The principles of a compelling story also can make corporate presentations and reports more engaging and interesting. That’s a powerful point to understand as risk leaders try to make the business case for investment in risk management. So how can you put those principles to maximum use?
Scientific studies reveal insightful details about how the brain works. Of particular interest to business communicators, presenters, and leaders is the revelation that storytelling activates parts of the brain more deeply and more powerfully than other methods of information delivery, resulting in higher rates of message recall for audiences.
The following perspectives from leading storytelling experts explain how business leaders can leverage new scientific discoveries about the brain and timeless storytelling truths to improve their communications.
Listening is Often an Imperfect Translation
According to author Kendall Haven, sharing key messaging in a compelling narrative often engages audiences more than traditional business presentations.
“We’re learning that when we hear a story, our minds begin a story telling process, actually converting information into our own self-created version before the message ever reaches our conscious mind.”
The translation, however, is imperfect. In essence, when we hear a story, our mind converts all of the sensory detail into our own personal fiction, rewriting and distorting the original narrative to some degree to align with our own experiences, knowledge, and desire for meaning.
By understanding how people listen, business presenters can learn tactics for strategically shaping the story so it is interpreted more accurately during intake by a listener’s neural network and reaches the conscious mind more aligned with its original intent.
The Narrative Toolbox
When sharing your business project with decision makers, you don’t need to start off by telling a story. But you may choose to incorporate narrative elements or story-based examples into your presentation.
Brain studies show that when you begin to introduce a story, the audience’s neural network will be looking for the following:
- Character positions. There are three types of character – main character, antagonist, and climax character. The one you choose to feature should reflect the audience, so they see themselves in the story.
- Purpose/goal. Haven says that business storytellers often leave out goals or motives of a character, which will create an unresolved feeling for the audience. The purpose needs to be stated, then carried through the end. To learn more about creating a compelling purpose, click here.
- Conflict, risk of failure, and danger. These aspects create excitement and tension in the story. The audience wants to see a character struggle or face risk to reach an important goal that also is relevant to them.
- Sensory detail. Vivid details – sights, sounds, emotions – help solidify the story elements in the mind.
Haven recommends that when presenting, you should deliver one clear message using the following elements:
- “Bumper Sticker” – one simple, declarative sentence that summarizes your purpose/goal.
- Image association – a specific image that you would like associated with your bumper sticker message
- Emotional engagement – the emotion that you want the audience to feel as a result of the message.
These elements can refine the way that you communicate your “big idea” in a presentation.
The Hero’s Journey - Business Style
Park Howell explains how business professionals can use strategic narrative to persuade audiences. He created a storytelling framework that is aligned with myth-master Joseph Campbell’s famous hero journey, using the following elements:
- Backstory. This is your position statement, what you do better than anyone else. In today’s economy, it’s no longer about being a Swiss Army Knife – everything to everyone – but pinpointing that exceptional, differentiating quality that makes you stand out.
- Who’s your hero? Not you, but your audience. When you target an audience, think about how you can connect them with your product, project, service, or idea and what type of hero they would likely identify with.
- What’s at stake? There must be a goal, something that can be gained. You also need to point out what the audience stands to lose by doing nothing.
- The Call to Adventure. This is the event that catalyzes the story into motion and lends excitement. For example, in The Wizard of Oz, the inciting event is the tornado. So, either you become the disruption event, such as by being transformational, or you present the narrative in the context of responding to an existing industry disruption.
- Villains, Fog, and Crevasses. Who is the competition? What are the obstacles? Where are the blind spots? What gaps or crevasses may exist?
- Enter the mentor. You engage with the audience as a mentor, like Obi Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker. As such, you deliver knowledge, expertise, and a special gift to the mentee. For Luke Skywalker, it was the truth about his family and insight into the mysterious Force.
- The Road of Trials. Here is when you talk about the benefits of your project, and the customer/business/brand journey from awareness to adoption to appreciation.
- Victory is at Hand. After you have influenced the audience, how do you encourage them to continue engaging with you?
- Moral of Your Story. Communicate the purpose: “We exist to do [what?]”
- Rituals. Repeat engagement opportunities to encourage people to return and follow how your story evolves.
Give them wings – or something just as good
As an example of narrative power in business, Park points out the revolutionary story of Red Bull, the energy drink company founded in Austria by Dietrich Metaschitz, who was passionate about mythology and the character of Zeus.
Understanding the basics of storytelling, Metaschitz built his company’s brand over the past 30 years and now owns 46 percent of the world’s energy drink market.
With no marketing budget to start, the innovative founder told audiences story after story through thrilling aviation stunts that clearly communicated the purpose of “giving us wings.” The “heroes” in the narrative strive to achieve great heights and overcome limitations of gravity by taking bold, energetic risks. In this context, the fact that the company sells energy drink products is rather incidental. What Red Bull really does is give us wings.
As you think about developing a narrative about your project, think about how you want to engage with the neural network in your audience.
- What purpose do you want to communicate?
- What story do you want them to create in their minds?
- What feeling should result?
Then, create a business narrative that is relevant, with a hero that reflects them, villains/fog/crevasses enough to present a challenge, and your dedicated mentorship throughout the Road of Trials from awareness to adoption. Like Red Bull, find the “wings” that are unique to your purpose, and leave your audience with that one great gift.