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The Anatomy of Excellent Business Storytelling

Think about your favorite childhood moment. What happened? Who was involved? What did you like about it? How did you feel? You can probably recall the event in great detail.

Now think about what you did last Monday. I bet you are not really sure about what you ate, what you did, or who you talked to. That is because there wasn't a story or any emotions attached to it.  At the end of the day, we remember what we feel. 

Stories are memorable because they elicit emotions. Your prospects are more likely to remember a fact if you wrap it around a story. And that is exactly what you will learn in this post. Keep reading to find out more about the anatomy of excellent business storytelling.

What is business storytelling?

Business storytelling is a tool widely used in branding and communication (although it is extremely valuable for any other department) to convey a company's value proposition in a memorable way. It consists of using the structure and literary devices of a story combined with powerful data and visuals to strike the right balance between the emotional and logical aspects of decision-making.

Storytelling can help you sell to clients, persuade colleagues, engage employees, develop your brand narrative, and even gain a competitive advantage. It is also used to make presentations more memorable for your audience, and to make your product more charismatic to the end-user. And if you are selling to companies, you will need great b2b storytelling to make your product more exciting.

The anatomy of excellent business storytelling

Learning the traditional structure and ingredients of successful stories will equip you with the right tools to craft your own. To maximize impact and design a well-crafted story, you will want to consider the following:

  • 1. Choose the right framing
  • 2. Outline your plot
  • 3. Use the rule of three
  • 4. Appeal to emotions with "Show, Don't Tell"
  • 5. Add power

1. Choose the right framing

Message framing consists of choosing the context and approach to craft your message. It is about designing a story for a specific person, employing the right tools to convince them. It is not only what you say, but also how you say it. Compelling business stories adopt the right angles to attract their audience: "It contains 20% fat" is technically the same as "It is 80% fat-free". However, the latter will sound more enticing to those who are seeking to lose fat.

Understand what makes your audience tick and frame your whole story according to it. 

TW Persuasive Writing - Cartier Workshop - Session 1 [June 28, 2021]  (2)

2. Outline your plot

Outline your plot structure before your start writing. Start from the end and connect the rest of the narrative to it. Think about the first plot point in your story. What is a plot point? It is a major shift or event in your story that leads to the central conflict, breaking away from the status quo. It should be placed correctly (if it comes too late, your story will sound boring; if it comes too early, it might feel rushed and the audience might not connect with the characters).

Improve your storytelling skills with a teacher

To set up your plot point, change your character's surroundings (how is the situation different from their everyday life?). Make sure you add emotion to it and emphasize how the consequences are urgent or serious. Think about what failure means in your story (what happens if it doesn’t work?), and focus on the emotional aspects of the failure. 

In Star Wars, for instance, Luke Skywalker’s discovery that his aunt and uncle have been murdered provides him with an emotional reason to accompany Obi-Wan to Alderaan.

Outline your story following these steps:

  • End. What’s the end of your story? How does that connect to the rest?
  • Plot. What’s the first plot point? Where will you place it? How will you add emotion?
  • Consequences. How will you emphasize the possible consequences?
  • Challenges. How will you describe the challenges? How will you invest the audience in the struggle? And in the outcome?

3. Rule of three

When it comes to business storytelling, your main goal is to persuade, and although decision-making can be heavily influenced by emotion, appealing to logic is crucial. You need to convince your audience by using logic or reason. To make your pitch more memorable, try using the rule of three. 

Rule of Three - Business Storytelling - TalaeraGrouping things in threes seems to almost magically make them more memorable (omne trium perfectum). When explaining reasons, stats, hurdles in your story... Choose 3 as the magic number.

Examples:

  • Some of our strongest markets are Colombia, Israel, Canada, Brazil, China, and Costa Rica. → Rule of three: Some of our strongest markets are in America, the Middle East, and Asia.
  • To achieve our goals, we will need time. Since it is quite challenging, we will need to make a big effort and be determined.→ Rule of three: To achieve our goals, we will need are time, effort, and determination.
  • We plan to become a more socially responsible firm. For that, we want to be more committed to fair trade and ensure that the energy we use is clean. We also need to be more sustainable.→ Rule of three: To become a more socially responsible firm we want to be more committed, sustainable, and clean.

4. Appeal to emotions with Show, Don't Tell

Appealing to emotions will make your story more memorable. Once you have selected the right perspective for your audience (message framing), use the Show, Don't Tell technique to appeal to emotions.

Show, Don’t Tell is a writing technique that consists of telling your story through sensory details and actions, rather than spelling out what is happening. Although telling your audience might be quicker, showing will draw your audience into your narrative and make it their own. To do that successfully, consider the following steps:

  • Consider the surroundings. From "I walked through the forest. It was already fall and I was getting cold" [telling] to → "The dry orange leaves crunched under my feet as I pulled the collar up on my coat" [showing].
  • Look for highs and lows
  • Add sensory words (see image below)
  • Introduce characters through actions 
  • Move from abstract to concrete
  • Mention the effect of emotions.  From "He is sad" [telling] to → "His lips are trembling and he’s got watery eyes" [showing].

TW Persuasive Writing - Cartier Workshop - Session 2 [June 30, 2021]

Gillian Flynn does a very good job at showing. We took a passage from her book Gone Girl, and this is what telling can look like:

  • Telling: "When I woke up, the pillow was warm. I didn’t want to think about what happened, so I tried to think of something else. I could hear that Amy was making breakfast downstairs because she was making lots of noises."
  • Showing: "My morning breath warmed the pillow, and I changed the subject in my mind. Today was not a day for second-guessing or regret, it was a day for doing. Downstairs, I could hear the return of a long-lost sound: Amy making breakfast. Banging wooden cupboards (rump-thump!), rattling containers of tin and glass (ding-ring!), shuffling and sorting a collection of metal pots and iron pans (ruzz-shuzz!). A culinary orchestra tuning up, clattering vigorously toward the finale." –Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

No doubt that Dickens also masters the art of Show, Don't Tell:

  • Telling: "Oliver reached London. It was dirty and crowded."
  • Showing: "A dirtier or more wretched place he had never seen. The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours. There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade appeared to be heaps of children, who, even at that time of night, were crawling in and out at the doors, or screaming from the inside. The sole places that seemed to prosper amid the general blight of the place, were the public-houses…" –Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

5. Add power

"I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter." — Blaise Pascal (The Provincial Letters)

Let's not forget that we are talking about business storytelling. Your story should appeal to emotions, but it also needs to be powerful and show credibility. Adding power to your story can be achieved through clear, concise sentences. Writing clear, concise sentences will help you communicate effectively with the reader, make your story more persuasive, dynamic, and interesting, and will ultimately show credibility. You can learn more about concise writing here, but here are some hints: 

Remove all the unnecessary words

  • It is possible that they decide to hold another meeting to talk about the matter of bonuses at the end of the year [wordy] →They might decide to meet again to discuss bonuses at the end of the year [concise].
  • Neil was looking at his computer with stains on the screen and then moved his back so that it touched the back of his chair, which was rather comfortable [wordy] →The Neil looked up from his dirty computer and leaned back in his comfortable chair [concise].

Use strong verbs

  • They ran quickly. → They sprinted.
  • The robber’s entry into the house was quiet. → The robber sneaked into the house.
  • Their team used our app to make customization faster and more efficient. → Their team used our app to streamline customization.

Improve your storytelling skills with a teacher

Do not start with “there” or “it”

  • There was a woman waiting for him at the door → The woman at the door was waiting for him.
  • It was dark when the burglar broke in. → The burglar broke in on a dark night.

Avoid overusing the verb "to be"

  • The team leader is knowledgeable about our new tool being launched soon. → The team leader knows that we are launching a new tool.
  • While it is crucial for us to speak out on behalf of the company, it is important that we do so in a manner that is consistent with our own values. → We need to speak out on behalf of the company while staying true to our values.

Keep Improving Your Communication Skills

Mastering business storytelling will help you advance in your career. Strong communication skills are fundamental to selling, persuading, getting promoted, and even bonding with coworkers. At Talaera, we specialize in helping non-native English speakers boost their business communication skills. Our goal is to help professionals around the world reach their full potential through personalized, online training. Learn more here.

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