Business Storytelling For Dummies book cover

Business Storytelling For Dummies

By: Karen Dietz and Lori L. Silverman Published: 12-04-2013

Ready to hone your storytelling skills and craft a compelling business narrative? 

Professionals of all types — marketing managers, sales reps, senior leaders, supervisors, creatives, account executives — have to write. Whether you’re writing an internal email or a social media post, a video script or a blog post, being able to tell a good story can help ensure your content resonates with your intended audience.  

Storytelling is an art, but there’s a method behind it that anyone can learn. Full of practical advice and real-world case studies, Business Storytelling For Dummies is a friendly, no-nonsense guide that will help you tell more engaging stories in your business presentations, internal communications, marketing collateral, and sales assets. 

Connecting with customers through storytelling can help you build trust with your audience, strengthen your brand, and increase sales. Look to Business Storytelling For Dummies to 

  • Learn the elements of storytelling and how to use them effectively 

  • Become a better listener to become a better storyteller 

  • Make your stories come to life with relatable details 

  • Back up your story with data points 

  • Use the power of storytelling to effect change 

  • Choose the perfect format to tell your story 

Startups, small businesses, creative agencies, non-profits, and enterprises all have a story to tell. Get the book to explore examples, templates, and step-by-step instruction and create your own compelling narrative to tell your story to the world. 

Articles From Business Storytelling For Dummies

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Business Storytelling For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 04-18-2022

Successful businesses have discovered the power of storytelling and its ability to affect the bottom line. A good way to start building your business stories is to use the time-honored storyboarding technique. There are usually a few ways to tell the same story — the one you choose may depend on the circumstances of the telling, the audience, your intent and goal in telling it, and other factors. Sometimes it can be a challenge to “pull” stories out of your organization so that they can be structured and polished for your purposes, and you may need to use story prompts to dig out the storytelling gold that exists in any company or organization.

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10 Things You Should Always Do When Working with Storytelling

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

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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Business Storytelling with Virtual Teams

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Telecommuting and working virtually across the country or even the globe are popular and often necessary today in many workplaces. You can use storytelling to reduce the distance among virtual team members. Story prompts and triggers can be useful in bringing out these stories. Here’s how: Get to know each other. One way to do that is through a “check-in” at the beginning of a meeting. Give each member 30 to 60 seconds to tell a top-of-mind anecdote in the phone call, followed by the words, “I’m checked in.” You can also have members share a photo as a story trigger. One leader who had team members worldwide ran a short slide show depicting photos from a family reunion prior to the start of a GoToMeeting conference call. As people signed on, they couldn’t help but comment on what they were watching and share stories about their own experiences. To strengthen personal connections, try these prompts: “Tell us about a recent outing you took. Tell us about a fun time that you recently had with friends or family. Tell us about the favorite part of your last vacation. Tell us about the most interesting thing that happened to you this last week.” Go deep into topics. On the meeting agenda, include story prompts that people can reflect on in advance. These could be about some aspect of a project that everyone is working on, an issue that needs to be resolved, or something about increasing effectiveness as a team. Make sure everyone knows how important their work is to the end results — and make sure everyone knows how to listen to these stories when they are shared. Stay connected between virtual meetings. Establish a group on Yammer or LinkedIn or Facebook or another company-approved site that allows team members to interact, share stories and photos about themselves, and coordinate work. Use Google+ Hangouts or other face-to-face technologies to swap stories and build relationships. Acknowledge achievements. When celebrating birthdays and major life events and offering recognition and rewards for work well done, share a story related to these achievements. By promoting the team in this way, you’ll raise the level of team member motivation. When your team does have the opportunity to gather together in person, make sure that everyone has a chance to share at least one story about them personally to strengthen relationships. Why connecting in the workplace is important According to the book Uniting the Virtual Workforce by Kren Sobel Lojeski and Richard R. Reilly (John Wiley & Sons, 2008) some virtual work environments can create highly dissatisfied employees and terrible morale due to virtual distance. Virtual distance is created when people rely way too much on electronic tools to communicate. When this happens, their research shows a 50 percent decline in finishing projects on time, a 90 percent drop in innovation, an 80 percent drop in work satisfaction, and an 83 percent drop-off in trust. What creates these disastrous results? Simply put: the lack of connecting and communicating in ways that promote stable and trusted relationships. What happens when businesspeople can connect When companies focus on reducing virtual distance, Lojeski and Reilly demonstrated that results skyrocket: Innovation increased by 93 percent, trust improved by 83 percent, job satisfaction by 80 percent, clarity about roles by 62 percent, on time and budget performances by 50 percent, and helping behaviors by almost 50 percent. Now that’s a case for business storytelling!

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How Data Can Enhance Your Business Storytelling

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Highly technical audiences like to know the science behind storytelling before accepting it as a core business practice. Sharing all kinds of data with them may be tempting, but would defeat your purpose of demonstrating how powerful stories can be. It’s not that you don’t want to share data — but you want to do it in a way that reinforces the fact that stories not only create understanding, they also create meaning and knowledge transfer. So you need to take the data and tell the story about it. Here’s an example — an exercise in storifying an academic research article called “Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication” by Greg J. Stephens, Lauren J. Silbert, and Uri Hasson (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2010). You can read the article itself. It’s not a perfect story (for example, there’s no character dialogue), but it contains many of the elements needed to turn narrative into a story, something like the following: It’s been hard for me to explain the power of storytelling in scientific terms to the business world. Only recently has research proven storytelling’s value without a doubt. As you can imagine, this has been quite an issue for a practitioner like me. For years, I’ve been hoping and wishing for scientists to take brain scans of what happens to people when one person is telling a story at the very same time that someone else is listening to the story as it’s being told. Guess what? A few years ago, my wish came true. Three scientists at Princeton University took brain scans of a storyteller sharing a story. At the very same time they took brain scans of a person listening to that same story. And they did this all in real-time. For the purpose of our conversation today, let’s say Joe’s the storyteller and Ann is the listener. As Joe was sharing a story, the majority of the areas of his brain lit up. Not just a small part of his brain, but a large part got stimulated by the story. As Ann was listening to the story, the majority of her brain also lit up. This happened really fast for both of them — it took no more than a nanosecond. Before you draw any conclusions, you need to know that there was one big difference between Joe and Ann’s brain. One additional area of Ann’s brain as the listener got activated. This was the part that anticipated what was coming next. This is one reason why storytelling is so enjoyable to listeners like Ann. Imagine her sitting the edge of her chair, wondering what’s coming next. What key points do these brain scans bring out? We now know that storytelling makes an immediate and powerful connection between two people. It stimulates the majority of the brain for both tellers and listeners. And we now know that story listeners are indeed engaged. This demonstrates both the complexity and the richness of storytelling as a communication vehicle. When I first read this article, I said, “Yes! Stories forge connections.” It validated my personal experience of what I’ve seen when stories are shared between people. I suspect it validates your experiences, too. It’s great to know that science is finally able to confirm why storytelling has been our preferred way of communicating for more than 100,000 years. If this research interests you, I’ve provided the link to the article so you can check it out and confirm how stories connect tellers and listeners —and read the other insights that this article offers. It’s my hope that you too will share with others what you discover. How can you do that? The following sections contain some tips. Make it personal Begin by sharing a personal experience about the information — something that others can relate to. You can share a frustration or a desire you want fulfilled. Avoid data dumps Notice the story shared the results of the article — not its statistics or numerical data. Sharing those would’ve made it longer and more complex, possibly losing the audience in the process. Find ways to do the same with your data. That being said, there are times when you do need to share some numbers — such as reporting quarterly bottom line results. If you have to share a lot of numbers, follow the next point. Make the data small and the story big Keep the amount of data you share in the right proportion to the story. You can even open with an interesting data point, as long as you spend more time sharing the story about the data right after doing so. Think about delivering your information this way: a piece of your story and then some data, the story of the research with a bit more data, and then ending your story with perhaps another small piece of data that supports the key message, if applicable. In this way, not only have you shared a story, but you’ve added in the most essential facts to help make your point. Make it easy on your listeners Interpret the data for listeners. Tell them what it means and why you think it’s important. Sharing your story of the data will help them connect the data to an experience they’ve had. People are hardwired to take data and connect it to one of the stories running around in their heads. They do this so they can understand it and make it meaningful. Don’t make listeners work hard by just presenting the data without also presenting your interpretation. Figure out your point in sharing the data The main point about the brain research mentioned earlier is to understand what happens in the brain during storytelling — namely, that stories forge connections. Which makes storytelling a very powerful experience. Note that the story also added an action step at the end, which was an invitation to read the actual article, so that listeners could gain more insight and also share their knowledge about what they learned with others. Data is like a box of chocolates — it’s best to digest it a little at a time. Find a way to tell the story about what the data personally means to you, why you’re sharing it, what the research indicates, what to do about it, and what the opportunity might be. Then close with an action step or two. Not only will people remember the information you shared and the stories you told, they’ll be able to repeat it and walk away equipped to take action. And in the process, you build up your credibility and cement your reputation.

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How to Write Business Storytelling Titles that Grab People’s Attention

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Why should you care about the title for a story? For oral storytelling, it really doesn’t matter because the title is mainly a memory aid for you only. Probably most story titles are thought up solely for this purpose. On the other hand, if you’re a blogger, journalist, professional writer, small business owner, or a branding or marketing expert who’s responsible for placing stories into a story bank or into various media, what you use as the title for a story is very important. An effective story title is all about three outcomes: getting people to read it, having it pop up in online searches (which means the title needs to be short and include useful keywords), or getting others to remember it and its key message. Given that the story may be housed within a longer article, newsletter, report, website, or blog post, you have two titles to worry about: The title for the story and the title for the larger piece. The following ideas focus on the story title, but they could also work for the broader headline title if the piece is going online. Use numbers or lists in story titles Despite how overused they are, using numbers in a story title draws attention to it. When you use this approach, though, at all costs resist the urge to reduce your story to a bulleted list. If you use a story title such as “My Amazing Adventure: Learning Five Tips for Better Storytelling” or “Ten Things I Keep Forgetting When Crafting Stories,” make sure you’re actually telling a story. Start your story title with curiosity words or a question Write a phrase that piques readers’ curiosity and makes them feel as if they’re going to miss out on something if they don’t read your story. Here’s one example: “My Discovery of the Hidden Truth About Business Stories.” Use grabber words in the title that offer a rationale for reading, such as: secrets, ways, methods, techniques, principles, reasons, lessons, ideas, and similar enticements — such as The Reason I Started a Business With $36. When crafting a two-part title to a story, have the first half create an emotional connection with your reader and the second half give a reason using words such as how/how to and why. An example is the book Wake Me Up When the Data Is Over: How Organizations Use Stories to Drive Results (Jossey-Bass, 2006). In a story title, when using how/how to and why, these words might be used in the following ways: “Why My Business Stories Spark Change” or “How I Doubled My Profits with Business Storytelling.” Questions are another way to trigger curiosity. When asked a question, people often want to know the answer. Frank Sherwood’s story “What’s It Going to Take?” is a good example. If it were used as a story title online, consider adding a few words to it to target readers and search engines. Something like “What Does it Really Take to Make a Sale?” might work. Use adjectives when writing the name for your business story Ask yourself whether your story title would benefit from interesting adjectives such as awesome, wonderful, beautiful, excellent, free, powerful, valuable, unique, easy, fun, and the like. For more ideas, check out Richard Bayan’s book Words That Sell: More than 6000 Entries to Help You Promote Your Products, Services, and Ideas (McGraw-Hill, 2006). Create urgency with your storytelling Would your story title benefit from creating a sense of urgency? Try a title like “A Surprising Way to Quickly Close a Sales Deal.” Using a title like this suggests to your reader that they read your story before they engage in an activity. Share benefits in your business story If you want someone to read your story because you want to convert them to a point of view or into a customer, consider writing a story title that includes a benefit. The story about grassroots homelessness action called “It’s Not About Shelters” could become “It’s Not About Shelters: How to Save Millions on Homelessness.” Use a line, metaphor, or theme when storytelling If there’s a line from the story that’s catchy and fits these suggestions, incorporate it into your title. Or use the theme of your story to help you write your headline. Limit story titles to 65 characters Book, article, and story titles are often longer than 65 characters. With social media, if you want the entire title to show up in Google search results and be quickly and easily shared on Twitter (think going viral), creating short punchy titles is important. Google truncates long headlines when posting search results, which means 65 characters is all you have to play with. If you want to entice people to read the story, they need to see the full title. With proper Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the full title can become searchable within a longer article. Moreover, 65 characters can easily fit into an e-mail newsletter subject line. What not to do in your business story name Never write a headline or story title that contains your key message because doing so telegraphs the ending of the story. Also never write a headline or story title like “Jane Doe Speaks About Storytelling.” That’s boring. Instead, write “Jane Doe Shares How She Learned to Create Raving Fans with Stories.” Additional resources for business storytelling To help you title your stories, check out the book POP!: Create the Perfect Pitch, Title, and Tagline for Anything by Sam Horn (Perigee Trade, 2009). You can also use a title generator, such as Tweak Your Biz Title Generator..

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11 Story Structures for Business Storytelling

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

If you want to develop and deliver a memorable story to your business audience — whether your listeners be employees, stockholders, or customers — you need to consider how to shape your storytelling. Here are some ways in which you might build your business story for maximum impact. Name Structure Comments “I’m Better Off” Main character gets in trouble, then gets out of trouble, and ends up better off for the experience. Story of struggle and redemption — of losing everything and gaining something better in return. A bankruptcy, being let go from a job, losing a home, or making major mistakes and recovering from them. “Highlight Both Loss and Gain” Main character falls in love with a business or opportunity or is doing work that fulfills their dreams — loses it when something puts those dreams on hold — and then regains it. This is a very common business story. What makes it different than “I’m Better Off” is that there’s a dream that starts the story, which is followed by loss. “The Cinderella Down-and-Out Story” The main character is in a bad spot. A special helper provides gifts, but then the character loses their good standing. Eventually that good standing is restored, and the character gains incredible bliss. The most popular story in Western civilization. In business, this could be a story of dissatisfying work and living in desperation. Then a mentor comes along and transforms the person’s life, but circumstances still hold the character back. These are eventually resolved which leads to the character’s dreams being realized. SHARES Start with a setting (“I was sitting at my desk . . .”), followed by the hindrance or obstacle that’s creating a problem. The action that was taken is given next, followed by the result. The teller then provides a statement evaluating the experience (“this made me think about . . .”), ending with suggested actions. This is a very useful structure to use when time is limited. It’s particularly helpful during interviews. Or in e-mail newsletters and on blogs where space is short. PARLAS Start by presenting the problem. Then work your way through the action taken to solve the problem, what the result was, what was learned in the process (“what I learned from this was . . .”), how that learning applies to today, and ending with suggested actions for your audience. This is a very useful structure to use when time is limited. It’s particularly helpful during interviews. Or in e-mail newsletters and on blogs where space is short. CHARQES Start with laying out the context — what was happening and why. Then the challenge is presented, what action was taken comes next, followed by the result in quantifiable numbers. After this, the teller gives an evaluation of the experience and finally provides suggested actions to take. This is a very useful structure to use when time is limited. It’s particularly helpful during interviews. Or in e-mail newsletters and on blogs where space is short. CCARLS Start with the context of the issue (similar to CHARQES). Then the challenge is presented, the action that was taken is brought in, and the result is provided — along with the lesson. Suggested actions are given at the end. This is a very useful structure to use when time is limited. It’s particularly helpful during interviews. Or in e-mail newsletters and on blogs where space is short. “Open with an Opportunity” Present a possibility — a dream, a promise — based on what’s known to be true today. Follow this with the obstacle that’s preventing this possibility from happening, how others have already helped to (partially) remove the obstacle (if indeed that’s the case), and the action steps your audience can take to overcome it. This is a powerful structure for nonprofits and companies involved in social change. “Speak to the Why” 1. State a problem that the product or service addresses. 2. The first “why” is: Why is that important? Because . . . 3. The second “why”: Why is that important? Because . . . 4. The third “why”: Why is that important? Because . . . 5. The fourth “why”: Why is that important? Because . . . 6. The fifth “why”: Why is that important? Because . . . 7. The ultimate “why” is: Because . . . Use in marketing to get at a product or service story. Example: 1. Our product makes stinky sneakers smell better. 2. Because stinky sneakers turn people off. 3. Because when they’re turned off to you, they won’t want to hang around you. 4. Because if they don’t want to hang around you, you can’t get to know them. 5. Because if you can’t get to know them, you can’t date them. 6. Because if you can’t date them, you won’t get one to marry you. 7. The ultimate “why”: If you have smelly sneakers, you’ll never find your mate (and never get married). “Leverage the Underdog” 1. Describe the significant struggle that the person has experienced. 2. Insert a hint of hope. 3. Share the moment of deliverance from the struggle. 4. Provide the key message. 5. Reference back to the implied action steps or attitudes if this can be done appropriately. 6. Show how your organization is celebrating the success. People love underdogs. Think Superman, Spiderman, and other favorite heroes who experience deliverance. Hint: We’re all heroes who’ve experienced deliverance. And many of your customers are underdogs who have overcome and persevered. Hope is the ultimate message. “Present-Future” 1. Start out by painting the picture of the current reality. 2. Introduce the first turning point — the urgent call to do things differently. 3. State what could be. 4. Outline what is (based on another part of step 1). 5. State another example of what could be. 6. Outline what is (based on another part of step 1). 7. State another example of what could be. 8. Outline what is (based on another part of step 1). 9. Introduce the second turning point — the call to action — and articulate the finish line and problem resolution. These are action steps that will resolve shortcomings in the current reality and bring about the future. 10. End on a higher plane. Have proof of a happy ending to share so folks know their hard work, dedication, commitment, and perseverance will pay off. They’ll have a greater commitment to taking action knowing it won’t be easy, but worth it. This structure is very useful when presenting a project that you want people to support or become a part of. And it’s a great structure to use when launching change.

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Different Types of Business Stories and How to Find Them

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Organizations use and tell lots of different types of stories, many of which are listed here. Each type is appropriate for various unique uses and applications. Story prompts are things you say to someone else in order to draw out the story. Name and Definition Possible Story Prompts or Steps to Craft These Stories “Your founding” stories: Moments in your life that made a huge difference in who you are today. Sometimes people talk about these as I finally realized who I am or Here’s when I began to feel comfortable in my own skin situations. “An event surrounding your birth may be of huge significance. Enlighten me about a time like this.” “Share with me a memory about an early childhood situation that defines you to this day.” “Tell me about an event that has profoundly shaped you as a person.” “Tell me about that moment when you just knew you needed to pursue the career or business you have today.” “Organizational founding” stories: Every organization has a unique founding story about its inception and which problem it originally was focused on solving. This type of story includes stories about the founder and/or key leaders. Ask the founders: “Tell me about that moment which motivated you to start the organization. Or about a problem that you couldn’t solve that led you to start this organization. Or about an experience that compelled you to conceive this organization.” If it’s your own company: “Tell me about that moment when you clearly knew you had to open your own business. Or about an experience you had earlier in life that led you to create this organization.” If your organization has been around for a long time: If no one recalls how it started, dig into archives and old newspaper clippings. If you work for a government agency: The founding story may be buried in legislative materials or the creation of a law. Go find that stuff and piece together the story. If you can, interview those who may have been involved at the time. If the company has completely reinvented itself: “Tell me about the event or situation that was a key turning point in the organization.” For existing products and services: Figure out who was responsible for their creation. “Tell me about the situation, or series of situations, that caused you to invent XYZ.” If you’re working on a new offering or innovation: Keep track of what sparked the effort. Then craft a story about it. “What you stand for” stories: Stories that relay what you value and prize the most. They may come from experiences in your personal life or within a work setting unrelated to where you’re employed today. “Tell me about a situation that caused you to realize you hold strongly to a specific value in life.” “Paint for me a picture of a time in your life where you were very clear about what’s essential to your ethical well-being.” “Enlighten me about a time when a principle you hold became non-negotiable for you.” “What the organization stands for” stories: Stories that depict how core values are embodied in your workplace. These aren’t stories to say that your organization has values. Convey what’s done to actualize these values. If you’re an entrepreneur wanting to distill what your firm stands for: Identify up to ten values that are critically important to how you want to run your firm. Then systematically collect stories of how your organization embodies them. If you have feedback from customers, members, patients, clients, and so on: Pull out situations that appear to exemplify the values these individuals feel are important in how your organization interfaces with them. Craft stories around these experiences. If your organization has been around for several years: Ask long-tenured employees: “Tell me about a time when the business operated in such a way that what’s highly prized came to the surface.” Or: “Tell me about a time when qualities we most prize came through in our interactions with customers.” Or: “Tell me about a time when what we most prize about our business products or services was clearly demonstrated.” “What you do” stories: Stories about memorable moments in your work life that define how you spend your time told in a way that allows others to experience what you do as an individual. These stories include both successses and failures. “Tell me about a time when you were influenced by a mentor or coach and how that shaped the way you view your work.” “Paint me a picture of a memorable moment in your career that’s impacted your perception of the work that you do.” “Enlighten me about an event that’s profoundly impacted you as a person and how this is reflected in your work.” “Tell me about the personal legacy that you’re leaving through the work that you do.” “Tell me a story about your work that reflects its ultimate importance.” “What the enterprise does” stories: Stories about the why of what the organization believes in (this isn’t to make a profit). “Tell me a story about the why behind what you, as staff, are collectively paid to do as an organization.” “Talk to me about a customer challenge that demonstrates what drives your business.” “Enlighten me about a situation that demonstrates the impact your organization has on the lives of individuals or the community.” “Visualize and tell me about a specific moment in time that revealed to you and your colleagues the importance of the work you all do.” “Personal vision” stories: An image of a possible, attractive, and desirable state not yet realized. (This is a type of “future” story.) Consider journaling stories related to the following prompts. Then step back and observe what they’re telling you in sum total: Tell yourself about a time when you truly expressed your passions. Or paint a picture of what you see yourself doing for the rest of your life. Or create in your mind’s eye a story about what you envision your legacy will be. “Personal scenario” stories: Whenever you have a decision to make, you roll through multiple options. You can craft stories around these scenarios. (This is a type of “future” story) Select a complex decision that you need to make — an issue that has significant consequences or is fuzzy somehow. Brainstorm at least three options. For each option, craft the story of what the outcome would look like if it were to be realized. Then step back and figure out which story best depicts the outcome that best suits the situation. “Dream” stories: A personal story about the future of a project, business, product, service, or enterprise. (This is a type of “future” story.) If you’re a leader, your job is to offer people a dream and allow them to articulate their version of it. Sometimes these dreams emerge from seeing what’s possible in the future. Sometimes the dream comes from the past — a video of a talk from a leader who has since died, an unrealized project, archived materials, or the organization’s founding. “Organizational future” stories: The story of the future that you and your business’s customers, by being in relationship with each other, create to bring about a difference in the world. It’s a story of the better future that you’re advancing together, along with what you’re doing now to achieve it. This story is based on the organization’s vision, strategies, and goals coming to fruition at some future specified date. It expands a vision statement into a full-blown situation, with characters and conflicts that are overcome. To aid in doing this, you may want to conduct interviews with future-thinking customers, vendors, and others who know your organization, and the difference your products and services are making and could make in people’s lives. “Project-specific future” stories Similar to an organizational future story, a project-specific future story is based on what life will be like when the vision and project plan are fully implemented and operationalized. “Organizational-based scenario” stories Consider the approach used by the 2020 Media Futures Project. You can download several reports that outline their approach. “Your personal success” stories “Share with me a memory about a time when you achieved a major personal success that was unexpected.” “Tell me about a time when you set out to do something and found success beyond your wildest dreams.” “Enlighten me about a time in your personal life when you stumbled into a wildly successful situation.” “Tell me about a time when you consciously decided to become successful at something and, against all odds, reached your goal.” “Organizational success” stories If you’re an entrepreneur: Talk to your customers. Pull the stories out of them by saying: “Tell me about a significant success you were able to achieve with the assistance that you received.” If you have customers, members, patients, clients, and so on: Draw out testimonials and thank yous and turn them into success stories. You may need to re-contact these individuals for more input. If your organization has been around for several years: Go back into the archives and search for past successes that no one is talking about anymore. They are timeless. Craft stories around them and make them visible. They may be just the spark that’s needed internally to motivate a stalled team and externally to boost sales. If you have long-tenured employees: Have them tell you about a memorable success that they helped create. Or a situation that was highly successful that didn’t get enough air time. Or about a rock star employee sparking a significant business success. If you have sales professionals: Ask for their favorite success stories — the ones that turn prospects into buyers. “Overcoming personal barriers” stories “Share with me a memory about a time when you overcame a major life hurdle.” “Tell me about a time when you found yourself surrounded by so many obstacles that you thought you’d never be able to dig yourself out — but you did.” “Enlighten me about a time in your personal life when you stumbled into a wildly successful situation.” “Tell me about a time when you consciously decided to become successful at something and against all odds reached your goal.” “Overcoming organizational barriers” stories “Tell me about a time when an employee saved the day.” “Tell me about a major obstacle on a project and how it was resolved.” “Enlighten me about a situation where a group went the extra mile to satisfy a customer.” “Build me a story about a huge, unexpected challenge that arose and what was done to rectify it.” Go back through the organization’s archives and find situations where the entire firm or a single brand offering was compromised and what was done to overcome that. Then craft stories to help others appreciate these situations. “Your memorable customer” stories “Share with me a memory about an experience that made you say, ‘Wow. That was awesome service.’” “Tell me about a time when you were shocked at how a customer issue you were having was resolved.” “Enlighten me about a situation in your personal life when an employee went above and beyond the call of duty to delight you.” “Your organization’s memorable customer” stories: Stories about people you work with day in and day out and how they solved a customer’s problem, went the extra mile, overcame an obstacle to meet a customer need, and the like. These stories may also come from your customers. From employees: “Tell me about a time when a customer used our product or service and had a huge win. Or a situation where a customer used our product or service and saved the day in their company or were able to overcome a significant obstacle.” From customers: “Tell me about a time when you used our product or service and had a huge win. Or a situation where you used our product or service and saved the day in your company or were able to overcome a significant obstacle.” Stories from sponsors, funders, or supporters: Stories of how their contributions made a difference to them and to your organization and include the results that came from their support. 1. Share stories (not statistics and information) with them about how their actions led to specific results. 2. Ask them for the story of what led to their support. Listen delightedly. 3. Ask them what that support or funding has meant to them. 4. Ask them if they’d be willing to share their overall story with others so that additional people might also support your program, project, organization, or nonprofit. This story is not about the kind of support they provided or how much money they gave. It’s really about how they worked together with you to create an amazing result. “Now” stories: These stories bring together pain points, opportunities, and obstacles to heighten urgency and stimulate action right now when seeking support or funding. Gather stories from end users about their pain points. You’ll have to decide whether you start with these or with a story about the compelling business value opportunity. Be careful about how you relay data here. “Your” stories: These stories highlight why you are passionate about solving a particular problem or supporting a cause. These stories disclose the risks of not moving forward. They may include end-user input about the dangers of remaining at status quo. If people don’t know who you are and why you’re involved, they won’t know why you’re asking for resources. Nor will they have a reason to trust you. “Our” stories: These stories of inclusion put forth what you and the sponsor, supporter, or funder can accomplish together. (This is a type of “future” story.) Convey what’s made possible by working together that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. “Back” stories (from consumers): Stories that build their reputation and yours as well. Request customer stories. Reach out to folks who comment about your organization on social media. Create online communities for people to exchange stories Find existing online communities and seed them with story prompts. Seed a conversation and allow consumers to actively join in and co-create the rest of the story. “Back” stories (insider stories): Stories about what makes your organization tick and challenges it has faced and overcome — and/or stories associated with a product or service’s entire life-cycle, from beginning to end. This set of “supply chain” stories also reflects your organization’s values. Here’s how to find the story behind your product or service offering: 1. Reveal the inspiration or “a-ha” moment behind creating the product or service. Tell the story about the idea that created it or the need or issue that caused it to be brought into your business to sell. 2. Relay stories about how consumers can use the product or service in their lives 3. Tell stories about how a product is made or how a service transpires. Share pictures that document these processes. Place them on your firm’s website or in a retail store. Knowing the story behind age-old processes that are used to create the offering makes it desirable on a very different level. 4. Show the workmanship and quality inherent in the product if that’s what helps makes it special. If people only see a photo of a scarf or a pile of rugs, it might not be of interest to them or worth the money. “Target market” stories: Stories about the market segments you serve and/or stories about the prospect’s organization. Get intimate with the biggest pain points and what’s changing in the industry, the solutions that potential buyers are seeking, as well as the opportunities that exist within these segments in the future: 1. Personal stories, based on experiences you’ve had with products or services offered within the market segment — or those of your family or close friends. 2. Stories that you specifically craft after reviewing industry-specific or demographics-specific information on each target market. 3. Stories from current customers in the markets you want to continue to serve, or even one customer in a new market. Learn everything you can about the prospect’s organization in the time you have available. What’s its founding story? Are there any stories about its core values in action? What folklore is often shared about the enterprise? What stories are current in the news media? “Target audience” stories: What you know about the prospect(s) you’re meeting/chatting with What can you learn about the people you’ll be speaking to? Their likes and dislikes? Where did they grow up and go to school? Who do they know that you may also know? What hobbies do they have? Find stories that relate to what you learn. Social media sites are a great resource to find this kind of information. Reach out to friends and colleagues who may know these people. Stories about past failures (for use in prospecting) There are two types of “failure” stories: those about prospects who chose not to embrace what your organization has to offer (especially those who elected to do nothing) and those customers who didn’t fully utilize, follow, or implement what you provided to them. Why do you want to tell these stories to prospects? The first one speaks to the risks of doing nothing. The second is an opportunity for you to talk about what can happen if customers misuse a product, don’t properly implement a service, or ignore your advice. It’s also a chance to talk about how you recover customers when things go awry. Stories about pain and urgency (for use in organizational change) “Ain’t it awful” stories: These are real stories of the struggles and challenges that people face because of broken systems, inefficient processes, marketplace threats, consequences for customers, and so on. Connect these struggles to the organization’s potential fate. These stories reinforce the fact that maintaining the status quo isn’t workable. Distress about the way things currently work provides motivation, more so than the vision of what’s possible. “From the future” stories: Go into the future. Do an environmental scan looking out five to ten years. Identify trends, threats, and wildcards — highly unlikely events that would have huge impact if they were to happen. Craft stories for your change based on this information. “Change is possible” stories: Stories about people surviving a personal or organizational change that’s significant to them. “Tell me about a time when you were faced with an unexpected change in your life and what you did to get you through it successfully.” “Tell me about a time in your life when you greatly resisted a change and, when you embraced it, many opportunities presented themselves.” “Tell me about a time when a group you were part of (in the organization or elsewhere) went through a big change that no one thought could be accomplished — yet it was successful — and what made that possible.” “Identify what needs to get done to solve problems” stories (for use in organizational change) 1. Evoke stories about the challenges people face around a specific issue. 2. Learn how they currently get around or overcome those challenges. 3. Gather their best ideas to solve the problem. “Pinpoint and mitigate risks” stories (for use in organizational change) “Tell me about some of the risks you’ve experienced that we might need to address if we change XYZ. “Tell me a story about a risk you think could possibly happen during our change effort.” “Tell me about a time during another change effort at the company when you stumbled upon an unforeseen risk and what happened as a result.” “Obtain the resources you need in a change” stories (for use in organizational change) “Tell me about an experience you’re now facing with this change that requires resources that weren’t budgeted up front.” “Now that you have the resources you need, tell me about how they made a significant difference in moving this change forward.” “Tell me about a situation where you shared resources outside your group to create a win-win for everyone.” “Adapt as we go” stories (for use in organizational change) Stories about course corrections that happen once the organization gets deep into the change. “Best practice” stories (for use in organizational change) “Tell me a story about something that happened in [xx] phase of the change that really made an impact on you (or your team or department).” “Tell me about the most important (or significant or moving) story you’ve heard about this change project.” “Tell us about a situation in which you gained a personal insight about this change that will continue to influence how you approach your work long-term.” “Tell me a story about a specific action that you (or your team or department) took that really helped to solidify the change.” “Tell me about something that happened in this change that you would suggest not repeating in a future change initiative.”

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Storyboarding Your Business Story

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Storyboarding is a nonlinear way to craft and learn your business stories. Here are the steps to creating an effective one. If you’ve been crafting your stories in other ways, try this approach for variety. It may stimulate a more creative flow. Steps Instructions Comments Step 1 Grab a pad of Post-It notes, a stack of 3 × 5 cards, and something to write with. If your story is very long, it can help to break up sections by using different colored 3 × 5 cards. Step 2 Start with an image or a trigger word. What’s the first image that brings your story to mind? What’s the first image you want to convey to listeners? Some images may be too complex to draw. But a simple trigger word generates an image in the mind. So feel free to generate a mix of images and trigger words. Draw the image or write the trigger word on a Post-It and stick it to a 3 × 5 card. This isn’t about art! Just scribble what you need to so you can remember the image or word. If you don’t like what you drew or the selected word, rip off the Post-It and write a new one. That’s a lot cheaper than recycling 3 × 5 cards. For stories to be authentically shared, don’t memorize them by rote. Spend time figuring out the images and trigger words you want to convey and put them in the order you want so you can share the story. Having a solid launch makes the rest of the story easier to tell. If you can see the image, you can convey it to your listeners. The job of the storyteller, when telling, is to feed the listener images to feast on. Focusing on images is an easy way to both remember the story and trigger the experience in your listeners’ minds. When you’re re-experiencing the story, your listeners can experience it with you. Step 3 Continue through the rest of the story. Keep drawing images and/or scribbling trigger words until you’ve gone through the entire story. By the end you should have a full image deck. Don’t worry about how many cards you have at this point. Just get the images down in the order you think they go in. The size of the deck can get large if it’s a long story. Rubber band sets of them together if you need to. Step 4 By yourself, review the story and eliminate extraneous details. Keep it simple. Boil the story down to its essential images. In the first pass you might create a card for every piece and detail of the story. That can easily become overwhelming. Now is the time to start winnowing down the pile to make it manageable and easier to remember. Step 5 Speak the story out loud. Rearrange the images as you need to. You may also find that an image or trigger word you discarded becomes important again. Add it back in. Likewise, some other images can be eliminated. Once you start speaking the story out loud, the order of the images may change. This is normal as you recall what happened and figure out how the story wants to be told. Step 6 Images need transitions to get the listener from one place in the story to the next. Solidify these transitions. Write them out, if necessary. These are usually very short — typically a simple sentence. It can often help to memorize these transitions. Transitions help get you to the story’s key message. If you’re clear about them, then you have flexibility in how you share your experiences. They allow you to tell the story in different ways to different audiences while still remembering the steps you took to get to the key point. Step 7 Practice, practice, practice. Practice the story out loud. Get used to hearing your story being spoken. Take your image deck out for a walk, telling your story out loud as you work through your cards. Or speak it while on a treadmill. Time your story as you practice and walk with it. Share your story with a trusted partner. In this step you’re learning to tell the story by moving from image to image, and using your transitions to get from one place to another. As you speak it out loud and with trusted friends, make further adjustments as you figure out what’s working and what you want to fix. Speaking your story out loud as you walk or use a treadmill are terrific ways to build the story into you physically, while training you to tell it in spite of distractions. This is how you begin to know physically what 10 minutes feels like. Or 3 minutes. If you only have 3 minutes or 10 minutes to share your story, building in this internal time clock is invaluable — especially when a clock or timer isn’t available. And how often do you glance at your watch when telling a story? Hardly ever. If you do this physical step, you won’t need to. Step 8 Practice and tell your story without the cards. Yeah! You’ve arrived. You know your story. You know the order of the images so you can tell it well and with confidence. Your transitions flow and the key message and following action steps are delivered flawlessly. Now you can tell that story in different ways by simply reordering the cards, finding new transitions, and maybe even sharing a different key point and/or action steps. Just keep having fun!

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5 Tips for Capturing and Preserving Raw Stories for Your Business

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Rarely will you hear the first rendition of a business’s story and say, “Wow. That’s well crafted.” If you’re truly serious about sharing stories from others that compel people to action, then you’ll need to spend time capturing them and exploring their various facets. Attend to legal/ethical issues Before you can use anyone’s story, except your own, you need to get permission in writing to obtain and use it. Too often people have proclaimed a story (experience) was theirs when it truly is someone else’s. Keep in mind that some individuals may not want everyone to know about what they went through, especially if their story will be displayed in social media. Here are the main elements that need to be a part of an agreement. You should consult a legal expert for further assistance. Consent to use: Is this an exclusive (no one else can use the story) or nonexclusive (the person can give rights to others) permission? Attribution: How does the person want to be acknowledged? Representations and warranties: You need to ensure that the story and or information is original and doesn’t violate any copyright, personal or proprietary right, or contain any information received in confidence, as a trade secret, or on the understanding that it would not be disclosed or published, nor discloses proprietary information without express authorization of the owner of said proprietary information, nor violate any contract, express or implied. Contributor rights: What rights does the contributor keep? The right to copyright, license others to use the work, create derivative works, and so forth? This also includes how copyright will be noted and obtained. Duration of the agreement. How long do you have the right to keep the story and use it? Create and transcribe an audio recording One of the easiest ways to capture the raw version of a story and maintain its spoken nature is to record audio of the person telling it. But make sure to prep them in advance. Make sure you have just the right story (based on your story prompt). Sometimes people think of two or three stories that would be good, and you need to whittle them down to the one that’s most unique. Also help the individual frame the story ahead of time — where it starts and where might it end. Ask the person to share as many details as possible, such as dialogue, visuals, smells, and the like. They can always be removed later. Then turn on that recording device and listen away — in silence, of course. Once you’ve finished recording, ask reflective questions, give appreciation, ask clarifying questions, and thank them again. Then have the audio transcribed. You can do it yourself if you have the time; it can help you to hear it again. You can also use software designed for this specific purpose, ask an intern or assistant to help, or hire out the service. Bullet the flow of the story Some people feel more comfortable outlining a story before they begin to craft it. There are two ways to do this: outlining and storyboarding. Outlining is very likely a skill you learned in grade school. That is to outline the raw version of the story in bullet format with two — no more than three — layers of headings. The second is to storyboard it. Storyboarding is useful if you find it easier to create visually. You’ll need a stack of Post-it notes, 3 × 5 cards, markers, and a large piece of foam core board from an office supply store. Get an idea. Select a story to work on — one you’ve heard through using a story prompt or a hip pocket story. Gather all the materials. Write the following labels individually onto Post-It Notes. Place them on foam core board (maybe several pieces) or along a wall in a line: The hero The enemy The major needs of your character The major issues of the story The kinds of possible resolutions What the major result is Lessons that you might want to incorporate Happy times The problem or conflict Hard times Funny moments The obstacles, challenges, or barriers Victory moment The realization Great parting message Using blank Post-it notes, look at each label and quickly draw an image or jot down a keyword it brings to mind. Don’t write sentences — only a word if you can’t figure out an image. Brainstorm as many images and words as you can. Some categories may only have one or two (hero, for example). Post these images and words underneath the appropriate label. Mix and match the elements to create a mock-up. From the images and words you generated while brainstorming, select those you want to convey and stick them onto the 3 × 5 cards — one image/word for each card. Then stack them in the order you think they should go in. You’ve now created what’s known as an image deck (or story line), even though it also has keywords as part of it. Write out the raw version If you like to write, you may want to sit down and let the story flow from your fingertips through your keyboard or pen. Don’t edit as you write. Let it be a stream of consciousness that gets captured. Don’t worry at this time if you’re writing a description of a series of events or you’re truly telling the story. Create a video recording Use a cellphone camera, Flip camera, or laptop visual recording software to capture the raw version of a story in this manner. More often than not, you’ll still need to transcribe the audio portion so you can polish it.

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10 Business Storytelling Tips for Speakers

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Many situations in business call for the use of compelling stories: Training workshops. Talks at company or industry events. Presentations to prospective and current customers or clients. Keynotes at conferences. Stories are the secret sauce between good and great — and truly awesome speakers. Here are some tips that will help you with any storytelling opportunity you may have: Identify your signature stories Any personal hip pocket story can become a signature story. Signature stories are those handful of stories that uniquely identify you. They may be defining moments in your life or situations of extreme significance. They’re stories that are so compelling they deserve to be told time and time again. They are your stories. Personal signature stories can be as simple the story of a young girl becoming a competitive swimmer at age 10 after overcoming a fear of water that was so consuming that her mom couldn’t wash her hair. What’s most important are the key message and the actions you want to engender in others after telling it. The following questions and answers will help you uncover and use your signature stories: How do I know which of my stories are really signature stories? Create a timeline of your life and reflect on those events and experiences that truly define who you are today. Another way is to ask colleagues, family, and friends to share with you which stories of yours they find to be unique. Do I craft signature stories any differently than my other personal stories? Nope. Your challenge will be to figure out how to tell it in a way that balances all the details with the key message and actions you want to convey. How often do you tell a signature story? Some speakers will share their stories forever or until they retire them — or until audiences stop finding them compelling. Some stories have a limited lifespan. Be careful that you don’t overuse the story to the point where it loses its effectiveness and luster. Is it okay for your personal signature story to be a well-known public story? Some speakers may take on the persona of a historical figure such as Abraham Lincoln. In this case, the stories they would tell would be about the most memorable moments in Lincoln’s life. What if I hear someone else telling my signature story? You should contact the individual, express your concern, and request that they stop using it immediately. If this level of intervention doesn’t curtail the behavior, you should seek legal advice on the options available to you. Refashion a tale If you share a fable in an internal work setting, other employees and even leaders may respond in a dismissive manner towards you. They won’t listen to your message, no matter how important it may be. If you’re a professional speaker in a public setting, you might get a little different response if you’re using a tale to both entertain and transmit a message. Then again, people came to hear you — your ideas, your messages. There’s truly more power in personal stories in a business setting. You should reserve telling tales until you’ve spent a couple years sharing your own personal stories and developing trust within an organization. Especially if you’re a leader, employees don’t want platitudes. They want you to show up authentically and demonstrate your vulnerability. We haven’t yet found a fable that has a built-in key message suitable for business use, along with a transition to suggested action(s). This means you need to craft an appropriate key message for any tale you may use at work — which might also mean tweaking its content to reinforce the ending elements. There’s another thing that happens with fables: they’re often told repeatedly. Before using a story, you’d need to assess how much value you’re going to get out of it in a group setting. That means assessing what percentage of your audience might already know it. In the end, if you’re going to use a fable, make sure the key message has a business purpose and that you can fashion suggested actions from it that fit your audience. Open with a story This is one of the most effective ways to capture people’s attention. The key message of the story is a perfect way to set the stage for the content to follow. If all you use is an opening story, remember to circle back, at a minimum, at the end of your presentation to the key message and suggested action(s). Use a story in a short presentation Other than opening a presentation with a compelling story, where else could you use a story within a presentation that may be no more than 10–30 minutes in length? Here are a few thoughts: To introduce a new idea or unfamiliar concept. To present data. To transition from one part of your presentation to another. At the end of a talk to bring together everything that’s been discussed and move people to action. Craft a keynote solely based on story Let’s say you have 45–60 minutes for your keynote talk. If you figure that the average length of a well-constructed story is somewhere between 5–8 minutes in length, and you want to share additional content after each story, or have the audience do a short activity, then you’re talking about one story approximately every 15–20 minutes. There are two considerations when using stories in this manner: How to find and select the stories: You should interview a select number of audience members in advance about your topic. A good rule of thumb is no less than five interviews. In the interviews, listen for a story that you could craft for the opening of your presentation that relates specifically to the subject. The interview might also trigger you to recall one of your own stories that would be perfect to include. Also listen for audience needs and expectations. Once you summarize the comments gained in the interviews, identify themes and choose stories based on them that will provide the most benefit to the audience. Every time you give a presentation, it can change based on what you learn from the pre-presentation interviews. How to organize the stories for maximum impact: Once you know the stories you want to tell, look at the key message and layers of meaning attached to each one. From that, determine how they would best flow together — and how they create an overarching story arc that depicts transformation (real or possible) for the entire talk. Then take the key messages from these stories in the order in which they were presented and string them together into a logical flow. Repeat them at the end of the talk. That reinforces what people need to take away from the experience. You sure you want to use PowerPoint? How often have you seen or experienced the following? A set of PowerPoint slides is prepared for a talk. Every word and picture has been carefully selected. Then something happens. Maybe there’s no projector. Or the laptop goes on the fritz. Or there’s no screen and none of the walls can be used. Or the file doesn’t properly open. Here’s how you should prepare for the unexpected. Carefully craft your stories — and the other parts of your presentation — so audience members are given enough sensory information to be able to create pictures in their mind’s eye. A well-crafted, compelling story should be able to be told without any slides. You owe this to your audience, especially if you’re being paid to speak. Then, when you do use PowerPoint, you can use it to enhance your stories and your talk. Here are a few more points relevant to PowerPoint and story use: Use a powerful visual to back up your point. Have one succinct message per slide. If you feel you have to use bullet points, limit yourself to no more than three per slide, preferably only one. Remember to end your stories — and your talk — with suggested action steps. Never leave your audience guessing what they should do next. Practice, practice. Practice so giving presentation is more fun. That’s another reason to build stories into your slide deck or design your entire PowerPoint deck as a story — it’s more fun and easier to deliver. Use memory devices One of the best measures of whether a story is truly compelling is whether listeners repeat it, along with the key message, to others. Here are some small things you can do — in addition to all the embellishments we’ve spoken about — that will get people to repeat your stories: Sprinkle the words from the key message individually throughout your story. By the time listeners hear them together at the end, they’ve heard them several times. Use words in the key message that start with consonants. Consider this key message as an example. Which sounds more powerful: “Promote the positive” or “express appreciation”? Incorporate and exaggerate the emotional swings in a story. It’s not always easy to do. Once you’ve identified a structure for your story — and reorganized content around it — find ways to bring opposing emotions into the story. For example, if a story follows the SHARES structure (Setting, Hindrance, Action, Results, Evaluation, and Suggested actions), can you enhance differing emotions in the Hindrance and the Action sections? Or the Hindrance and the Result pieces? Find ways to provide a tangible object or image as a story trigger. For example, when telling a story about giving out ChapStick as a marketing tactic, you could provide everyone who hears it with a tube of ChapStick to take away. You could even print the key message of the story onto the tube. If the story you’re telling is about personal transformation, and you’re speaking to a group of women, you could provide them with the image of a butterfly on a note card that they take away — or they could record what they learned on the card and place it in a self-addressed, stamped envelope that’s sent back to them six weeks following the talk. Co-create a story with the audience With some stories, you can easily ask the audience questions and have them interact with you and the story in real time. To go a step further, you can actually have an audience co-create a story with you through the use of questions. This is especially helpful in these situations: You’ve told the story so many times that it’s lost its luster for you as the teller. Switch it up a bit by getting the audience involved in the telling. Spend some time in advance thinking about how you could do this. The audience is one that likes to talk during a presentation. This can be cultural or an organizational nuance. Play off of this audience strength. If you’re not getting the reaction that you normally get with the story, consider improvising in the moment. As a speaker, you should know the stories you tell really well and how audiences typically respond to them. If you normally get a laugh in a particular spot, but don’t get one — or if the audience seems disengaged (perhaps something happened ahead of the meeting to distract them) — go off script and find ways to get them to participate in the story. What to do if you screw up the story Oh, the mistakes we’ve made in telling stories. They happen! Even when you practice your story out loud dozens of times or have even told it for years. You may say the opposite of what you intended to say when setting up a story. One solution would be to stop, turn in a complete circle, and say, “Take two” before starting over at the beginning. This gives the audience a chance to laugh before continuing on with you. These sorts of faux pas make you human. They are also opportunities to poke fun at yourself and generate humor. When you make a mistake, the audience only gets as upset about it as you do. If you seem visibly flustered or thrown by the error, the audience will get upset, too. But if you seem relaxed and comfortable, and have fun with the mistake, then it becomes entertaining and the audience empathizes with you — and they love you even more for handling the situation gracefully. If you notice that you’ve made a grammatical mistake — said words out of order or mispronounced a word — stop and correct yourself immediately. This automatically builds credibility. This is why you should pay close attention to your audience’s reactions as you speak. Many times when we misspeak, our own brains never tip us off because we're thinking about what we have to say next instead of what we just said. If you say something backwards or mix up your words, you'll usually see it reflected on the faces of your audience — sometimes a chuckle, a puzzled look, or a quick shake of the head from one person. In most cases you can quickly replay your mental tape and realize what you said wrong. Prepare for after the presentation If you incorporate compelling stories into your presentations, people will approach you afterward to share their own story or comment on yours. So be ready for this. This means you have to do two things: Be very conscious of the stories you select to share. If you tell a story about a very difficult personal experience, audience members may feel compelled to share their own difficulties with you. The more revealing your story is, the more their stories will be too. Stories are like viruses; sharing a story sparks one in return. Always. Be prepared to quickly shift from telling to listening mode. Center and ground yourself and pay attention to what people say. At the very least, express appreciation for the stories you hear. If you need to leave the room because others are using it after you, ask people to join you elsewhere to continue the conversation. Purposefully build in time after your presentation for these interactions to happen. Be willing to put aside your own person needs for a bit to accommodate your audience’s needs (for example, you may want to process the content of what you just said on your own).

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