Jenny Perkins, Head of Engagement at Cirrus, offers some great advice for storytelling in business.
1. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Your opening line should, of course, be attention-grabbing. We can’t all be as skilled as Dickens, but a technique such as juxtaposition, where two contrasting ideas or observations are included in one sentence, can make for an intriguing introduction.
2. Describe the challenge. Good stories usually feature an issue that needs to be overcome. We love to hear about triumph over adversity. It is a central theme in pretty much every Disney movie.
3. Be creative. A good story has ups and downs. Introduce some colour, some tension, some fun. Use vivid language to tap into the emotions of your audience.
4. Keep it short. We’re all suffering from information overload. You should be able to tell your story in a few minutes. In my experience, almost everyone underestimates the amount of time their story will take to tell.
5. Choose visuals with care. Keep them simple. A well-chosen picture can indeed paint a thousand words. However, a complex graph may be more of a distraction than an aid.
6. Consider a prop. Is there an item that helps to bring your story to life? Designer Markus Fischer had the ultimate prop in his TED Talk, A robot that flies like a bird. Skip to just beyond the two-minute mark and you can see the actual robotic bird that Fischer and his team developed fly around above the heads of the audience. It’s amazing. It gets a standing ovation. You may not have anything quite so dazzling to share, but perhaps there is an early product prototype or an historic document that you can hold up in front of your audience that helps bring your story to life. (Incidentally, Fischer’s talk also had a great opening line: “It is a dream of mankind to fly like a bird.”)
7. Practice. Test your story out on a small group who will give you honest and supportive feedback. Maybe even film yourself. Take note of your body language, your pace, your tone of voice.
8. Know your audience. Who are you talking to? Although it’s important to be authentic, chances are that the relaxed approach that works so well with a group of Millennials may not be quite right for a group of visiting dignitaries, where more formality may be expected.
9. Adopt the right tone. Many people think about storytelling as something adults do with children. If you’re telling a bedtime story to a small child, your goal is to help the child fall asleep. In business, it’s much more likely that your goal is to excite and galvanise people. So, just as you might adopt a soporific tone of voice with a young child, think about how you want your audience to feel and adopt a tone that will work best for them – do you want to be upbeat? Reflective? Enthusiastic? Your style of delivery is very important.
10. Plan your ending. This is the most important part of your story. What do you want to leave your audience with? Maybe your story has a ‘happy ever after’. Maybe it’s more of an ‘Aha!’ – a realisation you came to. Maybe your ending is open-ended. Your story may not have reached a firm conclusion. In a business environment, this can often encourage your audience to contribute ideas to help you solve an issue.
And finally…finish with a call to action. Your story is told. Now what? Think about why you decided to tell this story in the first place. Was it to remind everyone of your company’s environmental credentials? To reinforce your customer-centred values? Now is the time to spur your audience on with a simple and clear closing message.
If you’d like to know more about how Cirrus can help you develop these skills, or have some stories of your own to share, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.