If you read to your children, you know about storytelling. Here’s how to make those skills work spectacularly for you in business.
Once upon a time–let’s say June 1978–there was a freshly minted college graduate hoping to work in corporate communications. Let’s call him Joe. Now this guy is adventurous and a little eccentric, so he builds a time machine in his garage. He climbs in and sets it ahead 40 years, figuring the world will be more interesting in the future, and he exits in 2019.
Dusting off his wide tie and poly-blend suit, our young man marches smartly off in search of the want ads. Joe is sure to be a little confused by some of the job titles that were unheard of in his day: What the heck is a scrum master? A cloud services developer?
One category Joe is definitely going to see is storyteller, a job that didn’t exist even 20 years ago. It is an essential corporate role in today’s instant-information-saturation world. You must brand your company, whether a startup or an established business, no matter how well known you already are. By storytelling, you nourish and burnish the image by taking people deeply and broadly into your narrative. It’s what keeps them wanting to be there.
A storyteller’s job goes beyond the traditional pairing of a grip-and-grin photo with a boilerplate press release to really narrate and show the impact of a business through–you guessed it–storytelling. When done right, it’s brilliant. Joe might not know how to apply for a storyteller job online, but telling a good story hasn’t changed since the dawn of time; it is universal and eternal.
Likewise, the home environment of 2019 with its flat-screen TVs and Alexas might look very different to Joe, but there’s one ritual he would recognize immediately: that of a mom, dad, or other special grownup reading stories to a child at bedtime. How fortunate that some of the best things never change.
The interesting part is that this essential (and usually enjoyable) bedtime task translates to better outcomes at work. Here are three things you can learn from being a storyteller at home.
1. You Can’t Be Boring.
Kids like it when you use a bunch of different voices when reading–you know, one for the Big Bad Wolf, one for Red Riding Hood, and so on. If you’re writing (or shooting video or making a podcast) about your latest business initiative, do it that way, too. First of all, have characters, because a story with people in it is more relatable than any page of data will ever be. That’s why I introduced our friend Joe into this article and then give the different characters (members of your team, people who use your product) their own “voices” and make each one unique.
2. You need a story arc.
An “arc,” as storytellers say, means the people in your story go through a challenge of some kind, overcome obstacles, and come to a clear (ideally, happy) ending. Where’s the excitement, the suspense, the things to cheer for? Your corporate communications don’t have to rise to the thrill level of A Series of Unfortunate Events (or Stephen King, for you adults), and your story has to be believable and not seem trumped up, but if there’s no drama at all, you’re not doing it right.
3. You need just enough story and not too much.
What parent hasn’t tiptoed away from a snoozing child’s bedside, gingerly closing a Little Golden Book? Your job is to provide a story that suits the time and attention your young listener has, not to keep shaking him or her awake so you can finish the book. The amount of attention and interest will change depending on the child’s personality and age (and depending on how good the story is). As a business storyteller, your goal is to tell just enough story to get the job done, not more. Leave your listeners wondering what else there is to know about your business, not shell-shocked by information overload.
Storytelling is such a special form of intimacy–one proven to improve attention spans and comprehension capabilities. Try applying your storytelling skills on the job. When you give a speech, launch a new policy or initiative. A good story will keep your audience listening and help them retain the message more than any PowerPoint could.