of the change we are inviting them to make. And we can only do that if we give ourselves permissions to master the topic.
For the cinematic example we are back in the Star Wars universe, where literally Luke needs to reconcile with his own father in a rather dramatic moment.
The Encounter with Death/Resurrection – End of the Old Knowledge
Like a phoenix our protagonist needs to die and be re-born from her ashes to finally give order to the new world she’s exploring.
In our business story we have spent a lot of time motivating, inviting, providing clarity. Now these moments need to compound and lead our audience to a moment of clarity. The old way of thinking is dead.
In cinema at this point the screen goes dark and we don’t know if our protagonist is alive or dead. It’s a split second visually, but emotionally it last much longer. Our example is rather gruesome one, coming from the seminal movie Fight Club. Viewer discretion is advised.
The Ultimate Boon – The Birth of the New Knowledge
Our protagonist can now show the world her new form, her new shape, her new power. She’s changed and she is free to use the her abilities.
In the business story this step is deeply linked with the End of the Old Knowledge. As this represent the victory of the message over the resistance of the audience.
The best example in cinematic terms is the ability that Neo gains in the original Matrix movie to sync his movements to the speed of bullets: “bullet time.”
Refusal of the Return – No Way Back
Our heroin is now in control in this new world. Why would she want to go back to the ordinary world of her previous (boring) life?
The situation in the boardroom is similar. In this case the speaker and storyteller is enjoying the talk too much and might linger too long on stage. The point has been made; it’s time to go back.
Sometimes in the movie the protagonists don’t believe that they road is clear for them to go home. Like in this short clip again from Star Wars.
Magic Flight – Birds Eye View
To understand that she has to make the journey home, the protagonist is shown the world from a new perspective: she’s taken on a flight.
In our business story this is the moment to take our audience flying above to topic, show them where the journey took us, how much they traveled. This is done by summarizing the key points of the business story to help our audience make sense and memorize them.
Flying is part of the exhilaration and clarity of the end of many movies. Here’s a montage of some of the most meaningful flights in recent movies.
Rescue from Without – Actionable Takeaways
The protagonist of our story needs a final nudge as she would want to linger in the adventure world. This nudge usually comes from a character we’ve known throughout the story but that hasn’t had a leading role until now. But they give an important gift of knowledge to the heroin and help her complete the journey.
In the boardroom and on stage this is a fundamental step: at this moment the story needs to become practical. Once your audience has made sense of the new concepts they should immediately be put into practice. I call this “actionable takeaways.” These are the next steps after a meeting, but also the instructions on how to make the change last in the day to day life of your audience.
We are back to the Star Wars universe to see the hero Han Solo being rescued from being frozen in carbonite by Leia. Both remain captive for the moment, but it’s the initiative of Leia (who in the story is the one being saved) that represents the first step of Han’s liberation.
Crossing the Return Threshold – Ready to End
It’s time for our protagonist to step into the old, ordinary world where she comes from.
In the same vein it’s our time to end the presentation, step off stage, conclude the narrative and let our audience go back to their day, to their work but made stronger by the transformation we have brought through our narrative.
The best example is the return to the Shire of the fellowship of the ring. The young hobbits that left are very different from the ones that return.
Mastery of Two Worlds – Perfect Mastery of the Old and the New Knowledge
Finally our protagonist has find the strength to reconcile her two lives: the one she lives in the ordinary world, and the one that she experiences in the adventure world. She acknowledges her own power and her transformation is finally being recognized by her peers.
Our business narrative is over, we are now dealing with its consequences. We now debate, consult and exchange ideas with our audience. They now master both the old knowledge and the new knowledge brought by the business narrative and can best comprehend all the nuances.
A good example of this step is how all the characters in Lord of the Rings react to the the coronation of Aragorn.
Freedom to Live – The Epic Wrap-Up
Stories feed on conflict. Once the quest is over the attention of the audience diminishes. The only step missing for our protagonist is for us to see her free to continue her new life.
In the same way we have the duty to wrap things up, gather feedback and let our audience on their way an onto the rest of their (work) life.
A great way to conclude our journey is to see how Disney conceived both the climax, resurrection, rescue from without and wrap up of the movie Frozen.
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