For sure, there has been lots of research in the art of storytelling and there are many experts in storytelling. I would not consider myself an expert, but a good practitioner of storytelling in everyday business life. As I have made good experiences with storytelling and observed how it can have an impact on people (and business objectives), I am going to share my personal experience today.
„Once upon a time…“
Do you remember being a kid and your parents were reading books to you? Back then, I guess you were already a great listener of storytelling. Most children are fascinated by listening to stories at an early stage in life, mostly before they can read themselves. Children understand the power of storytelling even before they start counting on their own. Why is that?
The recipe is simple: children’s books make most out of stories, so for parents it is easy to become great storytellers by simply reading the great stories in books. Children’s books are most often simply structured with a beginning (“once upon a time..”), a clear sequence of events (“one day…”), a logic in itself (“because of that…”) and an (most often happy) ending (“finally…”). Besides this, there are strong main characters and a powerful use of words to describe everything. Because children have such great imagination, children’s stories are strong with adjectives and describing the situation, so that children can relate to the story with their heart and imagine as if they were part of the story themselves.
Connect the brain to your heart
And this is what it is about: Storytelling has a great power of connecting the brain to your heart. Neuroscience proves that if a story connects to the emotional part of your brain, listeners will perceive it easier to follow the story’s content. This can be extremely helpful in business life. Most of the presentations I see and people I listen to, are great analysts and strategists. Hence, their powerpoint slides are often full of numbers and graphs, most often with a headline and some key messages on the chart. This is not bad – but it is also not great. The listener is overwhelmed with figures and fact. At the end, it will be very tough to remember what the presenter wanted to state. Most probably only a fraction of the facts presented will be remembered.
Working in sales for over 10 years now, I have made this experience very often. Especially when you talk to buyers and you only have half an hour to present the products and need to sell your idea for a promotion or a listing, you tend to put everything you have on slides. Afterwards, you end up with ten bullet points per slide across a 10 pages deck and maybe one picture of the product. The buyer will listen to such presentations ten times a day, and most certainly, he will only remember that your brand is market leader and there is this new product at more or less attractive margin. He might not remember what the brand, the product or you can do for him, his business, his consumers (which will be yours at the end as well if they end up buying your brand). Therefore, take your time to think in advance which story you would like to tell and what would be (good!) facts to support it. It is tough to concentrate on the most important facts and leave all other information out. But it is necessary to do so to make a real impact on the listener.
Think big, start small
Sometimes it is really helpful to look at your old children’s stories to build the same structure as mentioned above: easy sequence, strong characters, powerful use of “pictures” painted by using good describing words. At the end, it is all about connecting your listener’s brain to his heart. You will master it when you don’t even need powerpoint slides any more – just use some requisites to support your story and if needed, print outs of the most powerful facts. If you feel the need to use powerpoint slides, try to diminish the number of words, but make use of powerful pictures (google picture search can help here) and create the flow of your story with them. When you present, think in advance which are powerful words you can use to help connecting the brain to the heart. Starting small in that case can help. Imagine you were at the opera and you listened to a great singer. Afterwards, you would describe the singer’s voice to your friends as “a great singer with a fascinating voice”. Now think about this differently: which kind of words can be used to draw a better picture of how great you felt about his voice? “The singer had a voice as smooth as silk.” See the difference?
Have fun in trying it!
Laura Stupp is a passionate Sales & Category Management professional with broad international and DACH experience. After being with Procter & Gamble for more than eight years, she currently serves as Senior Manager Global Research & Category Manager for HARIBO Holding in Germany.