The Elegance, Engagement, and Impact of Good Corporate Storytelling

Posted by Elizabeth Levey
August 14, 2015

by Elizabeth Levey

elizabeth-levey-1Our friends at Microsoft have launched a fantastic page on their partner network, dedicated to sharing stories of how Microsoft and their partners have collaborated to impact and influence our ever changing and evolving world.  As a part of a culture addicted to stories, I confess: I’ve devoured most of them. We are huge fans of stories in business presentations, because we know they are the ultimate visual assistant.

Good corporate storytelling, the kind that truly moves the crowd, is priceless in a business presentation. Humans thrive on stories, and have throughout time: from gathering around a campfire in prehistoric days to reading a downloaded book on a smart phone, stories have dominated our cultural landscape. One can scarcely turn on the news any more without being bombarded by stories.  

Did you know that in a business presentation, your audience is 20 times more likely to remember a fact if it’s wrapped in a story? Here’s a theory as to why: as you tell a personal story, you have a clear mental picture as you recall the details to your audience.  Your sense memory is working overtime: you can see, hear, smell, (maybe even taste!) all the specifics of your story. And just as you’re watching the “movie in your mind,” so is your audience.  Sure, they can't see exactly what you were wearing that day or know precisely the way the crisp fall air smelled in that moment, but nonetheless, they are personalizing YOUR story with their own imaginations.

It's elegant communication  you're putting your audience right in the midst of everything, allowing them to truly share an experience. This is often why people enjoy a book more than the movie adaptation of the same story – when reading, each individual reader uses their unique imagination to personalize the story set forth by the author. Like I said, stories are the ultimate visual assistant.

Here's a great example of a some truly engaging storytelling, from a presentation I got to enjoy at corporate-storytellingMicrosoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference. The presenter was discussing the role of technology in the health care industry, and he cited an impending revolution that will increase the amount of data on our electronic health records fifty times over by 2020.  The reason for that exponential increase is because we, as laypeople, are now able to contribute to that data. 

The presenter proceeded to illustrate this fact with a story about his flight to the conference. He was seated next to a young man who kept pressing his finger to the camera lens on his smartphone, every thirty minutes or so.  Finally curiosity got the best of our presenter and he asked, “What are you doing?” Turns out, the young man was a professional athlete, and he was using an app that detected his resting heart rate. From there, via the plane’s Wi-Fi, the app would send the data to the cloud, and then on to his sports medicine doctor in his hometown. 

The trick to good corporate storytelling is keeping it relevant and concise.  The story I referenced above was no longer than one minute in length.  Think short and sweet; all your story ideas should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Think analogy, examples, imagery, and lessons learned. Paint a picture in the minds of your audience.  The more the stories in your business presentation are connected to your own life, the better.

Often, the pressure on a presenter to sound smart is so intense, that they forget the need to be compelling to their listeners. Add a story to your presentation, and you've found a wonderful way to allow your personality to shine through anything — even a dry or data-heavy presentation.  The next time you’re crafting a presentation, take some time away from your slide deck, and sift through your memories for a personal story that’s relatable to your presentation topic.  Include it in your presentation, and you'll impact and connect with your audience on an authentic, meaningful level that cannot be denied.

Witnessed a great example of business storytelling? Trying to get your own story started? Give us a shout in the comments below!


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