As part of National Storytelling Week, Exasol’s Chief Communications Officer Deborah Thomas explores the role of stories in business and discusses how to use narrative to sell ideas. The blog covers:
– Why storytelling is crucial in business life
– The importance of knowing your audience
– Why ‘being human’ matters – even in business decisions
– How to deliver your narrative
Telling stories is an integral part of business. Whether suggesting a new concept to a client, pitching to a prospect or onboarding a new contact, we’re never far from creating and delivering a narrative.
But telling stories to external audiences often comes at the end of a much longer process. Because every idea must be developed, sold in and ‘bought’ internally, before it’s presented to the outside world. In this article, I want to explore the idea of gaining buy-in from your colleagues for what you want to achieve in the workplace.
In order to be a great storyteller at work, it’s essential you have a grasp on the mission, vision and values of your organization. How can you expect to sell an idea, internally or externally, if you aren’t up to speed with what you want to achieve, what you stand for and what you value?
Here, we have a real sense of what it means to be an ‘Exasolian’. Our values, mission and aspirations are shared throughout every part of an employee’s journey – from the moment they join, throughout their development to the day they leave.
Know your audience
At Exasol, when we present an idea or proposal to a customer or prospect, we always do our research – what do they value, what is their personality type, what do they want to know? Doing the market intelligence – not just on their audiences but on the customer themselves – allows us to have a high success rate when pitching and delivering ideas.
The same applies to internal audiences. If I want to get buy-in from the board or a C-level executive for an idea I’m nurturing, or a story I want to tell, I apply the same level of consideration. I think about who I’m talking to, what their mood is likely to be and what aspect of the idea they’ll respond to most. Some will want finite detail and specific metrics; others will want a more emotionally led rationale.
Other factors are also important. Day of the week, time of day, the location (if it’s not via video call, of course) could all potentially make a difference in terms of the tone and success of the conversation. Pick your moment and make sure your audience is ready. You might be bursting to talk about an idea but your colleague has just finished a gruelling board meeting and is worrying about next month’s figures. In this scenario your pitch is unlikely to land – no matter how good it is.
Lastly, remember to listen. Don’t get so caught up in telling your story that you don’t leave room for reaction or feedback. You never know, these nuggets from your audience could end up enhancing your idea in the long run.
Same story, different day
If a story works, it will stand the test of time, meaning that the same story can be told a thousand times in slightly different ways. Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew has been retold countless times throughout the ages. The settings, the period or the characters may change, but the theme and thread of the story remain. Hamlet is another that has been reimagined many times – watch The Lion King and tell me that Simba’s story doesn’t draw on the tale of the Danish prince.
So, what is it about these age old stories which makes them resonate so well? It’s all a matter of finding the humanity and the relatable truths that we can connect with. For some, it’s the emotional, tug-at-the-heartstrings stories that will stay with them and engage them enough to buy in to the idea and get on board. For others, it’s the stories with the powerful ending – the strong morals, the clear results, the finite conclusion, that will satisfy and have them raving to their friends.
Again, consider your audience and tune your story accordingly.
Stand (tall) and deliver
Finally, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can’t tell stories because you’re not much of an orator. Storytelling is in everyone’s DNA – one way or another. Some people are natural performers, while others don’t like the limelight. But it’s all about finding your medium and delivery method. It might be building an argument through numbers on a spreadsheet, sketching a picture using a concise but impactful email, or taking your audience on a journey by storyboarding a creative campaign.
Just as different types of stories resonate with different people, so do different styles of narration. Go for whatever style suits you and makes you feel comfortable. Believe in yourself and your ideas. Confidence is the ultimate key to successfully selling any story. If you don’t believe an idea will land, it won’t. If you trust yourself, and deliver that story with passion and commitment, it will connect and inspire – perhaps encouraging others to add their ideas to the mix.
Finally, try to leave your audiences intrigued and wanting more. The best stories are those that leave us longing for the next chapter or the sequel, because we are so engaged with the characters and the narrative. Telling a story which introduces a world that can be built on and expanded will not only strengthen the impact of your pitch but also set you up for future successes.
Deborah Thomas is Exasol’s Chief Communications Officer. With more than 25 years working in technology communications for enterprises and SMBs, Deborah’s primary areas of focus are driving awareness, brand and growth by connecting the dots through consistent and creative storytelling and debate.