The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Best intentions, higher callings, righteousness—all good stuff, but without good communication, our efforts fail.

Instinctively, we all know storytelling is a great communication tool, but the word itself is a problem. We associate it with bedtime stories and therefore the idea sounds a bit childish.

In the modern era, Hollywood talks about the arc of the story; or in politics, the media punishes the lack of narrative. Actually, this is storytelling just dressed up in more formal attire.

The other problem with storytelling is that we are not very good at it. It seems too simple, so we gravitate to more complex solutions—frameworks, theories, models, four-box quadrants, pyramids, Venn diagrams—anything to appear more convoluted and pseudo-intelligent.

If we present something complex, we must be smart. On the other hand, anyone can tell a story. Ah…but can they?

How many really good business stories have you heard lately? Have you been captivated by the speaker, as they have taken you into a story that has you emotionally and logically involved?

In my observation, businesspeople are usually poor communicators. To ensure they never improve, they are invariably uninterested in “childish solutions” like becoming a great business storyteller.

The business five-step storytelling process focuses on moving people to action. We might tell this story from the point of view of our own experience in the first person, or we may refer to the insights of someone else, told in the third person.

We begin by clarifying why this matters. The story should draw out for the audience the immediacy and relevance of the issue at hand. This is a critical step, because everyone is surfing through hundreds of emails, Facebook and Twitter posts, LinkedIn updates, Instagram messages, etc.

They are dealing with family, work, financial, and health issues. There is tremendous competition for the mind space of our audience. If we don’t have a powerful “why” to grab their attention, it’s game over right there.

The next step is to describe the “what”—the information our audience needs to know. This is knowledge they don’t already have or have not sufficiently focused on yet. This will bring forth data or perspectives that are pertinent, immediate, and grip our audience.

Imparting key points each linked with evidence is essential today, because we are all card-carrying skeptics. There is so much false information floating around causing us to be permanently on guard against feeling cheated or foolish.

We must communicate to the audience what they need to do. This might be our own recommendation or we may relay that of the third person in the story.

Having isolated the issue, and imparted some evidence to provide more compelling reasons to take this issue seriously, we now must tell the “how” to move forward. Explain in some detail what needs to be done, so that the listener can take immediate action.

Vanquish any potential doubts or concerns by exploring the “what ifs.” Join the listener in the conversation going on in their mind about the fears they might have about what is being suggested. Address these in the story, so that there are no, or at least few, residual barriers to taking action.

Finally, repeat the action steps succinctly and clearly, so that they stay fresh in the mind. Compressing the steps into numbers like three, five or seven work best, as they tend to be easily recalled. Few people can hold elaborate data points in their head. Keep it short, and keep it memorable.

Five-step storytelling incorporates the why, what, how, what if, and action steps needed to draw in your target audience. Let’s use rich stories to make our persuasion power more compelling.



Dr. Greg Story is president of Dale Carnegie Training Japan.