Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of conveying our history. Since the beginning of time, we really haven't changed much.
From cutting-edge CEOs like Richard Branson, who gathers his team around a fire to swap stories, to motivational speaker Tony Robbins, whose stories have inspired thousands to become their best selves – throughout history, storytelling has ignited our spirit to reach higher.
Storytellers can not only inspire us and motivate us. They can educate us, create movements, and help us to open our minds to all of the possibilities that life has to offer.
The greatest storytellers simplify. Richard Branson once said, “If your pitch can't fit on the back of an envelope, it's rubbish.” Business leaders like Bill and Melinda Gates are experts at explaining complex subjects using simple words.
Effective communicators simplify the story and craft their message in words that are so simple, an elementary school student can understand.
Great brands and growing businesses all have great storytellers behind their success. They have to tell their authentic, compelling stories to build the relationships that carry them to success.
Every great relationship, brand, and business has to be built on trust, and the power of a great story can build the foundation.
What Is Storytelling?
Storytelling describes a form of human expression where stories are shared with an audience for educational purposes, for entertainment, to impart moral values, or to achieve cultural preservation.
There are so many ways storytelling can be used, which is why most storytelling, at its core, is used to encourage a listener's imagination using words and actions. Storytelling helps to unite people as they identify with each other based on common human experiences.
This means that storytelling can be used in marketing, and when it is done right, it can be highly effective! Marketers can use storytelling to truly connect with their target audience.
In marketing, it isn't about the product or service. It's about how you can weave your offerings into the story of the customer's life.
For instance, Subaru often communicates "love" in their marketing ads to describe the way the brand fits into customers' lives. They tell a story of how giving your child, wife, sister, or brother a car is loving because of Subaru's awesome safety features.
Why Marketers Need to Learn Storytelling
Here are some reasons why marketers should use storytelling in their marketing messages:
Stories Help to Create Memories.
Hearing a good story helps people to remember information whether they recognize it or not.
This means that when an audience hears a story, their brain creates images, they feel emotions, and they hear sounds. This psychologically allows them to remember what you are telling them better than if you simply told them the facts about your products.
Sometimes marketers don't even need their audience to listen actively. The stories will stick to the audience anyway when they are told effectively.
Stories Engage Customers and Keep Them Interested.
Aggressive advertising messages hurt business, whereas storytelling helps business by keeping customers engaged and interested. This is because storytelling sparks emotions that regular advertising does not.
Touching your customers feelings also influences them to engage with your brand. When customers feel like they can be a part of the positive story you told by buying your products or services, or by engaging with your brand on social media, then they will be more likely to remain loyal to your brand.
They may also tell their friends and family about your brand and submit good reviews just because you provided them with a great story.
Great Stories Make Great Content.
Have you ever thought about why content is king? It is king because people love stories.
They like watching videos, reading blogs, and consuming other content because it gives them an exciting experience. Through these exciting experiences, they remember your brand name.
The stories you tell can be woven into all of your content. And if your content marketing contains enough interesting stories, then the more likely your audience is to link things in their life with your brand.
Storytelling Is a Powerful Form of Learning.
Since storytelling helps people remember information better, it also helps us to learn. They transmit knowledge and meaning.
Other than telling stories, marketers should also listen to stories to learn more about their audience. This helps them to understand what is going on in the marketplace so they can craft messages that help your products or services fit into those stories in a meaningful way.
How to Become a Great Storyteller
Some people are natural storytellers, but others need a little bit of help. If you need some help cultivating the art of storytelling, here are five steps you can take to help you become a great storyteller.
1. Plan Out Your Story and Write It Down.
If you want to tell your story aloud to an audience, it may be a good practice to write out what you are going to say. This doesn't mean that you have to write out everything you will say word for word.
Instead, you can plan and organize your talking points into an outline.
Use your talking points as a reference and then ad-lib the other parts of your story to make your story seem natural like you are having a conversation. When storytelling flows naturally, it helps create a greater connection between you and your audience.
2. Make Your Story Personal.
People will invest more into your story when you add your personal touch to it. Talk about your personal experience as it relates to your storytelling topic, and your audience will be more likely to care about what you are saying.
For instance, a speaker may talk about how they had an experience with unclean drinking water as a child to link to the reasons why they promote clean water initiatives now.
3. Understand Who Your Target Audience Is.
Your story should be adapted based on your audience. The story should be personal, but it should also resonate well with the audience you are speaking to or writing content for.
For instance, your story will change when you are talking to investors versus when you talk to your customers because they are interested in different outcomes.
4. Sprinkle Your Main Points Throughout the Story.
Don't use all your main points at the beginning of your story.
If you don't use your main points throughout your story, you will lose your audience. Keep them interested by providing them with main points at the right time to pace your story well.
5. Leave Room For Surprises.
The best storytellers don't want their audience to know exactly what to expect. This means you must hold back some of your most pertinent information to surprise the audience with awesome information later on.
As your story unfolds, throw a plot twist into your story to recapture your audience's attention.
To help you understand storytelling better, let's take a closer look at some of the best storytellers of all time. Study what they do, and try to develop your storytelling strategy based on some of their best skills.
The 10 Best Storytellers of All Time
Here are 10 of the greatest storytellers of all time and what we can learn from their stories:
1. Anita Roddick
Although she's gone now, Anita Roddick was one of the greatest storytellers in business. She built the Body Shop on a great story and inspired millions through the stories behind her products, its support against animal testing, her belief in basic human rights, ethical trading, the arts, and the environment.
In one of her last interviews with the Daily Telegraph, she said, “One of the most intriguing things in management and in business is the role of storytelling – people need the anecdotes to do the work they do.”
She was a great archivist, and she took the history of the Body Shop and created the stories that grew her brand, shaped its strategy, and identified what made her organization great.
From her, we learn that our history is who we are. Telling the stories of our values, our successes, and our failures can influence the direction of our business and build a brand.
2. Walt Disney
Whether you're watching one of his films or visiting his theme parks, Walt Disney told stories that transcended age to create experiences that immersed people in his fantastic worlds.
Disney understood that creating an unforgettable experience meant focusing on the minute details and how those details contributed to the full story.
What we can take away from Disney's magic is that using details can create an immersive experience. Just make sure that the details don't detract form the story you're trying to tell.
3. Richard Branson
Richard Branson is one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.
He got that way by never shying away from a conversation and an opportunity to tell stories about the remarkable moments of his life and the lives of others.
He freely shares what he thinks, what he has seen, and what he does. That openness is reflected in the Virgin brand. He understands the power of nuance, even if it's not polished, that makes a story captivating.
The takeaway? The flaws are what make your stories interesting and memorable. Don't polish every detail: Just tell your story, flaws and all.
4. Bruce Springsteen
For decades, “The Boss” has painted pictures of the American experience through his songs.
Great stories have villains and heroes, they have conflict, happy endings and sad endings, and sometimes, no ending at all.
The stories Bruce Springsteen tells are often inspires by the stories of other people. His multi-platinum hit “The River” was said to be inspired by his sister's relationship.
Because his stories are so deeply personal, they have the ability to draw you into the song as a character living the experience. His talent is making the listener feel like their story is communal – a shared history, and that makes you feel less alone.
Great storytelling brings us together by touching us on an emotional level and creating a shared experience that makes us feel like a part of something bigger. By framing your story in an emotionally inclusive way, you can work to build your tribe.
5. Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs is a must on any list of storytellers. His entire career was based on stories.
He understood that his products didn't just need customers; they needed disciples who would tell his story as if it was their own to move his business forward. And that's what made Apple.
The best storytellers get others to tell their stories for them. In order to do that, the stories need to be recallable and motivated.
If your stories have emotional impact, resonate with the listener, and are relevant (which comes out in the details – see Walt Disney above), your listeners will do most of the work for you.
The lesson? Create an experience worth sharing if you want your story to spread. It has to be memorable and backed up by the facts (e.g., your product) to resonate and be effective.
6. Sheryl Sandberg
Through her own personal anecdotes, the COO of Facebook and author of Lean In uses her position to address common problems that men and women face today.
Her stories are ones that we can all relate to. By tapping into her personal experiences, ones that are sometimes surprising to hear from someone so powerful, she generates empathy with her listeners, empowering them to reach new heights.
The takeaway? Sharing personal stories can make you feel vulnerable, but your vulnerability is what truly resonates with listeners. It's the tie that connects us all.
7. Tony Robbins
Tony Robbins built his career on his ability to tell a story.
His passionate story of his humble beginnings, "...living in a 400-square foot apartment and washing his dishes in the bathtub," is something almost all of us can relate to.
Remember those first years on your own after college? His inspirational story of how he built his company and his life to the point where nothing is impossible is inspirational and has lit the fire of change for thousands of listeners from all over the world.
We all have a story. Even if uninspiring, it is still being written. With creativity and drive, anything is possible. Robbins' stories work because we're wired to root for the underdog. Struggle is a part of life, and we find stories of triumph over the odds inspirational.
8. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah is possibly one of the most well-known talk show hosts of all time. She has inspired millions with her stories and interviews.
Her story began with humble beginnings and hardship. A classic rags to riches story with some hard work and tons of accomplishments along the way.
She also believes in the power of storytelling and is quite good at helping other people tell their stories as well.
Her show became a place for people of various backgrounds and social statuses to recount and discuss their stories, along with a variety of social causes and issues.
The takeaway is that being a great storyteller helps to encourage others to tell their stories too. This helps to bring more ideas to light, which opens up a world full of possibilities.
9. Elon Musk
CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk is an effective storyteller who has inspired and affected great change in his industry. He has effectively convinced investors to contribute high amounts of money into risky endeavors. This is due to his drive and his belief in his business ideas.
He is able to explain his high-concept ideas in a simple way that helps to engage his audience and spark imagination.
You can learn a few things from Elon Musk's simplicity when you explain complex ideas to your audience. If you understand something well, you can explain it in a way that other people can understand too.
10. Stephen King
Stephen King is an iconic writer and storyteller. He is a master of suspense, and not only can he write best-selling stories, he can tell great stories orally as well.
In his talks, he emphasizes his need to write more than he does anything else, and how being a good writer mostly starts with reading great stories. King also tells the interesting story of his life that shaped him into the successful author he is today.
He never let the critics get to him and he continued to do what he was passionate about and shared his love of storytelling with others.
Today, we're bombarded with choices. Who we do business with often comes down to who tells the most compelling, honest story.
Having a good story can define your brand, explain your history, provide the listener with a better understanding of your values, and help you to grow your business.
In the business world, the most successful companies have the most compelling stories. Storytellers are all around us. It's time for you to share your story with unflinching honesty, warts and all!