Why are good storytelling skills important for success?
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Storytelling can take many forms and serve multiple purposes in everyday life. In the business world, storytelling is essential for helping marketers, writers, leaders, entrepreneurs and service providers to connect with their audiences. Like many other art forms, you can learn to become an impactful storyteller and use this skill for professional development and progress. In this article, we discuss what good storytelling skills are, discover the different elements of effective storytelling and explain how you can develop your storytelling skills.
What is good storytelling?
Good storytelling involves the effective use of narratives and stories to evoke a desired emotion or response from an audience. Storytelling is an ancient practice that remains an important mode of communication in modern societies across the globe. Today, the term includes not just oral stories but also written word, videos, audio, visual and digital stories. Storytelling is instrumental in education, communication, marketing, business, politics and many other key industries in today's world.
Good storytelling engages the audience by involving them in the story and developing a connection with them. A well-told story can be used to communicate useful information, explain, educate or simply entertain. For marketers and businesses, skilled storytelling is essential for engaging customers and cultivating interactions between brands and the public. While most modern forms of advertising and marketing, like an advertisement or a sales pitch, might not strictly resemble a ‘story', they're all derived from some process of storytelling.
Components of good storytelling
All good stories and storytelling techniques have certain common elements. Here are a few essential components of stories and storytelling with a focus on how you can use them in a business setting:
Purpose-driven: All stories have a purpose, whether it's simply to engage your audience, convey information, encourage the audience to think or educate. In most business storytelling techniques and approaches, the goal is to make the audience feel like they can identify with the story's characters and narratives.
Interactive: Storytelling is engaging and interactive as it lets the audience imagine themselves as part of the story. The process enables a two-way interaction between the storyteller and the audience in a way that creates a direct and intimate connection between them.
Structured: While it's impossible to have a universal narrative for all forms of stories, a good story usually contains a structured approach to introducing the characters, contextualising the conflict and providing a resolution. This structure is the basis of all forms of storytelling, whether oral or otherwise.
Universal appeal: Good stories manage to engage audiences from all sorts of different backgrounds and cultures. Storytelling creates relatability among the audience and focuses more on experiences, rather than the language, words or visuals.
Emotional connection: Even when storytelling is part of a business or commercial project, it arouses specific emotions and feelings in the audience. The goal is to generate enough motivation and energy to enable the audience to take action or consider new perspectives.
Impactful: No matter the purpose or intent, good storytelling manages to leave a lasting impact on the audience. Whether it's an advertisement relating to a national celebration, or a media campaign with a social message, good stories are memorable and have a high recall value.
Why is storytelling important for professional development?
At the most fundamental level, storytelling creates a connection with an intended audience and this can be extremely useful in business. You can use storytelling techniques to build better relationships with your clients, pitch an idea to investors, engage with your colleagues or communicate with your manager. Storytelling can help you give better presentations, prepare better reports, motivate and lead team members and build your personal brand. Since storytelling is a universal language of communication, you can use it to build lasting professional networks with people from different cultures, nationalities, religions and backgrounds.
Businesses and brands use storytelling strategically to engage audiences and provide information about their products. In most cases this process is subtle and businesses promote products and services within a certain context or narrative. The goal is to evoke certain emotions and link them to a brand to create an increased desire in the audience. Since everyone experiences human emotions like joy, despair, hope and anger, brands use these to market their products and develop a sense of identification with their customers. You can develop your storytelling skills through practice and following these tips:
observe narratives in movies, music, art and other forms of stories
use storytelling in your everyday personal and professional life
explore new experiences or perspectives while creating a narrative
use storytelling to resolve real-life conflicts
learn about the stories behind brands, leaders, experts and thought leaders
How to develop a storytelling process
Consider these steps when developing your own storytelling process:
1. Understand your audience
The first step is to understand the motivations, aspirations, desires and requirements of your intended audience. Creating different user personas can help identify different audience groups and research them better. Whether it's for an advertisement or an internal presentation, knowing who your audience is, what they want and what appeals to them is crucial. This information forms the basis of your story and provides context at each stage of your story's development.
2. Define the message you want to convey
After studying the audience, determine what message you want to convey. Your message is what you want the audience to take away from the story. Decide what emotion, feeling or idea you want to evoke in your audience. Think of what your story is about and ask yourself what you want your audience member to do after absorbing your story. If you aren't sure, it's important to continue to refine your story until you figure it out. Having a clear definition of your message is important before proceeding as it aids appropriate decisions in the next few steps.
Related: A guide to the 7 Cs of communication
3. Establish the purpose of your story
Closely related to the message of the story, the purpose is the end result of the story. Your purpose might be to educate your audience about a new concept or product, encourage customers to make a purchase or highlight your brand's values. Whatever your call-to-action will be for your audience member, make sure it's clear to them and that your story connects to the action in a way that makes sense. For professionals, the purpose of presentations and meetings can be to showcase their achievements, exchange feedback, train new colleagues or collaborate more smoothly with others.
4. Choose the most appropriate medium
Depending on the message and purpose of the story, you can choose an appropriate medium to tell it. For business and marketing purposes, this usually takes a visual or video form and the end product can be a print, television, social media or multimedia advertisement. For professionals, this may be an oral story, written document or report, an interactive digital story, a presentation or animation. If the scope of the project is big, you can also collaborate with expert videographers, writers or designers to create the right visual or written story.
5. Create the characters
With all the basic information in place, you can now start creating and developing your characters. It's important to note that while the term ‘character' usually evokes a sense of a person navigating the story, characters can be inanimate objects, like businesses, brands, ideas and other entities. For example, the hero of your story can be a brilliant new idea that's struggling to find investors due to external market conditions. Similarly, for advertisement purposes, the hero can simply be a location, a concept or an idea. Add supporting characters to carry forward the narrative accordingly.
6. Introduce a conflict
As stated earlier, most stories have a central conflict. This creates an incentive for the audience to invest emotionally in the story and engages them using relatable information. It allows characters to overcome a challenge and convey the desired messages.
7. Reach a resolution
Take your story to its logical conclusion by resolving the conflict and focusing on the desired purpose. Make sure you include a direct call-to-action in your story, even if it's to encourage your audience to think more. In advertisements, presentations, reports and other forms of media, this is possible by providing a link or telling the audience how to learn more information.
8. Share your story
Stories are incomplete unless they have an audience to engage with. So, make sure your story reaches the intended audience and even beyond. Brands and businesses have dedicated channels to distribute their stories. Individuals can promote their end product in their network and seek feedback from known and unknown audiences.
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