One time an executive told me that they are hesitant about telling stories at work. Their company emphasized data, reasoning, and facts. He thought that storytelling is fluff and will cause him to lose credibility.
If you’re hesitant about telling stories at work, then you might be worried about losing credibility as well.
After working with thousands of corporate professionals at our company, I’m here to tell you that whether you like it or not, if you want to influence then you must use stories in your presentations at work.
And in this article, you’re going to learn why (hint: you don’t use stories to gain credibility.)
Before I jump in, let’s clarify what storytelling is: it’s your ability to insert anecdotes anywhere in your presentation. Anecdotes like customer success stories, lessons learned stories, your personal story, study stories, and more. These stories zoom in to a specific place in time to make a point.
So let’s dive into 5 reasons why telling stories should be non-negotiable for the rest of your career.
1. Stories bring your audience’s guard down
One of the best ways to handle objections or skepticism is through a story. Instead of arguing with someone, a story will allow you to handle their objection elegantly. Simply incorporating a phrase like “I know some of you might be worried/thinking/concerned about…” followed with an appropriate story will do the job.. Embedding the objection in the story is powerful because it shows that you understand the audience’s concerns.
Imagine that you’re presenting to the marketing team and you know some of them are skeptical about the proposal you’re making because it’s risky. While you do need to incorporate data and evidence into your proposal, using a story could help lower their defenses as well. “I know some of you are worried about cannibalizing our products in this proposal. But if we go back to 2007, Apple made a similar decision the day they launched the iPhone. They knew it would cannibalize iPod sales….” and go into the story about Apple’s launch.
The power here is that your audience suddenly starts visualizing the story and stops placing as much attention on their objections.
2. Storytelling is entertaining
What is typically more entertaining: a statistics class or an episode of Game of Thrones? (no offense to teachers, we thank you for your work in the world!)
Most people would pick Game of Thrones any day of the week!
But why? Because a story is more interesting than statistics. There are main characters, plots, settings, demons, and mentors. If data is the vitamins and minerals, then the story is like the fat and sugars (and we know which ones people crave more of).
As a presenter, you can throw all the numbers you want at your audience, but that will not engage and entertain them as much as a good relevant anecdote.
3. They are relatable
If you’ve ever explained your reasoning to someone and received a glazed-over-eyes look, it’s frustrating!
We see this issue so often, especially with our technical clients.
To solve that problem, try using a story to further illustrate your point. That will force you to avoid jargon and avoid making your explanation too “heady”.
The story makes the point more concrete and helps the audience visualize what you are trying to get across. You’ll be surprised when it takes you less explanation to convince someone of something. It’s not magic – you’re putting a concrete example into your audience’s minds!
Most importantly the story will help your audience relate to you and the material better.
4. Stories make your ideas spread better
You know you’ve made an impact when your audience is spreading what you’ve told them. Stories are naturally viral. They stick in our minds whether we like it or not and they’re hard to shake. Use this to your advantage when presenting.
If you’re a leader or a manager in your organization, a powerful customer success story could spread amongst your team quickly and remind them why they’re doing what they’re doing. If you’re an individual contributor trying to spread a complex idea, using a story makes it easy for people to understand and share.
Think about it. What’s easier to share for your audience: the statistics and analysis of landfill waste from US companies or the story of how Adobe Inc. brought its landfill percentage down to almost 0%?
5. Stories help you brag indirectly
No one likes a bragger. A person that keeps talking about themselves all the time.
However, you also know that you have to share your accomplishments to get credit for them.
What a dilemma!
Well, It doesn’t have to be. It’s not sharing the accomplishments that make you a bragger, it’s how you share them.
If you keep saying things like: “I came up with idea x,” or “I finished y,” or “I saved the company z.” People will think you are bragging.
If you instead use the story of how while helping your son with homework you had epiphany x, then that’s not bragging because it’s a nice story. The funny thing is that you will still get credit for idea x.
Stories are a great way to share your accomplishment with others and not sound like a bragger.
6. Inspire action
If you take the Messaging Bootcamp you learn to end your presentations with a call to action. The reason you do it is to make sure your audience is clear on what to do going forward.
For example, if you just presented on sales strategy in front of the team, then a good call to action could be to get them to implement at least one of the strategies on their sales calls next week.
Telling them what to do is not enough, because knowing and doing are two different things.
A good way to get them from the knowing stage to the doing stage is to inspire the team to implement. A good story will do the job. Maybe a story from your personal experience with the strategy, or maybe the story of another trainee who implemented the strategy and succeeded because of it.
You probably have heard before that people act because of emotion and then justify it later with logic. It’s true. If you want to get people to take action then move their emotions with a good story.
Storytelling will make you a better presenter. Just don’t overthink it and don’t hesitate.
I’ve been analytical all my life and used logic and reasoning to get my point across. I didn’t know what I was missing until I shared my first story in front of a ToastMasters group.
The moment I started with the story, I could see the group’s eyes light up in delight and I could see the head nods with engagement. For the first time, I got a ton of positive feedback at the end. That was the day I became convinced that storytelling will be a part of my presentations going forward.