The art of storytelling for business

Written by Sterling Content
May 22, 2020


Written by Sterling Content
May 22, 2020

Dr Greg Story, president of Dale Carnegie Training Japan, shared his communication expertise with fellow British Chamber of Commerce in Japan members on May 19 in a webinar entitled “Storytelling: how to persuade, convince and engage your clients.”

The author of two top-selling books Japan Sales Mastery and Japan Business Mastery spoke about why, when and how mastering the art of narrative can increase professionals’ chances of success.


Why use stories? 

Stories are integral and fundamental in communication, according to Story. Not only do they capture the attention of the audience, they also enhance communication by introducing memorable anecdotes and parables.

They also provide a way to deliver key messages and takeaways, all while making an impact and encouraging the listener to take prompt action. Becoming a master storyteller, therefore, can help professionals “win in business,” said Story.


When can stories be effective?

Within the user’s organisation, stories can help sell ideas, secure funding for projects or secure consensus on business plans.

Externally, storytelling can boost sales. Stories about a common interest or experience for example, allow the storyteller to build a rapport with the client and introduce questions to the dialogue. These might include where the client is in their business, where they want to be and why they have not yet reached that goal. Another story might present the product or service that could help the client reach that goal.

A narrative could also settle any objections to the product or service by showing an example of how it has worked before. In short, a story can help close a sale.

Similarly, stories can convince venture capitalists to invest. When used effectively, they show the situation in the industry or market and how the start-up firm differentiates itself from its competitors. In addition, sharing real-life examples can convey level of risk and why the suggested capital investment is justified.

When doing promotion, staff can draw on storytelling to convey what the firm is good at and why it is special. Narratives can highlight the firm’s track record and vision, as well as why its people are an asset. Verbalising triumphs and disasters, meanwhile, can show what the firm has learned over time.

Story explained that storytelling is vital when staff are trying to persuade a candidate to accept a position. The activity can convey the history of the firm, the strengths of the business, exciting aspects or daily requirements of the job and the working environment or culture.

“Storytelling brings people into the detail. It can make a business seem attractive as opposed to dry or data-driven. Use storytelling to flesh out what it means to work for the company,” he said, citing an example: “Saying ‘Dale Carnegie is great’ is not the same as telling the story of how he became great.”

Telling stories also helps promote one’s professional brand, according to Story. Short episodes can be used to convey why someone is professional, trustworthy and memorable, which is increasingly important in today’s crowded, competitive market. Examples provide evidence of expertise and a track record of successfully helping clients.

“Saying ‘I’m the greatest!’ doesn’t cut it. You’ve got to tell people how professional you are through stories about what you have done,” said Story, adding that narratives give the storyteller credibility. “People will remember you because of the stories you tell about the things you have done.”


How do you tell a story?

Story identified a variety of types. These include “the warning story” (something undesirable happens without the storyteller’s product or service), “the success story” (why something works or is valuable), “the humorous story,” “the branding story” (to bring firms to life) and “the parable.”

Structure, content and delivery all need to be carefully considered to ensure impact, he added. PowerPoint can support a clear, logical flow, but the storyteller should remember they are the key communication enabler and avoid playing second fiddle to the slide deck. The message should be high quality and valuable, and the delivery must be engaging.

Story suggested attendees practice using pauses, pacing, word emphasis, voice modulation, dialogue, detail and gestures to keep the listeners interested and more likely to react.

“Even if the structure and content are brilliant, if the delivery isn’t right for the story, people will switch off,” he said. “You need to make sure to master the delivery.”

Most important, though, is enthusiasm. Story noted that “if you’re not passionate about the story you’re telling, we’re not going to buy it.”

He recommended a three-minute story, which should create a narrative and include characters—preferable people the listener knows—context, conflict or opportunity, a resolution and a message.

But even a one-minute story can deliver the “magic formula” of incident, action and benefit, he added. Most of that time should be spent talking about the incident rather than the action required or the consequent benefit.

“With no context to the action recommendation, you’ll have a room full of critics. It’s much better to go to the incident—the context—first,” he said.


Getting started

The key to becoming a great storyteller, opined Story, is observing, recording and drawing story content from real-life incidents.

He suggested that webinar attendees start a file with examples of successes and disasters experienced by their organisation or clients. Personal history, experiences and insights are also a valuable resource, as are sales websites, blogs, podcasts and YouTube videos. Storytellers can also look for ideas in films, TV programmes, books and magazines.

In closing, Story encouraged listeners to conquer any fears they had of public speaking and begin gathering material for great stories. He drew on a quote from Dale Carnegie: “Most of us have far more courage than we ever dreamed we possessed.”