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10 Things You Should Always Do When Working with Storytelling

You and you alone have total control over using storied approaches in your daily interactions with others, whether at work or in other social interactions. Here are ten easy things you can do to incorporate them into your work, no matter what you do.

Replace questions with story prompts

When you desire more specific information than a yes/no response, transform the questions you were planning to ask into story prompts to gain richer context around an issue, problem, or need and to more deeply and quickly develop rapport. Questions only allow sense-making to occur; stories provide the opportunity for meaning-making to occur, for both the teller and the listener.

Listen delightedly

When you hear a story — and your time allows — listen delightedly to it. That means no interruptions while it’s being told. And it means following up with thoughtful inquiries that get the person to delve into the meaning of the story for themselves. Remember to thank the person for sharing the story with you.

Log stories

Keep stories of your own experiences handy. Include situations involving your organization and its staff, prospects, and customers. If you want to communicate compelling stories, you first need to capture a few notes about them — and then the raw version of them when your time allows. Catalog them based on their key message, any themes and related layers of meaning in the story, and any other identifying characteristics that are important. This makes finding them easy.

Bring stories back to the forefront

There are two different types of back stories: those from consumers that build their reputation and yours and those inside your organization that speak to what makes it tick, what challenges it’s faced and overcome, and product and service life-cycles. Both types of stories are often hidden. Bring them forward, especially for marketing and branding purposes. They are also useful in organizational change.

Use structure to critique the story

There are many types of story structure. When you first capture the raw version of a story, allow it to talk to you. It will tell you which structure seems to fit best. After you take a story from raw to first draft, use this structure to identify which elements may need to be added to it. You may also need to switch the order of some of the content.

Go from raw to compelling in your story

Turning a draft of a story into a compelling one means getting clear on — and strengthening — its core conflict, unfolding the story arc that surrounds it, bringing characters to life, adding inner and outer dialogue, adding drama and contrast, using lots of sensory information, and paying particular attention to the opening and closing content. Craft a story as though it were being told orally.

Practice and be flexible

Practice a story alone and also in a story lab, with at least one other person. Doing both allows you to embed the story in your memory and get input on what works and what doesn’t. At the same time, be flexible so that when you tell a story in the work setting, you can shift it based on the reaction of the person or people who are listening to it. Easy to say . . . and hard to do!

Tell a story

Have a difficult concept to relay? Trouble voicing how a conflict could be successfully resolved? Or getting someone to take action when they haven’t done so and the need is urgent? Search your personal experiences and hip pocket stories for one that has a key message that fits the situation. Then tell it. For maximum impact, go beyond simply sharing an example or narrating a sequence of events.

Find ways to use story triggers

What symbol or object would help people who hear your story recall it and keep you at the forefront of their mind? Is it something you can give people as you tell the story or afterwards?

Think about this for the projects, teams, or sales activities you’re involved with. If you give out a tchotchke, how can you attach a story to it so it triggers recall of you, the story, its key message, and action steps when used or seen by a prospect or customer in the future?

Co-create the future through story

Jay Heinrichs, in his “blame, values and choice” model says that focusing conversations on the past cause people to blame each other. Focusing them on the present moment may cause conflicts related to values to arise. Only when dialogue speaks to the future does arguing diminish, because choice arises. Future, vision, and dream stories all focus on the future. Co-create them with others to gain commitment to changes and the sorts of actions you’re wanting to spark.

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