Twenty years ago, when I started off my corporate career as a rookie management trainee, I vividly remember my first big presentation. Those were the days of handmade slides on transparency sheets where you drew rows and columns with permanent marker pens. Five minutes into my talk, my manager stepped in saying, “Cut the story. Show me the data”. And from there on, the discussion was taken over by numbers; numbers in all shapes and sizes across categories, demographics, and geographies. And now, 20 years later, no presentation is complete if you do not have a story weaved into it.
How has storytelling for business evolved?
So what changed over these years? Why is storytelling now taking center stage in the corporate world?
Well, several things have changed. For starters, data is no longer elusive; it's readily available. Gone are the days that data had to be manually collected, assembled, massaged and reported out. And only a select few had access to the data. Today, click-of-a-button reports in all cuts and forms are available, to almost everyone in the organisation. And you don’t have to wait till the meeting begins to get a first look at the data.
Storytelling works because we are naturally drawn to stories. Good stories elicit positive emotions towards a brand, substantially influencing consumer loyalty. It is not easy to narrate a story that is both compelling and engaging. However, when you pull it off, it can be truly exquisite. So what makes a good story? Based on my experience, I have listed the three common elements of good storytelling.
Start with empathy
Your audience will only be able to relate to your story if you empathise with them and they empathise with you. As a storyteller, you have to understand your audience, find what matters to them and show them how you can solve their challenges. Empathetic storytelling allows businesses to communicate that they deeply care about their audience's concerns and experiences.
Context is everything
Context is what sets every story apart. Context tells your audience what the presented information means to them, and why they should care. The story only works if your audience knows and cares about the subject as much as you do.
Don’t sell the product, sell the experience
As a rookie management trainee, I wasn’t selling the world’s biggest brand of carbonated soft drinks that quench thirst. We were selling fun times with friends, family festivities, a good romantic moment, a sad heartbreak, and so on. We were selling experiences, emotions, lifestyles. That was the story.
Narrating the story of your business is an ongoing process. Your business grows, shifts, and adds a new chapter to its story every day. Make storytelling an essential part of your arsenal to attract and retain your audience.
The author is Head of Marketing at Infosys BPM.