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If You’re Doing Business with Humans, Storytelling is Essential

Storytelling is not new and it’s not a trend. Storytelling is as old as the human experience and touches every aspect of human existence. History, culture, memory, religion and identity are tied to narrative. Think about it, no one tells the story of their vacation by saying, “I woke up a 4 am, drove to the airport and embarked on flight 487 to London.” It sounds robotic and inhuman and if you know people who are sharing their experiences this way, you may well be friends with a legit alien. No one expresses experience through fact patterns because that’s not how we remember or how we communicate.

It makes sense that we should look critically at the role of storytelling in business, from leadership to marketing and business development. We’ve learned more in the last ten years than ever before about the impact of storytelling on the brain and how storytelling can influence memory and behavior.

If you aren’t using storytelling as a leader and business development professional you are actually working against human nature.

I once reviewed a PowerPoint deck of an accounting professional. He admitted that his audience was never engaged, didn’t ask questions, or want to speak after his presentation. When I asked about his dense deck with little blank space and loads of data he said, “Well the audience I speak to is extremely analytical and demands facts.” He told me they were lawyers. I asked if they were human lawyers and he confirmed that indeed they were. I myself work with a lot of attorneys. All of them are human, as are the accountants, and everyone else I work with. With a few critical changes we revamped his presentation and increased his conversion rate.

Storytelling isn’t the domain of any specific gender, age, culture, discipline, or personality. In fact there is no culture on the planet that doesn’t engage in storytelling. Therefore there isn’t an audience for which storytelling isn’t critical.

Storytelling doesn’t obfuscate facts, but instead illuminates your point in high-definition. In no way do I suggest that you should not use facts. However, the better you are able to express data and fact patterns through narrative, the more deeply you will connect with your audience, the better they will remember you and the more power you will have to influence their behavior. It doesn’t matter if you have an audience of one or one thousand and it doesn’t matter if you’re selling ideas, complex financial products, or a better mousetrap. Storytelling will do the heavy lifting when you’re building a relationship.

If you want to create better consultations, presentations and change management strategies, here are some things for you to ask yourself:

  1. What do I want my audience to know, do and feel?
  2. Am I telling or am I showing? Storytelling shows and doesn’t tell.
  3. What is the human impact of this product or service?
  4. What is the story behind the data?
  5. Is this presentation merely a list of facts, features and statements?

If you are trying to increase employee engagement and sell an idea, a new direction, a point of view or a sophisticated product – tell a story. If you simply try to create a stronger argument with no narrative spine, you’ll be less likely to imprint with your audience and move them to the desired course.

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