This is a compilation post that brings together my views on closely related topics, collating articles that I published earlier on this blog. It doesn’t contain new content, although part of it may have been slightly reworked. Knowing that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, I hope this update provides you with a bigger picture, a more complete list of good practices, or a better grounded opinion.
“Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information, more powerful and enduring than any other art form.” – Nancy Duarte
A 2013 study carried out by the French ManpowerGroup identified three emerging job profiles for the future: the Protector, the Optimizer and the Storyteller.
They describe the latter one, the Storyteller, as a “craftsman of engagement”. He or she gives meaning to (or renews) the company’s engagement in times of crisis and communicates with all stakeholders through dialog and social media. In today’s organizations we often find these creative people in marketing and communications functions such as “Content Marketer”, “Digital Brand Manager” or “Community Manager” and in business supporting roles, including “Innovation Valorization Managers”, “Business Evangelists” and “Cultural Engineering Consultants”.
Although I have met only very few people with “Corporate Storyteller” on their business card, storytelling has become a new gospel for business presenters. And those creatives who can create compelling stories, get their message across, and inspire audiences’ passion will stand out in our new era of content and meaning.
It’s the story, stupid
Not so long ago, I had a discussion with a friend who’s active in business consulting. He’s used to creating and delivering long, dry and factual presentations and doesn’t feel very comfortable with the concept of storytelling.
Though not all content is equally suitable for storification, I am convinced that storytelling techniques have a real value. Even (or should I say particularly?) for management level presentations.
- We’re all human beings, and –let’s admit it– most of us love stories. As Robin Dunbar states in Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, 65% of the time we are speaking informally, we’re talking about “who did what to whom”.
- Listening to a story is cooperative (and most of the time interactive) learning. A story can put your whole brain to work. It helps make the complex simple and make the message more memorable. We tend to forget figures, lists and bullet points. Stories help to persuade where facts can’t.
- Storytelling is a way to create a tension with the audience, get them engaged beyond the rational and make them connect emotionally and/or ethically. Stories produce mental images. They are a means to stimulate higher level thinking and let the audience come to a conclusion on their own.
Of course there are different kinds of audiences that may need different styles of presentations in different situations. And some content and/or circumstance can make you decide not to tell a story, e.g. for financial reporting or in cases of crisis communication. As a professional presenter it’s your call to go for a storytelling approach or not.
From storytellers to storydoers and storymakers
Lately, I also came across a few articles about the need to complement storytelling by storydoing. The idea is simple and straight forward: great companies and great leaders don’t just tell stories, but they also take action on them.
- Storytellers are companies or individuals, that convey the story of their brand, business or product by telling that story. As I stated above, storytelling is a powerful tool to engage audiences and create worth-of-mouth buzz.
- Storydoers consciously work to convey their story through direct action. Storydoing companies put the narrative in action and use stories to drive product development and enhance their customers’ experience.
Storydoing should however not be considered as a black-or-white alternative to storytelling. In fact, both practices go hand in hand. Storytelling is mainly driven by marketers, while every company employee can contribute to the doing. Research by storydoing.com suggests that storydoing companies are better performers, as they tend to spend less money on advertising and paid media, but rather invest in customer engagement and execution.
As a marketer in a fast-moving technology sector, I would tend to add a 3rd category:
- Storymakers are the real market innovators, entrepreneurs and changemakers. They build a whole new story for their product or their company, or even a completely new brand.
Only great personalities are able to combine the three roles above. The Mark Zuckerbergs, Elon Musks and Richard Bransons of this world. They not only have great ideas, but they also have the capabilities to execute them and engage their audience – and as such create or change an industry.