Description, facts, and statistics might be interesting, but they don’t tell a story. Essential elements are missing.
Few words are as pervasive in the business world as storytelling. Stories can captivate an audience, inspire employees, and build a leader’s credibility, but not everything is a story, even though the term is tossed around loosely these days. Most articles, email, meeting minutes, proposals, and analysis are collections of facts that serve as informational reports.
Here are important elements that elevate routine information to the level of a story:
- Central character – A person or a company.
- A complication – An obstacle or challenge the character needs (or needed) to overcome.
- Setting – A sense of place puts the reader in a location and provides imagery.
- Series of actions in a sequence.
- Theme – A main point, which might be a lesson about life that the reader can benefit from (it’s important to persevere, be kind to others, etc.)
You don’t need to have all these elements at least a few.
When a prominent customer buys a product, the manufacturer cites it as a “success story,” but it’s usually an anecdote, a short account of an incident. When an employee appears on a video elaborating on what a great place the company is to work, she’s not “telling her story,” as a company often claims; she’s simply delivering a promo.
An executive writing or talking about a sales person’s success will bore an audience with facts, data, and praise. But if the sales person succeeded under circumstances where predecessors had failed, then it becomes a narrative about overcoming a challenge, and the audience can benefit from that lesson.