“The greatest tool of communication given to us by Mother Nature is on the table,” says John Bates, CEO of Executive Speaking Success & Business Coaching. This tool he’s referring to is the power of storytelling!

Business Storytelling Ted Presentation

Image via Flickr

I recently joined John Bates and some fellow Boston professionals in a modern, glass-enclosed room at JLabs in Cambridge to learn how to tell a story like a TED Pro. Once I saw TED in the title I knew the talk had to be good (and I was right). John Bates has an impressive background actively coaching CEO’s and executives at big name companies like Motorola and Johnson & Johnson, training 100’s of TEDx speakers and “is considered one of the best communication trainers working today.”

The Importance of Storytelling in Business

So what does storytelling have to do with your business? Everything! If you can’t properly convey a story then your products are not going to appeal to your audience. Bates reminded us that we love stories so much that we have to be trained to not fall for anecdotal evidence. Why? “Because our brains value stories over anything else,” states Bates.

Stories can be incorporated into all your forms of content: blogs, e-books, whitepapers, and even your “About us” page to captivate your audience. The value of storytelling can also be transferred to other departments to grow your business – for example training your sales reps to tell the story of your company or product or using your story to captivate investors and bring in the big bucks $$$. Once you learn to tell a good story, your audience is always going to be wanting more, which will turn your readers into leads, your leads into customers, and your customers into loyal customers.

6 Key Tips for Business Storytelling

Well, what if you’re an awful storyteller? Then keep reading because I’m about to share some of Bates TED-worthy wisdom.

When Bates was young his dad, a Vietnam War veteran, would tell gory war stories and he would sit there bug-eyed with his jaw on the floor, mesmerized by every word that rolled out of his dad’s mouth. Little Bates asked himself, are all kids bloodthirsty, or is there something wrong with me? But as he grew wiser with age he realized that war stories have it all, which brings me to the first takeaway.

1.       Every story needs the 5 C’s – Circumstance, Curiosity, Characters, Conversations and Conflict: So why was Bates fascinated by his father’s tales of battle? Because they always incorporated these 5 mesmerizing C’s. So when crafting your story lay out the circumstances. Set the scene and give the vital information that will provide context for your reader. Use curiosity to leave the reader wanting more (this trick works in headlines too). If there is nothing to be curious about then why would the reader keep reading? Characters and conversation go hand-in-hand. If you’re telling a story without any people and no dialogue your readers will likely doze off. And last but not least, conflict, which is easily the most important element. As Bates explains, “If there’s not any conflict then there’s not much of a story.”

2.       Stop bragging and start relating to your audience: I can still remember sitting in the 90-degree heat draped in my black cap and gown as sweat dripped down my legs on the day of my college graduation. As I sat their impatiently twiddling my thumbs and trying not to pass out, I attempted to listen to the keynote speaker without throwing my Poland spring bottle at the stage. The speech was awful and resembled a laundry list of his accomplishments.

At the end of the day no one cares that you graduated top of your class from Harvard or cured a rare form of cancer in Africa. These accomplishments are wonderful and noteworthy and I would definitely recommend sharing them on your resume, but when it comes to telling a story, people want to hear about your failures. Why? As human beings we relate to your failures because we are all flawed. “People don’t connect with your successes, they connect with your messes,” states Bates. “Your message is in your mess.” Bates went on to explain that you don’t want to be the Luke Skywalker of your story, but instead be the Yoda: “You’re not the hero of your talk, your audience is.”

3.       Spark the emotional side of your audience’s brain: For those of you that did not cry in HardBall when Baby G was shot or in The Notebook when Noah and Allie die holding hands, I have one question, what’s wrong with you? I’m kidding, but in all seriousness even if you did not cry during these heart-wrenching scenes, your heart strings were pulled and you felt something. Whether you feel sad, happy, scared, or content, feeling something makes us feel more alive, which is why it is critical to make your listeners or readers feel. “None of the facts and figures matter until you have some sort of emotional connection,” said Bates. “Stories are a great way to connect emotionally.” When crafting a story, Bates recommends thinking about what emotion you want to communicate and then provide information to support the emotion.

Business Storytelling The Notebook

4.       Get Your Readers Engaged Through the Senses: The smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies rushed into my nose the second I opened the door. The dimly lit Christmas lights gracefully draped across my warm basement apartment, and I could hear the sound of Carolers singing in the cobblestoned neighborhood streets outside. Do you see what I’m doing here? Did your heart just melt into a fuzzy ball? Appealing to the senses through your story immediately engages the reader. Set the scene by describing what it visually looks like. What sounds occurred? What smells filled the air? How did it feel? Appealing to these senses that the majority of your readers have experienced has a way of engrossing them into your story. As Bates stated, “Get the entire brain engaged instead of just a thin slice.” Bates follows the principles of VAKO: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Olfactory. With these four elements in your story, you’re likely to draw in and lock down your audience. But make sure not to overdo it, your story needs some meat (cough, cough the 5 C’s) to keep your audience interested.

5.       Start Your Story in the Middle: Far too often storytellers or marketers give way too much detail upfront. They start their story in chronological order, putting the audience to sleep before the exciting stuff occurs. By the time you’ve reached the AH-HA moment, your audience members are synced into their Instagram feeds or in a deep-dream filled REM sleep. Perhaps they just clicked onto a new page, never to return again. If you are anything like me then your attention span is about as long as an inch-worm so snap out of it and get your audience into it. “Life happens in chronological order – that’s boring!” states Bates. “Start in the middle, where things are exciting. It’s much more interesting.”

6.       Give Your Audience What Matters: Do you remember that time when you told a long, detailed story to realize your friends looked about as engaged as they do during their commute to work on a Monday morning? At the end you come head first with a sarcastic “Good story…Tell it again.” Your face turns as red as a strawberry and you immediately cross story-telling off the list of things to do in a social setting. I’m here to tell you that your story didn’t suck! Congratulations! The way you told it did. Why? Well, it might have actually been an awful story, but you likely included waaay too much unnecessary detail. No, we do not care that your alarm went off on-time as usual or that your bus was a few minutes late. We’re much more interested in the fact that your teacher was fired for a rumored relationship with a student or that your bus driver was drunk and knocked over 4 mailboxes before getting handcuffed in front of the principle. Bates said it well, “Give us what matters to us. Pick three points and don’t cram unnecessary information in. Bring just the key things to the top.”

So keep your audience on the edge of their seat with these tips to charm them and leave them wanting more. Before you know it they’ll be avid followers of your content.

These tips are just dusting the surface of what it takes to tell a good story, therefore I’m curious:

What do you believe makes a great story?

How do you incorporate storytelling into your content marketing efforts?