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“Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.”

Dr. Howard Gardner, Professor, Harvard University

Stories form the fabric of our lives.


As storytellers, we get to select and share the colorful threads that have meaning to us and weave these into a material that impacts others.  In this exchange, stories offer a common currency between the teller and listener.

Why Tell a Story

We all enjoy a good story, whether it’s a novel, a movie, or simply something one of our friends is explaining to us.  But why do we feel so much more engaged when we hear a narrative about events?

It’s, in fact, quite simple.  If we listen to a PowerPoint presentation with boring bullet points, a particular part of the brain gets activated.  Scientists call this Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area.  It hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning.  And that’s it; nothing else happens.

But, when we hear a story, things change dramatically.  So, not only is the language processing part in our brain activated, but so are the other areas that we would use when experiencing the story’s events.

For example, if someone tells us about how delicious certain foods are, our sensory cortex lights up.  If it’s about motion, our motor cortex gets active.

Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex.  Likewise, phrases such as “John grasped the bat” and “Adrienne kicked the ball” activate the motor cortex, which coordinates our body’s movements.

When we tell stories to others about events that have helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we can also have the same effect on them.

Story Telling in Business

Storytelling in business is telling a story rather than listing facts when communicating with current or potential customers.

First, it helps businesses stand out from their competitors, providing their customers with a storyline in which they will remember them.  Stories help connect with customers in a more profound, more meaningful manner.

Secondly, a big part of management’s job is to motivate people to reach specific goals.  To do that, the manager must engage their emotions; the key to their understanding is a story.

There are two ways to persuade people.

The first is using conventional rhetoric, which is how most executives are trained.  This includes PowerPoints, lists of facts, blah, blah, blah.

The other way to persuade people—and ultimately a much more powerful way—is by uniting an idea with an emotion.  The best way to do that is by telling a compelling story.  In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but also arouse your listener’s emotions and energy.

Essentials for Telling a Story.

  1. Choose a clear central message. A great story usually progresses toward a main moral or message.
  2. Embrace conflict. As a storyteller, you can’t shy away from conflict.  Great storytellers craft narratives with all sorts of obstacles and hardships strewn in the path of their protagonists.
  3. Have a clear structure. There are many different ways to structure a story, but the three ingredients a story must have are a beginning, middle, and end.  On a more granular level, a successful story will start with an inciting incident, lead into rising action, build to a climax and ultimately settle into a satisfying resolution.
  4. Mine your personal experiences. Whether or not you are telling a real story directly based on personal experience, you can always look to your life for inspiration when coming up with new stories.
  5. Engage your audience. Great storytelling requires you to connect with your audience, which is dependent on personal style and skill level.
  6. Observe good storytellers. There’s no better way to learn how to craft and deliver a narrative than by watching storytellers you admire relate their own stories.
  7. Narrow the scope of your story. Choosing the essential main points to be included in a story can be challenging.  First, choose a clear beginning and end to your story, then insert only key plot events in between.

The Bible

Psalm 78:4 says,

“We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”

Fortunately, there is no better source of well-told stories than the Bible.

They have a central message and include conflict and a clear structure.  They are personally relatable and engaging.  And they contain only the barest of facts, leaving plenty to the imagination.  Moreover, great storytellers know how to take these stories and make them alive.

Which is precisely what we want to do with our business stories.

Business leaders and entrepreneurs need to cultivate the ability to turn their messaging, whether it be sales or managing, into artful storytelling.  Learn from the Bible and become great storytellers that will drive your business success.