How do you get the most out of storytelling?
When I think of storytelling, I immediately conjure up the imagery of fairy tales, stories told around campfires, and books read to me as a child by my parents. It brings with it a sense of occasion, a chance to hear something passed down from generation to generation.
That was the purpose of stories originally. They were a way to keep a record of our history, our adventures, and key milestones in communities. It was a way to educate people, incite and inspire people, caution, and prepare them too.
With this background in mind, it’s no wonder that storytelling is such a powerful method in business. Without using storytelling, your people couldn’t become as invested. Your call to actions wouldn’t be a success. Changes could be harder to implement.
But what stories do you tell? How do you tell them to achieve the desired results?
Firstly, let’s look into what makes a story.
7 types of stories
When thinking about storytelling, a good place to begin with is Christopher Booker. He published his book after working on it for 34 years, “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories”. This details out the seven basic plots that make up the backbone of all our storytelling.
Overcoming the Monster
The central character of the story sets out to defeat an antagonistic force which threatens the protagonist’s environment or homeland.
A great example of this is the Star Wars franchise.
Rags to Riches
The poor protagonist acquires power, wealth, and possibly love loses it all and gains it back, growing as a person as a result.
If you don’t want to think of Cinderella, another example is Trading Places.
The hero and their companions set out to acquire an important object or to reach a location or milestone. They face temptation and other obstacles along the way.
The example I use for this is Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Voyage and Return
The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses or learning important lessons unique to the location, they return with experience.
Just think of The Odyssey.
Light and humorous characters that centre around triumph over adverse circumstances, resulting in a happy or successful conclusion.
Pretty much any of Shakespeare’s comedies: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night.
The protagonist is a hero with a major character flaw or great mistake which is ultimately their undoing. Their unfortunate end evokes pity at their folly and subsequent fall.
Again, any of Shakespeare’s tragedies: Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Hamlet
An event forces the main character to change their ways and often becomes a better person.
A good example of this is Beauty and the Beast, The Snow Queen and an all-time favourite, A Christmas Carol.
What’s the purpose of storytelling?
When using these basic plots in business, they are a great starting point to understand what you want your storytelling to achieve. What’s the purpose behind using stories?
Many stories have lessons they want to impart, to guide and to create change. Just think of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories and Aesop’s Fables. These stories on the surface present simple tales, but when you look deeper behind the purpose of the story, you see so much more.
Think of the Aesop Fable, The Hare and The Tortoise, the moral of the story is not to think that because you are faster or stronger that you’ll win. ‘Slow and steady wins the race’.
Storytelling helps us to build and maintain strong interpersonal relationships. They enable more collaboration, higher productivity at work, which ultimately improves the bottom line.
In a blog post from the American Management Association (AMA), it explains the power of storytelling.
“Our brains don’t distinguish between stories and reality, which enables us to experience events that don’t actually happen in our own lives simply by having them explained to us through works and/or images. The sadness, anxiety, excitement, or joy that is communicated through a story can be internalised and felt rather than merely contemplated philosophically – something that isn’t likely to be accomplished with even the fanciest of pie charts”
Where you should use storytelling
That’s the beauty of storytelling. You can tell them anywhere. In a boardroom meeting, by the coffee machine, with your project team, in the bathroom.
It just depends on what action you want to happen after you share your story.
You could share an original story, telling your backstory, reflecting on what you’ve done, how you’ve got somewhere and where you’re going.
Tell a failure story, to show what you learnt, how you’ll do better, and build trust with your customers and people.
Another great style is using an unrelated story with a related moral.
A great example of this the story of the rocker who wanted to see if brown M&M’s had been removed as instructed. This wasn’t just because he was an eccentric musician, but because it meant the organisers hadn’t read the instructions for how to rig the venue for the show, so couldn’t guarantee the health and safety of the crew and musicians.
Other great styles are:
- How-To story
- Backstage story
- Refuting a shared experience story
- Higher-purpose story
- Kudos story
- Winning story
So, we’ve looked at the basic plots that make up a story, the purpose behind using storytelling, where you should use them. Now let’s look at bringing all these elements together to drive the right outcome.
Brands use storytelling to drive sales, they present an outcome where their product helps improve their lives. One example of this is:
Eva Stories. This was a campaign, not only to drive people to use Instagram Stories, but also to educate a new generation about the Holocaust, Auschwitz, and the Second World War.
This campaign received more than 300 million views in less than 48 hours.
A great quote really sums up how much storytelling has influenced how we interact and engage with businesses, products, and services.
“You can say the right thing about a product, and nobody will listen. You’ve got to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut. Because if they don’t feel it, nothing will happen”