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One emotional and vivid customer story is far more persuasive than a data dump in 85 PowerPoint slides. Ben Horowitz noted that among entrepreneurs, storytelling is the most underrated skill. No presentation must last more than a TED-like eighteen minutes.

Ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century. In the information age, the knowledge economy, you are only as valuable as your ideas. Storytelling is the act of framing an idea as a narrative to inform, illuminate and inspire. Storytelling is not something we do. Storytelling is who we are.

Until recently, however, few scientists studied one of the most profound benefits of fire — sparking our imagination through storytelling. Social anthropologists believe storytelling made up 80 percent of the fireside conversations of our ancient ancestors.

Best of the best — the most admired storytellers — use “multimodal communication” such as gestures, imitations, sound effects and songs. Telling great stories still makes people wealthy, especially entrepreneurs with an idea to sell.

Emotion trumps logic. You cannot reach a person’s head without first touching their heart and the path to the heart runs through the brain, starting with the amygdala. A great story releases a rush of chemicals like cortisol, oxytocin and dopamine.

There are five kind of storytellers:

  • Storytellers Who Ignite Our Inner Fire
  • Storytellers Who Educate
  • Storytellers Who Simplify
  • Storytellers Who Motivate
  • Storytellers Who Launch Movements

The punch to the gut. The “wow” moment. The “aha” moment. Whatever you choose to call it, radical transformation can happen in an instant.

The famous Steve Jobs “reality distortion field” a phrase coined to describe Jobs’s mix of charisma and his ability to convince people that they could accomplish the impossible. Steve Jobs’s gift as a storyteller. And that gift wasn’t on a slide. It was in his heart. Apple’s core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better. Passion is contagious. Passion is irresistible. Passion fuels the inner fire.

Gardner said, “The secret to success is to find something you love to do so much, you can’t wait for the sun to rise to do it all over again.” [1]

Where most people have “goals”, inspiring storytellers see moonshots and they don’t let anyone get in their way. Not all optimists are storytellers, but nearly all inspiring storytellers are optimistic. People with high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided. Successful storytellers learn to manage their fear and not to eliminate it.

The gift of your past matters most when creating a vision or a culture to take you into the future. A company leader, by definition, sets the vision. But vision falls on deaf ears if not accompanied by a compelling backstory. The backstory gives the vision its meaning.

Inspiring storytellers don’t avoid the difficult parts of their arc, but rather embrace every step as an opportunity to transform, grow and to make a deeply meaningful emotional connection with their audience.

Paulo Coelho, describes a calling as a “personal legend” in his book, The Alchemist. When a person chooses a path that fills that person’s soul with passion and enthusiasm, he or she is following their personal legend and when that happens, “All the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Inspiring storytellers infuse their jobs with meaning that goes beyond a title or a product.

In her now famous Harvard commencement speech, Rowling followed the three-part storytelling structure:

  • Trigger Event,
  • Transformation,
  • Life Lesson.

She explained the life lesson: “You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.” [2]

Hasson discovered that “speaker – listener neural coupling is widespread and extensive”. The coupling only occurred when the speaker was telling a story to the listener in a language familiar to the listener.

The three dimensions of authentic brands, defined by marketing professor Julie Napoli are: heritage, sincerity and commitment to quality.

Normal companies don’t attract love, loyalty and devotion. Unusual companies do; companies that have an irresistible story to tell.

“Our purpose is to teach people what they put into their bodies makes a difference to their health…and to the health of the planet as a whole,” says Mackey. [3]

A competitive salary is important, of course, but Millennials place far greater emphasis on purpose, passion and meaning. They want to work with teams of like – minded people who are connected to something bigger than themselves.

A business, by definition, exists to make a profit and the world’s best corporate storytellers acknowledge as much. What sets them apart is what they do next. They wrap their product, service, company or cause with a vision and a purpose that goes well beyond making money. They spark our collective passion because they speak to the core of what makes us human — a search for meaning.

Guber says that anyone can build a story in three steps:

  • Grab your listener’s attention with a question or unexpected challenge.
  • Give listeners an emotional experience by telling a story around the struggle that will ultimately lead to conquering the challenge.
  • Galvanize listeners with a call to action.

Narrative is hugely important in effective communication.

Aristotle’s three keys of persuasion are: Pathos (emotion — stories), Logos (logic — analytical) and Ethos (evidence — credibility).

Violating expectations is a “superior” communication strategy, according to Dr. Burgoon. She says the technique can enhance a speaker’s “attractiveness, credibility and persuasiveness”. It works because the human brain cannot ignore novelty.

The 2007 launch of the iPhone is considered by many to be one of the greatest business presentations of all time.

Analogies are the building blocks of an effective narrative intended to explain complex subjects. Analogies help us understand material we know little about because we can associate the content with something, we do know something about.

Statistical evidence and industry jargon are the least effective means to educate a general audience on complex topics. Personal stories and analogies help people make sense of information and ideas they know little about. Remember, the elements of a good story include struggle, conflict and resolution. Every great moment has a soundtrack that goes with it.

When SAP chief executive Bill McDermott hired Julie Roehm, he hired her as the senior vice president for global marketing, but gave her a title more descriptive of her role: “Chief Storyteller”. Roehm told author that McDermott hired her to simplify the SAP story and to make the company’s message human, authentic and relevant to the lives of its customers.

Combine humility with humor and you’ve got presentation gold. Very many people lack purpose in their lives. The evidence of this is everywhere: in the sheer numbers of people who are not interested in the work they do; in the growing numbers of students who feel alienated by the education system and in the rising use everywhere of antidepressants, alcohol and painkillers.

Storytelling is not a press release, Vaynerchuk reminds us. You need to be authentic from the heart, not a cold-minded press release that means nothing to anybody.

Successful brands — individuals and companies — see themselves as storytellers first. They go to where their audiences are living their lives and once there, create authentic, personal and passionate stories that are tailored to fit the way their audiences consume content.

An entrepreneur often spends a little more upfront for the potential of a bigger reward down the line.

Complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. It’s hard to make something simple, according to Branson. Steve Jobs launch The iPod with – it’s 1.000 songs in your pocket.

Creating what author calls a “Twitter – friendly headline” requires work because you’re hiding complexity. Consider the Twitter – friendly headline as base camp. It sets the foundation for the rest of the conversation. A longer e-mail might be base camp one, a 10-minute presentation might serve as base camp two and so on, until finally you reach the mountaintop and you’ve taken your listener along for the journey. Once you’ve reached the summit your vision will be much clearer and both you and your audience can enjoy the view.

Pope Francis religiously follows one of the cardinal rules of storytelling — the rule of three. The rule of three is a fundamental building block of communication. Decades ago researchers found that the human mind is only capable of remembering three to seven items in short – term or “working” memory.

In a study of 1.000 people, the study found that the average adult attention span had declined from 12 minutes in 1998 to 5 minutes in 2008. And what happened in 2008? The explosion in social media platforms that challenge our attention spans.

An impactful presentation keeps the noise down and the signal up.

Stories work because they activate many parts of our brain and metaphor and analogies are critical devices to make it happen.

Storytellers who simplify complexity speak succinctly. They practice their pitch until they can tell a compelling story in as little as 60 seconds.

The fight. The nemesis. The villain. Every great story has one, and every great life story has one, too. Inspiring leaders revel in their failures and embrace their struggles. Just as pressure gives the diamond, the pearl and the grape their value, great storytellers turn their struggle into strength, conflict into confidence and tension into triumph.

Every story — even the stories we tell ourselves — requires a hero, a struggle and a happy ending.

We derive meaning from our lives in the form of story. We create internal narratives to shape our identity and to give our lives purpose and meaning so we can leave a legacy. Storytelling is not something we do. Storytelling makes us who we are. Stories evoke emotions that make people feel more deeply, making them more likely to internalize the habits and practices that will move the brand forward.  Stories can be used in organizations as a means to motivate people and create a message memorable enough for people to take cause and action.

If you can make someone else feel good about themselves, they will love you for it. They will be loyal to you. If you get someone to feel better about themselves, you’ve hit the jackpot. That’s a dead-on bull’s-eye in human relations, says Wynn.[4] The poet Maya Angelou famously said people will forget what you said and what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. Successful leaders use storytelling to build great cultures. Successful leaders build an award-winning culture with stories that bring the company’s purpose to life. Publicly sharing those stories triggers a crusade. Behind every hero there’s a story of struggle and sacrifice, a story of dreams dashed and dreams found.

Millennials don’t see “climbing the career ladder” as the ultimate goal. They want more than a paycheck. They want mentorship and meaning. They dislike structured hierarchies and wish to be part of communities with shared interests and passions. They don’t want to be managed; they want to be inspired.

“It is important that a leader be a good storyteller, but equally crucial that the leader embody that story in his or her life”, writes leadership author Howard Gardner.[5]

The story of identity is the origin story: the story of where a person came from and the lessons they learned from struggle or failure. The ability to captivate another individual through storytelling is essential to the early stage growth of a company.

If a storyteller cannot bring the audience face-to-face with the subject of the narrative, video works nearly as well. Facts and figures inform, but stories move people to action.

The more specific a story, the more evidence we have against which to measure a story’s truthfulness. People want to believe that you’re telling a true story. We listen for specifics to help us distinguish between fact and fiction.

Movements don’t start themselves. Leaders inspire movements and they do so with stories that provide specific, tangible and concrete details.

Churchill replaced long words with short ones. The greatest number of people prefer short words they hear in everyday conversation. So, if you want to reach them, you need to use shorter words.

“Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few”. One of examples how Churchill used few short words to explain everything. “So much” stands for freedom, democracy and liberty — much of which would have been eliminated if Hitler had not been stopped. “So many” represents the entire population of the British empire at the time and those who lived in the countries Hitler invaded. “So few” is a reference to a small number of English pilots, many of whom were killed in the skies as they defended their homeland.

Storytellers motivate the largest numbers of people with the fewest words possible.

Metaphor is a critical component of the storyteller’s toolbox. Metaphor systematically disorganizes the common sense of things — jumbling together the abstract with the concrete, the physical with the psychological, the like with the unlike — and reorganizes it into uncommon combinations. Metaphors and analogies are more likely to lead to sales because they bring clarity to abstraction.

Anaphora is a storytelling device where a word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of successive clauses and sentences. Business leaders often shy away from anaphora because they believe it’s a tool reserved for political speeches. Actually, anaphora can be seamlessly and comfortably incorporated into business presentations meant to inspire audiences to see the world differently.

Statistics don’t spark movements; stories do. Successful people rise because they’ve fallen seven times. Failure and struggle are the two best teachers on the planet. They are what great stories are made of.

The 7 – step process that all Pixar movies follow:

  • Once there was a ___ .
  • Every day he ___ .
  • Until one day ___ .
  • Because of that ___ .
  • Because of that ___ .
  • Until finally ____ .
  • Ever since then ___ .

If you’re going to share a story, make it great. A good story can bring one to tears; a great one can start a movement.

Storytelling is not something we do. Storytelling is who we are and there’s a storyteller in each of us. Your story can change the world. Let it out.

Storytelling is not a luxury, wrote novelist Robert Stone: “It’s almost as necessary as bread. We cannot imagine ourselves without it, because the self is a story.”[6] If the self is a story, then we’re all storytellers. The sooner you accept it, the sooner you can get started on the work of shaping your future. Storytellers give us hope and hope is a universal desire.


[1] In the book on page 15

[2] In the book on page 44

[3] In the book on page 52

[4] In the book on page 160

[5] In the book on page 180

[6] In the book on page 230

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