Why storytelling is good for business


I’m wandering around this folly of a nineteenth century castle unsure, as always, what to look at and why. Over here is a bunch of family photos; over there, just beyond some priceless antiques, are a group of landscape paintings, some of them ‘originals’. There are the usual rooms laid out just as they were when the family lived there, fabulous views of endless grounds and the odd thing to laugh at, such as the child’s ‘rocking potty’.

My eyes glaze over with the effort of appearing interested. Until, that is, one of the volunteers takes me aside and starts to share with me her knowledge of the family – why they built the castle, how the current owner has secured its future through his experience of turning round failing businesses and how many recent films and TV drama have used it as a  backdrop.

She told me a story: and all at once I had a reason to look with interest at the things around me and a context for their significance.

I’m the same with art galleries. Show me a painting, famous or otherwise, and I don’t know how to appreciate it. But tell me a story about the historical context for the painting or what was going on in the artist’s life when he created it and my interest is piqued and my vision sharpened.

Stories grab and focus our attention

Such is the power of stories. They grab and focus our attention. They provide a lens through which to care about, understand and remember facts and figures, data and evidence, art and artefacts.

As human beings we are hard-wired to respond to stories, which were used for essential communication long before we had written language.

  • While our working memories can cope with only about three or four ‘chunks’ of information at a time, we seem to have no trouble remembering stories – even those we encountered decades before – and grasping their symbolic meanings. http://1.usa.gov/1UqfR8g
  • While facts engage only a small area of the brain, stories engage multiple brain regions, which increases our ability to retain them many times over; http://bit.ly/1ts9jfE
  • While facts appeal to our logical brains stories stir our feelings too – and feelings trump logic when it comes to decision-making. http://bit.ly/234UQSD

Storytelling as a business tool

For all these reasons, storytelling is gaining in popularity as a business tool, used by the most go-ahead companies as a way to exemplify their corporate values, build loyalty and motivation in their staff and engage their external stakeholders.

There are many useful books on business storytelling. Here are just a few that I have found particularly helpful:

            Whoever tells the best story wins, by Annette Simmons http://amzn.to/1sC3LhT

Lead with a story, by Paul Smith http://amzn.to/1ULAuu0

The storyteller’s secret, by Carmine Gallo http://amzn.to/1sC3Sdk

How companies can use stories

And there are many ways for companies and the people who work in them to use stories to enhance their corporate communications. Here, again, are just a few examples:

  • Tell relevant personal stories to enhance presentations and establish and build relationships;
  • Flesh out the company story – where it has come from and where it is going – and use it in all relevant promotional material, particularly websites;
  • Use success and failure stories as ‘teaching aids’ within the organisation;
  • Gather stories that demonstrate how the company ‘lives’ its mission and its values.

The first step for companies new to storytelling for business to get comfortable with the whole idea of telling stories rather than dumping data, and to develop some of the skills requires for effective storytelling.

How Clearsay can help

 Clearsay has developed a transformational one-day workshop for organisations wishing to develop or improve their storytelling skills with a view to raising their profile, building their teams and enhancing their reputations. To find out more, click on the storytelling tab.