Don’t lose the plot: Seven ways to become a brilliant business storyteller

Don’t lose the plot: Seven ways to become a brilliant business storyteller


Storytelling in business has emerged as a key leadership competency and communication skill. When done well it is a powerful method to connect, engage and influence people more effectively.

Here are seven tips to help you avoid rookie mistakes while constructing and delivering stories more successfully.


1: Make it personal

Sharing personal stories is NOT about sharing your most intimate secrets.

This is this misconception that often frightens people away from using storytelling in business. Consequently, many leaders predominantly deliver business-related stories, such as examples of employees or customers. While these can be effective, the real power in using stories in business is to use a personal story and attach it to a business message.

Everyday anecdotes are the most powerful because they are the stories that people can relate to and connect with.


2: Use humour wisely

In an effort to be more engaging, many people try to make their stories funny. There is nothing wrong with sharing a funny story; undeniably people love amusing stories.

But while humour definitely has its place in business storytelling and presentations, best practice is about using it purposefully and appropriately.


3: Avoid numbers and data

Avoid using numbers, unless absolutely necessary in your stories.

You may need some numbers to set the context, such as ‘five years ago’ or ‘when I was ten’, but too many numbers can distract from your story.

When you use numbers in a story, the audience naturally assumes they are important so unconsciously they try to remember all the numbers. This distracts them from making an emotional connection to your story.


4: Start smart

The start of your story should be short and sharp.

The best formula is to quickly establish the time and place, such as ‘when I was a kid I grew up on a farm…’ or ‘three years ago I ran a half marathon… ’. This signals to your audience that you are about to tell a story and grabs their attention quickly as humans are hardwired to listen to stories.

Try avoiding starting with ‘Let me tell you a story’ or even worse ‘Let me tell you a true story.’


5: Name your character

When you introduce a character into your story such as your child, your partner or your Grade 2 schoolteacher, use their name. By using their name, you bring your story alive.

If you talk about your parents or your grandparents, don’t provide their names but call them what you would normally call them, such as Dad or Nana. Also avoid references such as ‘I had a friend, let’s just call him John’, as this implies that the story is made up.


6: End smart

The way you end a story will make or break it.

Your stories should link to your purpose in a subtle way. You can’t afford to be too direct—for example, ‘So the moral of the story is… ’. Use more inviting endings such as ‘Imagine what we could achieve if… ’ or ‘I invite you to consider… ’

A common mistake with storytelling is to reiterate the point again. This results in the listener feeling like you are telling them what to think and ultimately reduces the impact of your message.


7: Always be authentic

Storytelling in business must always be authentic. It is not worth the backlash on your credibility to make up stories or to spin the truth. The saying of ‘Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story’ does not apply with authentic business storytelling.


Like any skill, storytelling is something that can be taught and learnt with practice.

Ten years ago I took up karate, although being one of eight children I already knew how to punch quite well. Nonetheless learning new techniques, hours of practice and refining my technique helped me to deliver a punch that is more powerful and effective.

You can achieve the same result with your storytelling if you are prepared to learn the skill and commit to practicing and refining your technique.


Gabrielle Dolan is the author of Ignite: Real leadership, real talk, real results. She is offering a discount of 20% to SmartCompany readers for her Public Business Storytelling workshops in Sydney or Melbourne. Enter the following coupon code when purchasing tickets: SmartCompDiscount at



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