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How entrepreneurs can use storytelling to make a message stick

How entrepreneurs can use storytelling to make a message stick

15 February 2020|Business Growth, Launching a business, Marketing, PR, Promotion, Pitching Skills

How entrepreneurs can use storytelling to make a message stick
How entrepreneurs can use storytelling to make a message stick

By Rebecca Pepper, Toastmasters International 

Entrepreneurs wanting their key messages to be remembered can learn useful lessons from my granddad. When I was a small child my granddad told me a drama-filled story culminating in moments of breath-taking excitement as he wrestled a crocodile in the jungle heat. Nanna provided the evidence – a pair of crocodile shoes! The story Granddad and Nanna told to their grandchildren has lived in our hearts and minds for decades and lives on as we retell it to our families. 

What was special about story? Why has it proved so memorable?  Let’s explore these questions and the relevance of storytelling to entrepreneurs.

When you start a business you want both you, and your product or service, to be memorable. But being remembered so that other also tell your story for you should be your aim as an entrepreneur. How can you tell a story that, as Patricia Fripp puts it: will be “remembered and repeated”? 

My granddad would say that there are two parts to a successful story: the story itself and how you tell it.

The story to be told

1. It’s all about the audience

I heard my granddad retell the same story many times. Each time the story would change a little. He would pause in a different place, add the odd extra detail, or miss out a detail. Intrigued, I asked my granddad why he changed it so often. He paused before replying, held my gaze steady and said, “You’re assuming I change it for my needs. Never. The changes I make are always for those listening. Each time I tell it, the audience is different. Even with the same people, they may be a little – or a lot – older the next time I tell it, and so I adapt. I adapt to keep them interested. It’s all about them.

World Champion of Public Speaking, Darren LaCroix, says: take you out of it. In telling a story, it’s about the audience, not you. Whether your audience is your six-year old grandchild or a room full of CEOs, your information, your message, your story has to be for them. What will your listeners get from you?

TIP: Whatever story you are telling, tailor it to the audience. 

2. How much detail?

A great story transports the listener to the scene. Through the detail of what was seen, heard and felt, the listener experiences the story as if they were there. It’s important to get the balance right. Give too much detail and you take away their involvement in creating the scene, in being part of the story. Give vague or generic detail and they’re bored. 

I once heard granddad tell the story without describing the jungle foliage or the sweat in the jungle’s heat. The story simply didn’t sparkle. Add enough detail through evocative language and listeners can paint the full scene in their minds eye.

TIP: Add enough evocative imagery to pull in the audience 

Telling the story

Once your story is ready, it’s now all in the delivery, as part of a pitch or presentation. This is where my granddad, supported by my lovely nanna, really came into their own.

1. Using movement

A great storyteller acts. They use the space available and their full body to depict the scene. As granddad hacked through the foliage, his arm held an invisible machete and chop, chop, chop. He was purposeful with his movements. No movement was superfluous. Every movement had the story move forward.

In summary: Use your stage, use your body – make them part of the story 

2. The pause

These were the true moments of power. The pause. The silence. The stillness. You waited, and the anticipation of what would happen next overwhelmed you. Just at the point of unease, it would stop, and you would fall headlong into the next part of the story. 

Pausing is power for a storyteller. It is an invitation to your listeners to fully engage in your story and message. To be involved. To reflect. To answer the question, you have posed. These are the points when your message is truly made in a business meeting as much as elsewhere.

In summary: Give your audience the time and the space to engage with your story 

3. Vocal variety

Fast. Slow. Loud. Quiet. A whisper. Deep. High. All have their place in a memorable story. Use purposefully. 

In summary: Add colour to your voice and avoid a monotone.

4. The prop

Not essential, but a prop can enhance your message. Granddad’s story will forever be remembered as ‘crocodile shoes.’ Did my granddad ever mention shoes in his story? Never. But nanna did. As an important part of his storytelling, nanna’s props added a detail which added truth (?!!) and humour. And a lasting visual takeaway.

In summary: Appropriate props can illustrate your story and help the audience remember you, your product/service. 

5. It’s all about them

Yes. I do mean to say this again! A key message my granddad shared: It’s all about them. It’s all about your audience. His stories changed because he watched his audience responses. He continually met their needs. He sensed the mood, energy and need and adapted accordingly. 

Your message is important. But without your audience’s buy-in, it’s going nowhere. Focus on how to create a story that will live in the hearts and minds of your audience, and your story – your message – will last.

In summary: it’s all about the audience so respond to their needs.

Conclusion

From childhood onwards we respond to a well told story. Why not tap into this very human trait to make sure your message is remembered and repeated?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebecca Pepper is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org