You’ve probably heard all the claims about storytelling. It’s been called the most essential business skill and the “new black” of branding.
But you’ve probably also heard that business storytelling isn’t the same as other kinds of storytelling. Business storytelling can be powerful, but power doesn’t operate just one way. You can have some pretty serious misfires…and some pretty awesome outcomes.
Sometimes it’s hard to think of stories, especially if you spend your days working with data and creating online content. You become better at the work you do, but you aren’t exercising your story muscles. So they’re not very strong when it’s time to share a story to build your brand.
It’s like working at a desk all week and then playing basketball or tennis on the weekend. You need to practice moving your body a new way.
Here are 3 ways to build your storytelling muscles, especially if you haven’t used them for a while.
(1) Tell life stories about you, your family, and interesting people you meet.
When I lived here in Philadelphia many years ago, our building had an elderly doorman who made the building a special place. I could listen to his stories for hours. He’d been in the Army in World War II and Korea. He was in an all-black unit (his term) and the wartime Mediterranean was not exactly a seaside resort. He remembers horse-drawn carriages driving up Walnut Street (now we have the less picturesque, but much more comfortable, #42 bus).
When I moved back a few years ago, he was still there. I often thought he’d be a good subject for a book. But I didn’t know how to get started and didn’t know there were guides available.
Writing a history helps you leave a legacy. My own grandparents were gone before I learned to talk so I never knew their stories. If you still have senior family members, you’ve got a time-sensitive window. You’ve also got an opportunity to teach others how to do this.
And by telling your own story, you gain insights into your business, career, and personal life.
(2) Analyze other people’s business stories.
Chances are your email inbox overflows with stories. And you’ll see even more stories in blog posts as you move through the Internet. Sharpen your awareness by analyzing these.
For instance, an executive wrote about her last job interview. Asked about her approach to change management, she told a story about a dog park.
Like many dog owners, she became frustrated with dog owners who wouldn’t pick up after their dogs. She tried cajoling, threatening, and negotiating. Nothing worked. So she began handing out small bags in a friendly, non-threatening way. More people, she reports, began doing the right thing and following the park’s rules.
“So, this experience helped me understand that you can’t force people to change, you need to involve them in the process and give them choice,” she concluded.
How would you categorize this story? What makes it effective? Where would this type of story fit into your own business? Could this story be told differently, to serve a different purpose? We know it worked because the interviewer smiled for the first time and the executive got the job!
(3) Write more stories (selectively).
Not every marketing challenge calls for a story. Sometimes your best copywriting tactics will involve bullet points and more traditional copywriting tactics.
And sometimes a story won’t be appropriate. When faced with a serious objection from a client, you might come across as frivolous or deceptive when you tell a story. Sometimes a situation calls for facts or a yes/no answer.
But often you can use a story to soften a harsh message, support an argument, or simply engage your audience. Start by focusing on the purpose of your story.
Pay attention to the response you get. When you start getting off-the-wall comments, you’ll know your story misfired. (And some will, no matter how experienced you become.) When your audience begins to get involved, you know you’ve got a good story.
Now you can analyze your story, in light of your results. You might need to wait to get some distance so you can be objective, as you were with other people’s stories. What story type did you use? Would you have been better served by a different story? Or a different type of story?
Think of these exercises as working out, the way you’d work out at the gym. You don’t walk around town doing bicep curls and lat pulls. But those exercises help you become stronger in other areas of your life, so you walk more easily, carry heavier objects, and hold your own at a Zumba class or basketball game.
In the same way, these exercises help you build your storytelling muscles so you’re ready to share your story for branding, selling, and speaking. As I like to say, “Marketing becomes easier when you do it with a story.”
And in this free report, you can see 4 case studies of branding with storytelling, each one using a different type of story.
Originally published at https://cathygoodwin.com on July 10, 2020.