The Power of Business Storytelling : Part 1

April 19, 2015


The year is 1748; British Aristocrat John Montague, who was the 4th Earl of Sandwich, Kent, invested the majority of his leisure time to play cards. He loved gambling so much that he didn’t want to stop and lay down his cards, not even to eat; but he enjoyed eating a snack using one hand whilst playing. One day, his servants called him for dinner, but he refused to come and yelled at them: “put meat between two pieces of bread and bring it to me!”… and this is how the idea of the sandwich was born. To be accurate, the sandwich existed beforehand, but was considered to be lower-class food. It was the Earl who gave it its noble status and its name.

Do you know what the interesting thing about this story is? You are almost certain to remember how the sandwich was invented, and it will be much easier for you to do so after learning about it through a story, and not through a bullet-point presentation.

During 65% of our time, we speak informatively about who did what and why. In other words, we tell stories. Even when we update a colleague who was abroad about the board meeting they missed, our tendency is to tell them who said what, who replied, who dared to ask… why? Because it is the best way for our brain to encode the message as experiential and remember it for the long term.
For over 27,000 years, since the discovery of the first cave paintings, storytelling serves as one of the basic interpersonal communication methods. This was the way information traveled between people and over generations. The last decade brought a new understanding to the business world: effective interpersonal communication lies at the way in which information is transmitted. This is how the “business storytelling” technique was born.

So what is “business storytelling” anyway?

Business storytelling is a method for delivering messages, whether to potential clients, board members or employees, in a way that presents events alongside facts, numbers and data while still emphasizing imagery that the audience can imagine and feel. The essential elements of business storytelling are plot, characters and the point of view of a main narrative. Additionally, every story should be made out of 3 parts: an opening, a middle and an ending. The idea is to be the director of our own message and turn it into a movie in our listener’s mind. Not just any movie, but a blockbuster; one they won’t forget and will recommend to all their friends. By doing so, we will succeed in connecting our audience to our message and assist them in identifying with it. From this point forward, the road to internalizing and implementing the message is much shorter.

What are the advantages of business storytelling? How does it benefit us?

One would assume that in a world driven by technology, in which success is measured by the ability to predict the next trend, the value of a story would be lost. In reality, however, storytelling is gaining stronger momentum than ever before. It is precisely because of this information overload we experience at any given moment, that stories become more memorable, unique and worth our time.

• More memorable: Studies show that a story is 22 times more effective for memorizing details than a dry presentation of facts (according to Shawn Callahan, a pioneer and leader of the business storytelling technique). Have you seen Steve Jobs’ famous commencement speech at Stanford University? What do you remember? The stories! The one about him being adopted and his parents wanting a daughter, the one about dropping out of college and being broke, the one about getting fired from Apple, the company he himself started, the one about his illness… you get the point.

• In a competitive market, a story helps you highlight what you have that your competitors don’t. No business / product has the same story as yours; it gives you personality and your own DNA. Your story helps your audience to learn about you, get to know you and feel more involved – which leads to a higher sense of belonging and commitment.

• 95% of decision-making processes are based upon the irrational level. Touching stories, which create an emotional connection, are better able to persuade and affect than can facts and numbers.

• One of the main challenges in delivering business content is explaining complex ideas or procedures in a simple, easy to understand manner even to those who come from a different professional field. Storytelling allows simplification of complex ideas or products by the use of personification and universal details, such as time, circumstances, plot, conflict and resolution.

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