A Common Pitfall in Business Storytelling: Wrong Story Overall

Over the last few days I’ve written about the four major steps in organizational storytelling, modeled after Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. But, even with all the right elements in place, there are pitfalls to avoid.

For one, be sure you are telling your story to the right audience.  Or rather, have the right story for the audience.

Ensuring your story resonates with your listeners requires you know something about them. I am not talking about deep market research. Just some basic facts will do. If you are speaking before a group, are they from a particular industry? Have a common need, vision or issue? If it is an individual, do you know them personally? (If not, keep the story as universal as possible.)

For instance, if you are speaking to a group of people in the hospice industry do not tell a story about how your rock climbing injury kept you from reaching the top of Mount Everest. If you are a CEO and are lamenting about your contractor problems on your beach house before an audience that could never afford such a luxury, expect to miss the mark.

Universal themes are always the safest bet, unless you know the group or individual intimately. Being relevant is more important than being titillating.

3 Pitfalls to Avoid in Corporate Storytelling

Want to include storytelling in your corporate communications? Avoid these three common pitfalls.

1.     Good story, wrong audience. Or should we write, good audience, wrong story? If you are speaking to a group of people in the hospice industry you would not tell a story about your rock climbing injury that keeps you from reaching the top of Mount Everest. That may be an obvious example, but don’t forget the more nuanced scenarios.

2.     Not enough suspense or twists and turns. Stories have to have a beginning, middle and end. But, they also need to have some air of unpredictability to be interesting. Catch your audience off guard and you will have caught their attention. But, remember number one above. Make sure the twist is appropriate.

3.     Too much corporate jargon.  This goes for marketing speak, too. Because if you believe your 24/7 enterprise solution brings mission-critical projects to fruition, adding to the corporate bottom line and realizing a greater ROI than the other guy down the street – and you describe it that way – you have successfully put your audience to sleep. Or, running from the room.

Develop your story and then check to see if they fall into these traps above. Edit and repeat. The world loves a good story. Be sure your attempts at introducing storytelling stay out of the snares.

Part Two of Knowing Your Audience: 5 Essential Questions

Yesterday, I discussed how important it is to know your audiences deeper than ever before.

Today, could you answer the following questions about your prime target, your sweet spot customer, the group or person you need to influence?

  1. What are the top 5 things on their minds right now? What is keeping them up at night? (e.g. keeping their jobs, growing their company, completing a project? Something more specific?)
  2. And, what magic wand do they wish they had to resolve their concerns, issues or challenges?
  3. What are 3 things that motivate them? What is most precious to them (e.g. time, money, health/vitality, power, success/admiration, security, comfort, legacy, making a difference/contribution)?
  4. What tone of voice attracts them? (e.g. humor/entertainment, serious business/security, urgency?)
  5. What was their defining moment or defining experience that led them to possibly needing you and what you have to offer?

Whether or not you are about to make a sales pitch, are getting ready for a presentation or speech, about to launch a fundraising effort or other activity, knowing the answers to these questions will make your stories and presentations and messages much more powerful. Take the time to answer them.

What is Your TED Talk?

You would have to be living under a rock to not know about TED. This organization whose tag line is simply “ideas worth spreading” means to bring “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.”

Each talk is usually less than 20 minutes long. Most of you would never even notice they are that long, they are that good.

TED is a pretty cool idea and has gained such popularity that TED organizations have cropped up all around the world. But other than showcasing terrific presentations and speeches, the very idea of TED itself can be useful.

If you were asked to give a TED talk next week, what would you do? More importantly—what is your big TED idea? What idea would be the centerpiece of a talk you could give that would be considered riveting and brand you a remarkable person? Consider starting there next time you have to address your board of directors or even your boss.

Design your own TED talk.

Great TED talks:

Feel free to share your favorite TED talks here. Or, perhaps you’ve given one yourself. We’d love to hear it.