How Leaders use Storytelling

Published on 26th December 2017 in Leadership

Storytelling Formula

What is it?
A formula to frame key messages into memorable and impactful stories. Business storytelling is the skilful sharing of appropriate stories attached to a business purpose.

What are the benefits?

  • You will learn a simple approach to be more effective at business storytelling
  • You will be able to put your messages across in a memorable & impactful way
  • You will build your skill and credibility as a communicator

The details
The research suggests we all become more interested and engaged in something when it is delivered in a story form. Leadership is changing dramatically under the influences of technology and globalisation, and leaders who engage their staff get greater productivity. The role of leadership is moving from ‘inform and expect’ to ‘inspire and respect’. The leader’s mandate is to inspire action and storytelling gives them the opportunity to do that

There are many ways in which to develop powerful stories. One very simple and useful model comes from Dale Carnegie (who also wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People).

1.Framing
Alert the audience to the learning they are about to undertake, e.g. “I would like to tell you a story about leadership.” Be clear on the purpose and stick to a single message.


2. The Incident
The body of the story in which something happens, usually to a group or individual (the potential hero of the story). Filled with sensory information that enables people to construct vivid imagery, feelings and connections to the events and characters.


3. The Point
The message or point of the story. This is not explained outright, but appears as a consequence of interpreting the story for ourselves.


4. The Benefit to the Audience
When a story is crafted and told well, there is not need to point this out. But if you think they don’t understand it (e.g. they come from a different culture and don’t understand some of your own culture’s subtleties; they ask too many questions), then it is useful to explain.


It is not essential to follow the formula timing to the minute, but it is important to shape your message into a story to ensure you (1) share a short context of the situation, (2) spend the bulk of your message (80%) talking about the incident itself, being clear on what the main point or result is, and (3) make sure you highlight the key learning for audience benefit. There is also a physical element to telling stories which is to make sure you retain eye contact at all times with your audience and be conscious of your body language when telling the story.

Key Messages

  • The key to inspirational storytelling is to engage the audience in a manner that allows them to learn from the experience you are sharing with them.
  • The use of telling stories in a business context can be powerful, memorable and impactful.
  • Authentic Leaders often use storytelling to convey their messages with impact, being careful to choose the most appropriate situation to use this approach.
  • Stories should be relatively brief (no more than 5 minutes). More detailed information should be shared in a Q&A session afterwards.
  • The more realistic and impactful the story, the more likely people will generate the conclusions and meaning (i.e. get the point) by themselves and thus feel less ‘told’ and more learned

How can I use this?

  • When preparing to engage a group, draft the key messages you want to share with them.
  • Consider your personal experiences and learning that will represent the message you want to share
  • Create a draft of your message and practice your delivery, using the storytelling model
  • Share your story without notes or slides!
  • Get feedback from others as to how your message was delivered and received.
  • Make note of the feedback and then refine your message for future audiences.

Develop a handful of business stories that can be used and refresh them regularly. Be aware that stories have a shelf-life. Although business storytelling takes time to master, the results justify the investment.

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What next?
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