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Want to know a secret? A lot of business success can be attributed to the unwitting storytellers among us: leaders who passionately narrate their visions to inspire change; account reps who conceptualize products or services through real-life examples; trainers who design engaging, scenario-based learning...

A simple example of the power of story: I was recently cruising along an empty Texas road, singing along to the song on the radio, when the song ended and an announcer said, "Buying a house is exciting, and by 'exciting' I mean 'terrifying.'" Anyone who's traveled the road to home ownership could instantly feel those words—because it is a little terrifying to buy a house. The announcer's narration evoking the buyer's perspective had me tuned in and wanting more.

That's the secret to storytelling success: the ability to convey personalized nuggets up front to gain someone's attention, followed by a well-designed narrative that drives action. A good story makes us feel something, and in business that can be transformative.

Stories that allow us to relate to each other and share common experiences are the most influential because we, the audience, can see ourselves in those stories. And those relatable nuggets can come from anywhere.

For instance, it may seem odd to use Madonna as an example of digital transformation, but that's what McKinsey did in a recent article about business transformation. Stories, especially those based on relatable metaphors and analogies, remove obstacles that block one's ability to grasp complex ideas. Likewise, if your narrative reveals how an idea makes someone's job easier or increases revenue, your recommendation becomes the obvious solution.

Getting Started

Not sure how to get started? A simple formula is to focus on ACE:

  • Audience: Who is your desired audience? At the core, storytelling requires a firm understanding of your audience—who they are and why they should care. The key to uncovering more about the audience is directly related to the skill of listening.
  • Channel: Where do they navigate for information? Although channel is typically viewed as how you'll deliver a story (e.g. live, YouTube, digital dashboard), it will also guide you to the technology you'll use to design the narrative—and determine resources required to do both.
  • Emotion: How will you make them care? Getting your audience to feel something will instantly connect them to your story. That's why storytelling is both an art and a science.

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image of Bree Baich

Bree Baich is principal learning and development specialist at SAS Best Practices, a thought leadership organization at SAS Institute.

LinkedIn: Bree Baich

Twitter: @BreeBaich