Our ancestors gathered around campfires, sharing tales of their experiences, conquests, and new insights gained as they explored the world around them. Storytelling was the primary method of transmitting knowledge, culture, and community values. Eventually, these family stories built the social structures and foundations of entire civilizations.
This ancient tradition of storytelling becoming a highly valued business skill makes perfect sense, because it has played a significant role in connecting people and ideas for thousands of years.
The history of storytelling makes clear why it’s a crucial tool to utilize when your organization deploys a strategy, presents at industry events, writes a marketing campaign, designs a sales conversation, or develops a core message for a business plan.
Fast forward to the 19th and 20th centuries, where technological advancements create new opportunities for storytelling. Storytelling still has the same power to create social structures, teach lessons, foster understanding, and shape belief systems. But today, we use platforms that allow our narratives to reach even wider audiences like industry events, blog posts, and documentaries. Leaders in brand storytelling can immerse audiences into dynamic visuals and compelling narratives that influence and engage customers and employees alike. Businesses and brands can harness storytelling to convey brand messaging, improve customer service results, and establish a strong brand presence.
A good story captures the attention of potential customers, which means a great story can have a transformative impact on a company’s success, driving customers to engage, fostering brand loyalty, and retaining employees!
Investing in corporate storytelling can yield ROI for businesses.
How? An effective brand story humanizes a company, making it more relatable and trustworthy in the eyes of potential clients. By investing in brand storytelling, businesses can create a powerful narrative that elevates their brand above the competition and fosters an emotional connection with customers, which ultimately boosts your bottom line.
Individuals and brands benefit from understanding the science behind storytelling and improving storytelling skills. Not only is storytelling needed to engage your customers, employees, and colleagues, it’s also how you can gain faster buy-in, persuade the most skeptical audiences, increase your reach, and improve internal culture. Duarte uses several strategic storytelling frameworks. Once we identify what needs to be communicated, we can identify what communication strategy or training elements your team needs so you can elevate your presentations and make your message stand out.
What this article covers:
- Silicon Valley’s storytelling company
- Engage your audience with empathy
- Contrast is the key to great storytelling
- The business of storytelling
- The storytelling framework
- The seven storytelling elements
- Presentation storytelling
- So you want to be a great storyteller
- Storytelling trainings have something for everyone
- Polishing your storytelling skills with Duarte
Silicon Valley’s storytelling company
Duarte is recognized as a global leader in business storytelling, data visualization, and public speaking. We are a creative storytelling agency that also offers award-winning courses, workshops, and coaching to help you connect with your audience, build confidence, and create visual stories that support your professional goals.
Our creative experts apply and teach story methods, and brand storytelling – so no matter your unique communication need, we have an expert for it.
Since 1988, Duarte has helped thousands of customers and clients with just about every form of visual storytelling content.
Engage your audience with empathy
A business narrative (or a business story) is not a ‘feel-good’ or a ‘nice-to-have’ – it’s a strategic imperative that supports your organizational values, inspires and engages your stakeholders, and helps you stand out. Stories accomplish this because they make people feel.
If you are a marketing, communication, or brand storytelling professional, you likely understand the power of empathy when it comes to content writing and content promotion. Empathy is how to uncover customers’ needs–but business stories are used for more than an external marketing strategy. A compelling business narrative can also drive change within your organization.
Good stories capture our attention because they transport us into the shoes of the main character as if we were experiencing the same situation. That’s the beauty and science of storytelling. It all begins with empathy.
But the best stories have another common component: contrast.
Contrast is the key to great storytelling
Business narratives drive strategy, create customer engagement and spark authentic connection with an audience, and when delivered effectively, a business story also has the power to move listeners to action.
The most successful businesspeople in the world are change agents. They know that all facets of their company strategy – from product development to marketing services to internal culture–rely on effective internal and external communication.
Now, for a quick thought experiment: Why do some keynote speeches turn the audience into eternal evangelists, and others lead to a room full of eyeballs glazing over? By now, you may know the answer: story. Incorporating good stories into your business communication is how you’ll encourage people to purchase a product, adopt a new process, or follow and remain loyal to a brand.
Good stories require contrast. Contrast is what keeps us on the edge of our seats, eager to hear more, and there’s an art to incorporating it.
Here are two common issues we see as people try to add contrast into their story arc:
- They create a “pitch” that is often structured like this: “Here’s the problem and here are all the compelling reasons you need to adopt our idea.”
- Or they create a “report” that often looks like this: “Here’s everything you ever wanted to know (and more) and, by the way, maybe we should consider doing something about it.”
In either case, the audience is not engaged. After studying the best speeches of all time, Nancy Duarte noticed a pattern: great speakers build tension and release it, and then they build tension and release it again. Contrast creates an ebb and flow keeps the audience engaged and focused. Contrast creates a rise and fall as you move your audience from “what is” to “what could be”. Contrast comes in many forms:
If you remember one core message, let it be this: contrast makes our presentations more memorable. It appeals to our desire for variety, boosts credibility by acknowledging a counter argument, and forces us to engage our critical thinking skills.
Whether you’re creating digital marketing campaigns, writing new business presentations on behalf of senior executives, or compiling IT insights to present to your manager, everyone can leverage the power of a good business story to their advantage.
The business of storytelling
With proper strategy and planning, storytelling for business can be utilized across every role in your organization to unleash its full potential.
Who needs storytelling?
Marketing storytelling in action
Many marketers know the power of a good story for brand building and product marketing. It’s not enough to commission market research and collect data-driven insights about your target audience: you need core messages based in story that resonate with your ideal customers. Marketing storytelling doesn’t have to be complex—the best marketing campaigns come from knowing and connecting with your customer. Consider content marketing, for example, it’s all about telling a brand’s story in a way that aligns with the target audience’s values and purpose.
Product storytelling in action
Product teams can use product narratives to their advantage too. Whether you’re focused on explaining a complex product vision with facts and figures or pitching a new design idea that has significant meaning, you’re going to need a pitch deck or product strategy that draws your audience in. At the end of the day, people don’t buy products – they buy possibilities. The best way to illustrate possibility? A compelling product story. So it pays off to add storytelling skills to your product team’s L&D strategy.
Internal communications teams
Internal storytelling in action
Stories aren’t limited to external communications. To evoke all types of organizational change, like remote work routines or new business objectives for example, internal spokespeople must be fluent in organizational storytelling. Internal storytelling helps employees connect with the brand and each other which can drive retention. Organizational stories are geared toward transforming employees and helping HR and Learning teams gain trust, foster inclusion, and achieve alignment.
Executive storytelling in action
Harvard Business Review states that storytelling can make or break your leadership. We wholeheartedly agree. Good leaders are often great storytellers who can tell their own leadership lessons with ease. Effective leadership stories build credibility, shed light on personal experiences to illustrate authenticity, or connect a customer to the company leader and customer experience. Telling a compelling story makes what an executive says more memorable for any audience.
The storytelling framework
The greatest stories, movies, and dramas all follow a common 3-act story framework first documented by Aristotle. Stories have a clear beginning, middle and end. For epic length story frameworks capable of shaping the mindsets and beliefs of entire civilizations was first discovered by Joseph Campbell which he named a hero’s journey. Think about Star Wars for a second: Luke Skywalker is our relatable and likable hero, who’s presented with the opportunity to embark on a journey. At some point in the journey, he encounters a mentor – Yoda. The mentor helps the hero overcome roadblocks, like the evil Darth Vader, and Luke emerges transformed.
Whether we’re talking about Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter or any other hero’s journey, it’s a story cycle as old as time. The framework of a good story is straightforward, even if we word it in various ways:
There are a few more essential story elements when you’re ready for them, but this simple, three-act storytelling structure is the perfect place to start.
IMPORTANT: The pinnacle of the classic storytelling framework is the final transformation—making it clear the hero was changed from the messy middle of the story. It’s integral to convey how the sacrifice became worth the lessons learned. There’s something emotionally captivating about someone who overcomes struggles with newfound strength: this is why we root for the underdog, or watch a caterpillar become a butterfly. When you start crafting your next business or brand story, think about where the hero (your audience) is starting from (both physically and mentally), map out their journey from point A to point B, and identify how they’ll be changed as you resolve the third and final part of the story.
Whether you’re a screenwriter, an author, a B2B marketer or delivering a talk in your executive briefing center, everyone has something to gain from story frameworks.
After all, stories are a time-tested way to communicate information, so it makes sense that corporate storytelling can align business cultures around shared goals and inspire you to take action.
The seven storytelling elements
So how do you begin to use storytelling writing? The good news is that no matter the story, the best ones have seven essential elements in common. These key story elements aren’t surprising—in fact, they’ll be familiar to you, because you’ve watched, read, or heard many incredible stories in your lifetime.
The 7 storytelling elements
- Well-developed characters –When your characters have preferences, priorities, dreams, friends and even enemies, your audience will relate to them.
- Plot – This is the narrative arc, or the story design, of the journey your protagonist (hero) will take.
- Setting – Ground your audience by providing context and setting up the situation, time, or location where the story takes place.
- Theme – Establish an overarching theme or lesson so the message you want the audience to walk away with is clear.
- Dialogue –Convey the words, emotions, thoughts or judgements being exchanged between characters in your story.
- Conflict –Everyone experiences tension and conflict! It’s the backbone of every story, so don’t be afraid to include conflict in business storytelling — it’ll engage the audience.
- Resolution – The hero’s decisions determine how a story resolves. Sometimes in business, you overcome roadblocks and lead to a swift victory. Other times you really blow it. Tell those stories too. They become cautionary tales that help others learn from your mistakes.
Presentation skills and storytelling techniques go together because the goals of a story and a presentation are similar. Storytelling and presenting have as a top priority to cater to the needs and desires of the audience. An attention-grabbing talk or immersive learning experience can be as compelling as a movie when you incorporate story principles.
Both a presenter and a storyteller should:
- Put empathy first, your audience is the hero.
- Use a clear beginning, middle and end.
- Have a clear message and lesson learned.
- Incorporate a dramatic element – some form of contrast.
- Conclude with how the world is better when a hero changes.
A great presentation isn’t complete without a good story. Our writers are constantly helping clients identify personal stories that drive home a lesson and help add meaning and authenticity to their presentations. After all, 90% of people believe that a strong narrative in a presentation is critical for engagement. It’s a cop-out to read from a PowerPoint slide. Even if you have beautiful slides and data visuals, you will not hold an audience’s attention. A good story, on the other hand, certainly will.
One of the most common presentation pitfalls we see again and again (and where presentation storytelling differs from classic storytelling), is when the speaker positions themselves as the hero. When the speaker acts as the hero, they’re thinking more about what they want to say than what the audience needs to hear…talk about a recipe for failure. Instead of positioning yourself as the hero of the story, position yourself as the mentor to the hero. You’re Yoda, the audience is Luke Skywalker.
If you want to craft a story-centric presentation that resonates with your audience, it only makes sense to take on an audience-first mindset. As part of our Audience Journey Map™ we have you put yourself in the shoes of your audience by asking a series of questions like these:
- What are they like?
- Why are they here, listening to your presentation?
- What do they fear?
- What gets them out of bed in the morning?
- Why might they resist your message?
“Success in dealing with people depends on a sympathetic grasp of the other person’s viewpoint.” – Dale Carnegie
Once you have a thorough understanding of your audience’s behaviors, motivations, hopes, and fears, you’ll be ready to think through stories they can relate to and meet them where they are at. Doing that demonstrates to them that you understand their unique circumstances, pain points, and needs – which means they’ll be more likely to heed your advice, purchase your product, or adopt your idea.
So you want to be a great storyteller
There’s a difference between knowing how to write a great story and being a great storyteller.
After all, great content delivered well moves people.
You could have developed a compelling narrative, and sprinkled it perfectly with relatable marketing messages, but if you deliver it in a way that is unenthused or sounds monotone, you’re not going to strike an emotional chord with the audience – which means you won’t build brand awareness or customer loyalty either. You need to model for the audience what you want them to feel by showing your own enthusiasm for your ideas.
A quick storytelling assessment
If you’re wondering whether you’re a good storyteller, here’s a foolproof way to find out: observe audience feedback. If you’re met with laughter, heartfelt looks, and applause – you’re doing something right. If you’re met with crickets…it might not be them, but you.
Some storytelling and presentation skills come easily to a handful of folks. Others may experience social anxiety when it comes to telling stories in front of an audience. That’s okay! You’re not alone. There are plenty of tips and tricks you can use to get comfortable telling a story effectively.
Social anxiety is one of a variety of different delivery struggles that public speakers and storytellers face. Whether you’re telling a story to an unfamiliar culture of people, presenting in a hybrid environment, or just not that familiar with the material, you can overcome any storytelling struggle with proper preparation and resources.
Storytelling trainings have something for everyone
Storytelling strategy is involved in every one of Duarte’s training courses and workshops. Each course focuses on a different aspect of communication skills – from visual thinking to virtual communication to public speaking – the ultimate goal is to connect better with your audience (whether they’re employees, customers, investors, or executives) through the power of professional and personal storytelling.
Even if you possess confidence and poise when telling stories, there is always room for improvement. The more comfortable you get telling stories, the more natural it will become as you hone your presentation skills, too.
No matter which of our business training options you choose, workshop participants can expect to sharpen both presentation skills and storytelling skills with the help of immersive training content delivered by an expert facilitator, job aids that help you practice the exercises, and storytelling tools that help you create a great story with compelling visuals and deliver it well!
By honing your business storytelling skills and taking the time to learn storytelling techniques from experts, you’ll be better equipped for:
- Public speaking
- Customer service
- Leadership and management
- Brand storytelling
- Change management
- Human resources management
- Diversity sand inclusion
- Team building
- Sales storytelling
- Human centered design
- Media training
- Facilitating social change
- Business innovation initiatives
- Virtual communication
- Providing feedback
- Presenting with clarity
- B-to-B marketing
- B-to-C marketing
Polishing your storytelling skills with Duarte
Maybe you struggle to harness the power of story, but need to level-up your brand storytelling, content marketing, or leadership communication skills. Maybe you’re presenting to leaders at your company for an important initiative and need to deliver it with clarity.
No matter what you’re communicating, great storytelling skills are a key to open up empathy and influence. Our courses, workshops, and trainings are all rooted in The Duarte Method™, which our experts use daily to help the biggest brands in the world connect with their target audience from large stages to conference rooms. We always start by taking a deep dive into the audience’s problem or determining how our client’s customers feel (after all, the audience is the hero) before we determine how tell a relevant story.
At Duarte, we don’t believe in a ‘one-size fits-all’ approach. Our expert facilitators and coaches offer personalized support and feedback as they flex to meet your individual needs. These specialized courses and storytelling workshops offer actionable ways to improve all aspects of communication.
Our highly participatory workshops use a mix of instruction, examples, and live coaching sessions so you can immediately put your new skills to practice and achieve your storytelling goals. And with a variety of in-person workshops, live online courses, and self-paced online video lessons, anyone can take advantage of our training options.
|OUR TRAININGS||ARE PERFECT FOR…|
|Slide:ology®||Visual thinking – When you need to apply design principles to convert ideas into effective visuals and slides.|
|VisualStory®||Incorporating story and visuals – When you need to use design thinking to organize your content, then transform ideas into a visual storyboard for your presentation.|
|Captivate™||Public speaking – When you’ve finished your research, crafted relevant and compelling content, and even created stunning slides. But you still need to deliver perfectly.|
|Resonate®||Story structure for presentations – When you spent weeks gathering quotes, facts, rationale—everything you think you need to make your point. But when you stand up in the conference room, your idea seems to fizzle away, despite your big effort.|
|Illuminate™||Change communication – When you need to drive organizational transformation by overcoming fear and skepticism with authentic, emotional, audience-centric communication.|
|Duarte DataStory®||Storytelling using data – When you need to communicate data in a way that inspires action.|
|Adaptive Listening™||Interpersonal communication – When you need to improve working relationships and better connect with leaders, peers, direct reports, and external stakeholders.|
|Speaker Coaching||Personalized speaker coaching – When you‘re having difficulty moving your audience to action, want to run your presentation by an expert, or seek personalized presentation feedback.|
Whether you’re an L&D leader looking to nurture company culture, a CMO pursuing a brand awareness boost, or a strategist growing or defending your organization, you can reap the benefits of storytelling.