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Corporate storytelling

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This post is an adapted excerpt from “Corporate Ovations,”  (Discovery Tree Press, May 2013) by Kevin Karschnik and Russ Peterson Jr.

“Those who tell the stories rule the world.” – Plato, Greek philosopher

Our life is our story. People relate to stories. People connect with stories. If you want to connect to your audience, don’t just give them a bunch of statistics, give them the story. The hardest part about using stories effectively is making sure they are simple and they reflect your core message. In a corporate environment, the higher you rise in an organization, the more you need to be skilled at storytelling. When a senior leader speaks to her team, a financial executive speaks to Wall Street, a business development manager speaks to a prospect, or a CEO speaks to his company, they need to have the skills to share a vision through a story.

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” – Robert McAfee Brown, theologian, activist, and author

Where Do You Start?

The first question you need to ask yourself is, “What’s the point?” Why do you want to tell a story? What is the point you want to make with your audience? Once you understand the point you want to make, you can look further into what type of story you will deliver. Think of the point as the moral of the story. Why are you telling it? What do you want your audience to take away from it? The first step in developing your story is to identify the key point. Once you have documented the point you want to make, you can now look for the story.

Where Can You Find Your Stories?

You can get your stories from television, theater, books, the Web (always check the source!), media, other people, and of course, your own life. While there are many sources for you to observe and research for stories, none will be more popular with your audience than your own stories. Everyone has stories to tell because everyone lives a story every day.

How Do You Select the Right Story?

The decision on which story to select can be made by reviewing three critical factors:

  1. How much time do you have? The time is usually an easy factor to weigh. If you have a story that requires more of a setup and a conclusion to be told properly, you can quickly eliminate it if you have a short time to present. Most of your stories should be able to adjust to shorter or longer timeframes, but if not, this factor can eliminate some stories right away.
  2. What is the purpose of your presentation? Look at the moral of your story. Is the moral or meaning strong and evident? Does the moral of the story support your overall goal and purpose for the presentation? When the moral of a story clearly supports the point you want to make and it further supports the overall purpose of your presentation, it is a strong candidate. Anytime you feel like you need to stretch a bit to make the connection between your story and the purpose of the presentation, you should consider eliminating or replacing the story.
  3. Who is your audience? Let’s assume you’ve done an audience analysis — you know who they are and what they are expecting. Put yourself in the shoes of the audience and look at your stories. As a member of the audience, do you think one story would connect with you more than the other? Why? Don’t just look at the story from your standpoint; look at it from the audience’s viewpoint. Just because you like to tell a story doesn’t mean every audience will want to hear that story.

“Stories are the emotional glue that connects an audience to your idea.” – Nancy Duarte, writer and graphic designer

What Are the Elements of a Good Story?

All stories contain characters. Sometimes they’re human. Sometimes they’re animals or insects (horse, dog, butterfly). Sometimes they’re even inanimate objects (a tree, a rock, a fencepost). There is usually one main character in the center of the action. The main character can be you (the speaker), a friend, a rock, a dog, or even a group or team.

Every story has some form of action taking place. If there is no action, then there is no story. And in that action, the main character faces a dilemma. It can be a struggle they need to overcome or a choice that needs to be made. Whatever it is, the dilemma will create tension in the story. This tension can range from deep and philosophical to shallow and humorous. Either way, the situation must be resolved for the story to end satisfactorily for the audience. Your audience wants all the loose ends tied up. They want to see resolution. This is no different than watching a murder mystery movie and feeling cheated when the movie ends and they never told you what happened to the bloody knife in the kitchen! Bring resolution to your story to generate a healthy response from your audience. The resolution provides the audience with the tension relief and a moral that can be applied to their learning.

Knowing a good story and telling a good story are two different things.

How Do You Deliver the Story?

Knowing a good story and telling a good story are two different things. Effective storytelling takes practice and rehearsal. What are some of the areas you can focus on when rehearsing and refining your stories? There are several:

  • Use Characters to Bring the Story to Life. The characters in your stories are the main focus. If your main characters are people, give them names. Names for characters make the story come to life. If you are speaking about a company as the main character, use the company name, if you have permission. Use character names to bring your story to life, but also use common sense to avoid slander.
  • Give the Story a Voice. Audiences like to hear the dialogue as if it is real dialogue. Now this doesn’t mean you need to take an acting class so you can deliver your dialogue with drama and feeling, it just means that the audience wants to hear the dialogue as if it is unfolding in front of them in real time. This can differentiate between telling a good story and telling a great one.
  • Get Your Timing Right. Besides the obvious use in comedy, timing can play a powerful role in your delivery to help the audience paint a picture in their mind. Variety is welcomed and can help the audience pick up on the true meaning of the story. Rehearse the timing of your delivery with special focus on the areas where you should pause.
  • Use Your Body Language to Paint the Picture. Consider what your hands, posture, feet and face are saying to the audience when you deliver a story. When the story comes from a talking mouth with no gestures whatsoever, the audience must work harder to build the picture in their mind. Simple hand gestures can help pull the audience into the story.

“Stories are the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.” – Howard Gardner, Harvard University professor

What Are Two Corporate Stories All Leaders Should Be Prepared to Share?

In the corporate world, we share stories all the time. Leaders must see the vision and then cast that vision. Casting the vision means they must tell a story.

  1. The Company Story. The first story all corporate leaders must be prepared to tell is the Company story. How did the company start? What does its future hold? What is the company mission? Leaders will be asked to share different versions of this story to different audiences. For each audience, there will need to be minor modifications to create a connection.
  2. The “Who Am I?” Story. The second story for corporate leaders to master is the “Who am I?” story. At every level in the organization, people will ask you about you. If you are interviewing for a new role within the company or if you are taking over the management of a merged department, you will need to share your story.


  • Corporate Ovations Self-Study Worksheet for Chapter 7:
  • Corporate Ovations PDF of Chapter 7:
  • Corporate Ovations audio recording of Chapter 7:
  • Corporate Ovations Video for Chapter 7: