What It Means to Tell a Good Story About Your Business

“Don’t make more noise; strengthen your signal.”

Nancy Duarte, Visual Storyteller based in the US

I’ve always been taken by this quote from Nancy Duarte. She’s referring to the fact that we live in a very noisy world and if you’re broadcasting bland, vanilla marketing messages about your business, you’re inviting disappointment. No, what you need is a stronger signal, something which cuts through the noise and speaks directly to your audience. In other words, you need a story.

There’s nothing new about using story to connect with an audience; it’s been around since cave painting days. Marketing, advertising and branding people have been helping companies craft and tell their stories for years. So, it made little sense for me to compete with them when I moved into this arena more than a decade ago.

Instead, I focused on what I call ‘verbal PR’, those times when people have to talk about themselves, their company and their work. How do they do justice to their message when the moment arises?

A lot of this comes down to the Big Four: the elevator pitch, case studies, presentations and anecdotes, all key vehicles for communicating your unique brand.

I like to think of the elevator pitch as the trailer for the main movie, a teaser which entices people to want to know more. You can be a bit more ‘theatrical’ when it comes to the round-the-table pitch; I’ve seen some people use a prop or object. A conversational version is different, but you’ve still got plenty of creative freedom. If you can start with a hook, that’s great. I sometimes begin with: “Well, I’m one of those people who reinvented themselves.” That usually creates some intrigue.

I started in the field of presentation skills before branching into storytelling, but they’re inextricably linked. Many people shy away from opportunities to present but it’s an efficient way to connect with multiple people. You don’t need to be perfect; audiences don’t expect that. They want you to be human, authentic, enthusiastic about your message and focused on their needs.  

Again, open with a grabber. I recall speaking at a marketing conference in Bucharest many years ago and being slightly unsettled by the guy before me, because he was so good! He began with a story, about his young son telling him about a forthcoming ‘bring-your-dad-to-school-day’ where the kids introduced their father and what he did for a living. “What exactly DO you do at work all day?” the boy asked his father. “Well son, I’m a brand strategist.” “Mmm,” replied the boy, “actually I think we’ve got enough dads coming along…thanks.”

It was a lovely opening, self-deprecating without in any way damaging our respect for the speaker. And it led him beautifully into his main theme.

Case studies are important as a way to illustrate your expertise (and as a teaching tool for your own people). However, they tend to be the dullest form of business storytelling there is! They’re often a linear progression of problem, solution and outcome, a sanitised version of the truth with no characters, twists, turns, tension or inspiration. With skill, it’s possible to insert some of these ‘edgier’ elements and retain your professionalism and protect confidentiality.

We’ve already seen how a story can enhance a presentation, but learning how to tell anecdotes crosses over into many forms of communication. It makes you:

  • more curious (opportunistic)
  • aware of your audience
  • able to grab and hold people’s attention
  • more entertaining
  • able to counter-balance serious topics with humour (light and shade)
  • a better educator.

There’s a link here to an analysis I did of one of Stephen Fry’s stories, concerning a disagreement he had with JK Rowling.

You don’t just tell your brand story through websites, brochures and advertisements. It’s done through the spoken word too. Aim to do justice to your brand every time you open your mouth. Strengthen your signal by delivering more than just information; provide insight and inspiration to help you cut through the noise and develop a strong voice – one that’s worth listening to.

Think of yourself as the Chief Storytelling Officer for your company!