How to make your storytelling memorable

How do you go about developing a story that will move others? Here we describe the five stages to a successful story - while some stages can be told in just a sentence, others will need more narrative.

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As you rise in an organisation your role changes from managing and giving information to leading and inspiring action. But how do you cut through the ‘noise’ that clutters business today? Graphs, charts, lists of bullet points and endless PowerPoint presentations can be dry, abstract, uninspiring and often confusing, yet you are expected not only to make sense of it all but communicate it to your team in a compelling way and galvanise them into action.

The first step to aligning people at all levels of the organisation is to create a simple, clear and compelling business narrative that everybody can understand and believe in. This narrative can then be brought to life by drawing on personal stories of success and achievement from real people within the organisation that people at every level can relate to. These can illustrate key messages and at the same time create an emotional connection, inspire and motivate others, celebrate ‘heroes’ and build a sense of pride and purpose. As your company goes through change, stories can play a critical role too, demonstrating exemplary actions and behaviours that leaders can role-model and their teams can adopt.

People only do what they believe in, and they only believe in what they discover for themselves. The self-discovery of a story’s implication makes it a much more powerful vehicle to convey a simple message, and when people relate to or imagine how they too could be in that situation, it helps drive that message home from peer to peer in a much more meaningful way.

So how do you go about developing a story that will move others? There’s no doubt that ‘Storytelling’ has become a buzzword, but applied in a practical and tangible way it ceases to become a nebulous concept; instead it can become a powerful and creative tool to assist learning and development as well as increasing engagement once you understand that you are taking your audience on an emotional journey.

There are five stages to a successful story. Some stages can be told in just a sentence, others will need more narrative.

1. Establish our hero

At the start of your story you need to
establish who the story is about and why we should care about them. This could be an individual, a unit, or the whole bank, or a customer. The trick is to humanise them by giving them some back-story; a bitof history about how they came to be and why they deserve our attention and affection.

2. Introduce peril

No one is interested in a story where everything is smooth sailing and our hero overcomes every obstacle that he encounters with ease and flair. We want stories that reflect our own struggles whether personal or corporate. So introduce a dose of peril – of something that can threaten the future security of our hero. Peril can be a competitor, it can be the economy, or changes in technology or legislation.

3. Hero is tested and fails

The power of storytelling is to avoid spin – the pretence that we are invincible in everything we do. So describe your hero being tested and failing. This failure is not just bad luck, but is systematic – it is a result of his character and mindset. Your audience must recognise the failure as realistic and probable and something that connects with a deep-seated concern where they have failed, or are likely to fail in the future.

4. Introduce Guide(s) to help the hero change

At the moment of despair they find guidance. This can be an individual or a team; it could be a tool or a story. The important point is that the guide helps the hero to realise that they cannot change the world only by themselves. So when they have their back against the wall, that is the moment when they have to change – to adapt to new circumstances.

5. Hero overcomes the obstacles and succeeds

This is the resolution of the story. By accepting their situation they then re-negotiate their position, developing different resources or skills and overcoming the obstacles they meet in Part 2. It is important that they emerge changed – stronger or wiser or simply more aware. At the end of the story they are in a better place than when they started.

Storytelling in Practice

So how does this work? Here are two examples – one from Hollywood and the other from business: