April 16, 2021 / Esther Choy

business storytelling practice

Practice these 7 business storytelling techniques to strengthen your leadership communication.

 

High quality, comprehensive storytelling training for a team isn’t cheap. Even a half-day workshop can cost over $10,000. And after the company pays for the training, your team will still need to continue to take time to practice the lessons learned to make the investment worthwhile.

Whether you’re in the process of searching for the right trainer, debating whether you should invest in one, or have just worked with one, you will want to encourage your team to practice.

1. Practice Choosing the Right Story at the Right Time

A leadership story must be more than just a “good story.” Yes, a riveting story is the baseline, but it also has to meet two other criteria:

a. Your audience has to know right away why you are telling it.

b. They have to feel something and do something about it.

Start with these two criteria when you’re searching for the right leadership story. Consider the change you want to see and find the story that inspires emotions that will motivate people to act.

How to practice this every day: 

Keep track of the stories you hear. Build a story library so you have an archive of great stories to choose from.

Every morning, consider your scheduled tasks. Who will you interact with? Is there anything you will need them to do, or to agree upon? Maybe it’s as simple as persuading a colleague to read a book you’ve loved. Or maybe you will need to reinforce how valuable an employee’s daily tasks are to you. Think of a story you will be able to tell at least one person today–a story they will find relevant and moving, and that will motivate them to act.

If you get to the end of the day and realize you haven’t told any stories that you remember, consider the stories you heard. Do some reverse-engineering to figure out how the story worked and whether it was persuasive. Ask yourself:

  • Why was the story told?
  • What emotions did it evoke?
  • Did you feel like doing anything in response to the story?

(Learn more about identifying good stories.)

2. Train Yourself To Hook Your Audience’s Attention

Here are three easy ways to find a good hook:

  • Show contrast by highlighting the difference between past and present.
  • Introduce a conflict by making the audience wonder which of two sides will win.
  • Create a contradiction by showing how someone flouted the norm.

Practice starting every presentation, elevator pitch or casual story in one of these three ways.

How to practice this every day:

Think of a story you tell often. How does it start? Improve your hook by including contrast, conflict, or contradiction. Then practice telling it. Note how your listeners respond.

Or, if you will have to share a project update or present results in a meeting or email, consider your hook.

  • What’s different today vs. your last update? What’s different about this set of results vs. similar studies? Turn that into a “contrast” hook.
  • What were the competing ideas or scenarios? Turn that into a “conflict” hook.
  • What defied your expectations? Turn that into a “contradiction” hook.

(See examples of contrast, conflict and contradiction here.)

3. Practice Writing Stories Quickly

An easy way to structure a story quickly is to think “IRS”:

  • Intriguing beginning
  • Riveting middle
  • Satisfying ending

To make the process even faster, write the beginning and ending before you write the middle. When you write the ending, you get very clear about what you want your audience to walk away thinking about. That makes it much easier to write the middle. The middle will be the longest part of the story because it shows the character’s journey—how they got from the beginning to the end of their story.

How to practice this every day:

Look ahead to your next big project that will require you to bring your communication “A game.” This is where telling stories easily gets nerve-wracking and time consuming. Choose three stories that are best suited to intersperse into this project. Write one today, another tomorrow, and another the day after. Write the beginning of each story first, then end, then middle.

Or, practice this with your career story, your LinkedIn profile or your next social media post.

4. Work on Using 3 Basic Business Storylines

Three main business storylines are stories of Origins, Underdogs, and Overcoming Monsters.

The way a story is structured affects the way the audience feels. Choosing the right type of plot shows that you are tuned in to your audience’s needs. For instance, origin stories narrate the beginning of your business, idea, product or service, connecting the dots between past and present in an inspiring way.

How to practice this every day:

Think of the stories you tell often. Do they use one of these storylines? If they don’t, but one of these plots would be a natural fit, why not reshape your stories so the structure is more solid?

Or, practice categorizing the stories you hear. Learn to listen for these three types of plots.

(See story templates here.)

5. Practice Finding Metaphors for Complex Information

Every metaphor creates a sense of familiarity. Instead of hearing an anxiety-inducing string of unfamiliar jargon, your audience thinks, “Okay, so this new thing is like this old thing I already understand. I get it. Tell me more.”

How to practice this every day:

What is the most complex information you regularly have to describe? Make a list of everything that comes up frequently, but that you struggle to explain. Now think of simple, everyday metaphors that could help your audience gain a better understanding. Common categories for metaphors include sports, food, health or money. And a marathon makes a good analogy for implementing new technology!

(Read more here.)

Tell the right story for any business situation - we'll give you the tools.6. Make a Habit of Analyzing Your Audience’s Perspective

Whenever we’ve worked hard on a project, we feel compelled to share everything we’ve learned. And even if we know that’s not going to work, it’s excruciating to sort out what’s most important. (Thank you, curse of knowledge!)

Usually this arises from thinking way too much about what we want to say, not what the audience really needs to hear! 

How to practice this every day:

Consider the important communications coming up in your day or week. Practice preparing for them by asking yourself:

  • What else is going on for the people in my audience once they leave this meeting?
  • What are their most pressing challenges?
  • What keeps them up at night?

Answering these initial questions shifts you into a different gear. You start thinking like someone who’s trying to absorb the information, process it, and act on it.

(Read more here.)

7. Try Testing Your Tone

Tone of voice can make or break your career. In some cases, the wrong tone of voice can cost you millions. A study of surgeons found that just by listening to audio recordings of the first and last ten seconds of a routine office visit, study participants noticed vocal traits that were associated with more malpractice claims!

Understanding your own tone of voice is crucial for building and improving workplace relationships.

How to practice this every day:

Choose a topic that you often have to speak about in a professional context. Then, find someone who can give you feedback—someone who is very much like the people you usually talk with about this topic. Ask them when your tone of voice is working well, and when it isn’t.

Are there times when your message and tone are incongruent? Maybe you need to stress a serious point but your tone sounds lighthearted?

If a test audience isn’t available, record and listen to yourself, considering what your target audience might think of your tone.

Once you’ve practiced these techniques and shared them with your team, you may be ready for more comprehensive storytelling training. The fact is, it’s hard work shifting your perspective and identifying the stories and messages that are most likely to persuade your audience. A story facilitator is equipped to do just that. And being able to intrigue, delight and retain your target audience is worth every penny.

Learn more about what to look for in a storytelling trainer.

 

Esther Choy

Esther Choy founded Leadership Story Lab in 2010 to help others leverage the art of storytelling to create extraordinary opportunities.

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"This is an amazing and insightful post! I hadn’t thought of that so you broadened my perspective. I always appreciate your insight!" - Dan B.

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