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15 Ways Business Storytelling Will Propel Your Career

Tuesday, February 19, 2019
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By now, everyone has heard about the undeniable power of storytelling as a way to communicate ideas. Beyond helping you humanize and organize your thoughts, storytelling also impacts the way you are perceived at work. So, if you are serious about learning the most powerful way to quickly hook attention, spur people to action, and advance your career, this is it.

Storytelling . . .

1. Boosts your executive presence. Not everyone naturally knows how to “own the room,” navigate difficult questions, and come across authentically during a presentation. By incorporating a story framework, you immediately ground your ideas in a cohesive thought process and benefit from a seamless way to advance the storyline. This ultimately helps you stay on track (avoid tangents) and command the room.

2. Makes it easy to address varied audiences. Rarely is your audience totally homogeneous . . . they often serve different functions, at different levels, and have different needs. By incorporating storytelling techniques, you can “flex” your narrative to multiple audiences’ care-abouts—and look like a superstar for being mindful of various points of view.

3. Elevates the meaning of your data. We all love data that validates our ideas . . . but data alone doesn’t tell the full story. Story structure forces us to isolate our key insights and serve up the right data at the right time, increasing the odds of your audience quickly buying into your ideas.

4. Increases cross-functional collaboration and communication. We often build our business communications in teams—a client pitch, a strategic plan, a project update. Using a story structure provides a common language for teams, particularly when many parts must come together at the end. A clear, consistent storyline prevents the final output from becoming a non-cohesive “Frankendeck.”

5. Gives your audience a reason to care. Essential to all storytelling is context. This is simply the reason anyone should care about your ideas! Nobody should wonder why they are sitting in a room, on a conference call, in a virtual meeting, or reading that email.

6. Helps you choose relevant visuals. Yes, we all love gorgeous visuals, but make no mistake: Looks alone won’t grant automatic approval of your ideas. Developing a story arc will make it clear how many key messages you need to communicate, making it easy to choose visuals that correspond. The point is to first “net-out” your ideas, then bring them to life visually with intention.

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7. Reminds you to reflect on your audience’s perspective. So many times we present our ideas by putting ourselves, our products, or our company at the forefront. Storytelling methodology forces you to think about your audience first. Why are they there? What do you want them to know and do with your information?

8. Keeps your presentation from getting hijacked (often by impatient executives). Most of us have experienced a roomful of senior management who sidetrack the conversation or change the focus of a meeting. It can easily cause us to get lost and rattle our confidence. Having a clear story road map will get you back to your original agenda.

9. Humanizes your message. When we tell stories to a friend or colleague, we effortlessly add color and texture to our ideas. Business communication should be no different. Story structure is designed to make people feel something.

10. Provides guardrails for staying on track. A well-planned story is like a chapter book. At any time, you know exactly where you are. The story framework keeps you on track. Phew!

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11. Helps you consider what your audience already knows. The process of developing a business story ensures that you adjust the level of detail and background information based on existing knowledge and context. Don’t bore the audience with facts and data they already have; be mindful and prepare appropriately.

12. Prevents “freeze-ups” during a live presentation. Everyone has experienced nerves and anxiety during a presentation. The higher the stakes, the loftier the bigshots you present to, the more likely you are to freeze up. Nothing will give you more confidence and security than having a story framework that helps you navigate where you are headed.

13. Focuses your ideas. You’re full of great ideas. But having too many unfocused, untethered ideas can be counterproductive. Story structure ensures you isolate a big idea that is woven into the presentation from start to finish. This is particularly vital when working on team presentations.

14. Offers easy flexibility (“the pivot”). You never know how quickly people will grasp your ideas or how deep they want to go. By grounding everything with context, storytelling lets you nimbly jump backward or forward in your presentation depending on how much information your audience is craving.

15. Develops careers. There is no dispute—being able to deliver a clear message that inspires action is a career game-changer. Storytelling is the best way to ensure you or your team will have a simple way to organize ideas. Goodbye meandering ideas, facts, or data . . . hello storytelling!

Want to learn more? Join me at the ATD 2019 International Conference & EXPO for the session, Business Storytelling: One Size Audience Doesn’t Fit All.

About the Author

Janine Kurnoff is founder and chief innovation officer at The Presentation Company. She helps some of the world's top brands such as Facebook, Salesforce, MetLife, and Hewlett Packard communicate strategically through data-driven storytelling. Janine has devoted her life to teaching storytelling and data visualization because she believes that these skills are the single greatest way to amplify the meaning and impact of your facts and figures. Storytelling, done right, is nothing short of a career game-changer. Janine and her business partner (and sister!) Lee Lazarus, founded The Presentation Company nearly two decades ago to let teams get practical, hands-on training using storytelling techniques and tools. From sales to engineering, Janine's methodology helps people organize, visualize, and present their ideas in a way that is captivating, easy-to-process, and results-driven. Prior to founding The Presentation Company, Janine worked for Yahoo! Inc. in sales training and, later, as an on-camera webcast host interviewing some of Silicon Valley's top CEOs, market strategists and Hollywood celebrities. In her spare time, she enjoys The Bar Method, cooking, traveling and spending time with her husband and three children in Portland, Oregon.

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