8 tips for effective business storytelling

by Andrea Griffith Cash

A good story makes us laugh, cry and think. Add a little drama, and we’re hooked. But storytelling isn’t the domain of bestselling authors and screenwriters alone. As a businessperson, storytelling is among the most effective tools you have, too.

In today’s digital world, content is king. Organizations with the best content win on social media, hands down, in terms of likes, engagements and open rates. Those who tell an engaging story will be even more successful than those who just say “hire my firm” over and over again.

Storytelling is what makes us human, after all. We have to remember we’re not robots. In all of our digital interactions, we must remember that there are people beyond our computer and tablet screens making our shoes, our dinner, our next smart phone. Sometimes, you’ll be on the other side of someone’s screen, so, the more you can personalize your message, the more you can personalize your work. People aren’t just buying your product or service; they are making an investment in you.

Spend some time thinking: What is your story? Everybody has one. How did you get where you are? How did your firm come to be? I guarantee that you didn’t get here because you’re lazy and you assembled a team of mediocre people who caught a bunch of lucky breaks.

Once you articulate your motivations and your beliefs, then you can share them with your audience using these storytelling tips:

  • Incorporate storytelling everywhere. In emails, presentations, website copy, social media, produced marketing videos, Facebook Live videos, printed marketing materials, white papers and case studies. For example, don’t tell your audience that your clients love you and highly recommend you. Let a client tell that story by offering a testimonial. Don’t just tell your audience you’re passionate about your work; describe the moment you left your previous career to seek a fresh start.
  • Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Sometimes in the professional world, we forget that we are all people. We are all seeking happiness. We all have private lives that can be messy, complicated and downright difficult. Be relatable, authentic and personable. You don’t need to be perfect. Talk about your failures. Talk to your audience as though they’re right in front of you, having a cup of coffee with you.
  • Keep your stories short. You don’t want to lose your audience. We all know what it’s like to be held captive by someone’s long story that never seems to get to a point. I had a writing professor who always told me to “trim the fat.” Usually, 100 words can be pared down to 50. Look at how much is said on Twitter in very few characters every day!
  • Be specific. Show; don’t tell. Paint a vivid picture. Make your audience feel like they are in the place you’re describing, seeing what you’re seeing.
  • Practice makes perfect. This is particularly important if you are going to tell your story during a talk or a presentation. Run through your presentation alone a few times. Then run through it with a friend or colleague. You’ll get better at it!
  • Understand your audience. This is key to content creation and packaging. Baby boomers aren’t that into Ariana Grande, and Gen Zers aren’t that into Neil Diamond. You’ve got to know who you are appealing to and what appeals to them!
  • Give others a voice. Encourage others to share their stories, too, by asking them to contribute to your blog or answer a question on social media. Don’t hog the metaphorical microphone. One million followers on Facebook means nothing if your audience isn’t engaged.
  • Think about the storytellers you admire and the techniques they employ. Maybe it’s a competitor in your field. Maybe it’s Oprah. Maybe it’s a songwriter. Maybe it’s someone who delivered a TED talk that you go back to again and again for motivation.

Set some time aside to weave your own tale. You may even surprise yourself when you reflect on what’s transpired in recent years and articulate where you’re headed next. Master these tips, and you’ll have a real page-turner in no time!

Andrea Cash is a content strategist and creative director based in Durham, NC. Learn more about her business at andreacashcreative.com.

Human Intelligence: Storytelling

Posted by AICPA on Friday, May 25, 2018