Stories are everywhere around us. The permeate the very space we live in, seep in through our consciousness and become the building blocks of the very life we construct. Our earliest introduction to stories is perhaps even before we’re born – even in the womb, we are autotuned to intuitively grasp information in the form of stories. Hindus folk legends point us to this – the great warrior Abhimanyu learnt the way to enter a Chakravyuh via a story in his womb. This continues in the earliest years of our life. In the famous legend of the great Maratha warrior and leader Shivaji, his mother Jijabai told him stories of warriors and heroes as a young toddler. It was this inspired strength and power in him. So why not use storytelling as a complement to leadership to create a natural sense of wonder and inspiration among employees? Today, we’re discussing how business leaders can use stories and storytelling techniques.
How Business Leaders Can Use Stories and Storytelling Techniques:
Why are we so attracted to stories?
Stories have biological, psychological and emotional connects that are fundamental to human beings. The very thing that distinguishes humans from other creatures is their ability be to be aware, intelligent and empathic to others. Stories satisfy all of these primal intellectual instincts. They do this by conveying information through narrative while also arousing a sense of sensitivity and empathy towards others. In a way, they satisfy our needs for emotional connections, by binding us with characters, authors and so many others who are also influenced by stories. Biologically, they stimulate the release of the hormone oxytocin, which creates feelings of care and joy.
Stories also allow us to make sense of what is meaningless and abstract, and to find patterns in the chaos. Wherever understanding is complex and ambiguous, humans tend to simplify it into a narrative. Stories can reaffirm our beliefs or challenge them. They can give us a sense of belonging – they tell us we belong to a world larger than ourselves but we’re still inextricably connected to it. They may even have an evolutionary background linked to our survival. We’re more likely to stop going into a dangerous territory if we’re told ‘an X person went there and a tiger chewed him off’ than if someone says ‘don’t go there, it’s dangerous. Whatever the reason, stories are basic to human life and need to be used effectively.
What exactly does it mean to lead people?
Now we come to the second part of our topic. What exactly is leadership? Of course, it involves making decisions, creating plans, overseeing and supervising functions and processes, innovating constantly and hitting new targets. For this a leader requires a lot of qualities – a sense of vision, and understanding of markets and produces, ability to run a company and more.
But more than that, leadership involves being able to get people to do what’s in the best interest for the project. As a leader, you need not be dictatorial to achieve that. Just infusing in your subordinates the same sense of belief that drives you to do what you do should suffice. But an important function of leadership is people management – you need to optimize the professional lives of your subordinates. This is because the company cannot run without employees. An entrepreneur is merely a binding factor for all workers in a company – a person whose vision everyone strives to realize. A leader is many things, but first, he is a people’s person.
How business leaders can use stories?
You might be wondering how these two can be equated. How are stories related to leadership? How can entrepreneurs use the technique of the narrative to maximize their output? It sounds absurd but it really isn’t. Just as all humans use stories at an intuitive, instinctive level, so do employees in a company. Since a company is a microcosm of the world, stories here can also have great power, and here’s how.
The About page
Analysis of most businesses shows that their most visited page on the website (next to the default home page) is their About page. This shows that people are constantly looking for stories even in professional contexts – they want to learn more about you as a company. They want to read your story. Where you come from, what is your vision, where are you headed and why you are headed there – all these things matter. This is where storytelling comes in. You need to engage your readers in the story of your company – you need to talk about the evolution of the company. Making use of narrative techniques – Aristotle’s falling and rising actions, humorous or interesting anecdotes, even metaphors and symbolisms can do wonders. Plus, including photographs of people makes the company seem less corporate and more human. Photos also act as visual accompaniments to narrative.
Inclusion of case studies on websites acts as a way of establishing real connections with your readers. Through these, you can subtly tell people how you helped solve a problem efficiently, or how absolutely wonderful your service is, or how people friendly you are. Similarly, asking customers for good reviews on apps and in other places serves the same purposes. Here, you make everything about the customer, and slowly slip in the way your company influences him or her. In this manner, you tell the customer’s story as perhaps an underdog story, or using influential credible users to create awe, and hence make the company look good.
Speaking to employees
The same thing a leader does with his customers, he should do with his employees. The best example in this regard is Steve Jobs, a masterful storyteller known for captivating his audiences. He created his own story around his company – their products weren’t technological products. Instead, they were beautiful fruits of technology designed to empower humanity towards a utopian future. When employees and customers believe in the same story, they work towards the common collaborative goal of achieving this. But whether or not they actually believe the story depends entirely on the leader. Additionally, crisis stories can also be an important tool for inspiring and motivating employees in a slump. Basically, it helps cultivate company culture.
Marketing and advertising is another area of business you can effectively use storytelling. Television advertisements are essentially miniature movies. Here the use of narrative, character and theme hits the right note to induce the viewers to buy a product. In other media, ranging from social media to print advertising, you can tell a covert story through the use of colours, slogans, mascots and more. While marketing a product, impact will be greater if you convey a fictional or even real life story to sell a product. You could do this using consumer simulations such as customer rooms with videos and artefacts, consumer documentaries and even presentations.
Storytelling techniques to watch out for
While storytelling seems easy and natural, there are ways to enhance its impact. Some of these include saving the best for the last, as Steve Jobs does, or using the emotional personal story to sound relatable, as in most TedTalks. You could also use humour, punchlines or jokes to make the audience like you and find you funny. There are also tropes that usually work – the underdog story or the rags-to-riches story. Incorporation of these motives in an honest and genuine way will surely land you the deal. Creating credible but tense conflict masterfully and using innovative metaphors is another way to tell stories well.
Ultimately, it is important to consider tone, pitch, intonation and volume while actually telling the story. Masterful usage of silences, pauses, facial expressions, gestures is as important for storytelling as the actual story. All of these, and many more storytelling techniques, combined will give you the effect you desire.
Storytelling as an important art of business
Thus, stories in business serve vital functions. Not only do they establish an emotional connect with the customer, but also generate his or her unwavering loyalty. They allow a business to stand out in a highly competitive market where the consumer faces an info dump. Thus they make your product and the philosophy more memorable to the consumer. Plus, they induce company growth by encouraging a collaborative growth towards a shared ideal in both the employees and customers. Additionally, they add a human dimension to the brand and reduce the corporate feel of it. This in turn makes it easier for customers to answer the question ‘why should they care’ because stories turn on the empaths residing in people. Plus, they help in management of employees as well. Thus, storytelling is a sureshot way to ensure holistic growth and development of a business.