Written by Brandason, Strategic Communications Firm for the Tech By Her Accelerator, powered by MEST with support from the Tech Entrepreneurship Initiative, ‘Make-IT in Africa’, (implemented by Deutsche für Gesellschaft Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Based on a webinar for the Tech By Her Cohort, presented by Douglass and Lisa-Marie Hatcher.
In the second webinar of the Tech By Her Accelerator program, the 2020 cohort was introduced to business storytelling by communicate4Impact co-founders Douglass Hatcher and Lisa-Marie Hatcher. During the one-hour session, the couple shared some valuable insight on ways to differentiate your brand and create a competitive advantage, using the art and science of business storytelling while addressing the challenges of standing out from the competition.
But first, why is Business storytelling important?
According to Domo’s (2018) ‘Data Never Sleeps’ infographic, it is estimated that by 2020, there will be 40x more bytes of data than there are stars in the observable universe.
How then, does a business get its audience to hear its content and messaging and cut through the ‘noise’ being put out every second by competitors? The solution is to first understand what the problem in communication is.
In the words of George Bernard Shaw;
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Saying something doesn’t mean it’s been heard, or understood in the way you meant it to be. The solution to this is business storytelling!
“Stories create meaning and we tend to act on what we care about, and act on what we remember”
explained Lisa, “the best way to achieve this is to make meaning intentional”. The best leaders consciously strive to build meaning into their business.
Be painters with language.
“Paint the world as it is…
…then paint the world as it could be.”
Descriptions don’t create meaning. Stories do. Take, for example, Steve Jobs's famous catchphrase for the iPod in 2001, it is ‘1000 songs in your pocket’. He didn’t tell people what it was, explain how it worked, or how much storage space it had. He told them what it was like by painting a story everyone could imagine and relate to.
To help entrepreneurs become better storytellers, Lisa and Douglas created what they call, ‘the five stations of storytelling’.
Station 1: Activating the brain.
Storytelling brings together the left and the right side of the brain. By doing this, storytelling activates more of the brain, up to 8 regions. In effect; Storytelling takes up more ‘Brain real estate’. They emphasize how important it is to not bombard your audience with the facts and figures of your business but rather share a story, behind the product or service to activate the brain.
Station 2: The Audience
Who is the hero in your story? The audience you want to reach! This can be a client, an investor, or the media. Entrepreneurs must put their audience first. Doing so allows you to meet your audience where they are, not where you are, and make a real connection with them.
So how can you refocus the story to prioritize the audience? Humility! As leaders, Lisa and Douglas stressed the importance of being humble in order to focus on the audience. They advise businesses to pay attention to the small details about who their audience is, as this will help them focus on the right things.
Station 3: Attention
Capturing the attention of an audience and keeping it in today’s world is incredibly difficult but very rewarding when done right. To make headway in gaining customer attention, Lisa Marie and Douglas offered two tips:
A. Cut the jargon: It’s hard to grab people’s attention when you’re saying the same thing in the same way as everyone else. Cutting jargon is the easiest way to differentiate yourself and your brand. Be real and honest, rather than regurgitating what everyone else is saying.
B. Use struggle strategically: Think about your story. Is there a challenge you’ve experienced that inspired you to start the business? Or is there a struggle you’re trying to solve your audience is battling with themselves? Use this to separate you from your competition and use your struggle to connect with your audience.
Station 4: Action
The best proof that your communications worked is when people take the action you want. It’s not about what you say, but what your audience hears, and how they respond to what they hear.
So, how can you inspire action through your story? Create ‘S.T.A.R’ moments. The S.T.A.R concept was put forth by presentation expert Nancy Duarte, who explains it this way, ‘create a moment where you dramatically drive the big idea home by intentionally placing Something They’ll Always Remember — a S.T.A.R. moment in your presentation’. These moments should be significant, sincere, and enlightening so that the audience remembers and identifies with it.
Station 5: Leadership
The final station is about speaking the language of leadership. Two ways to achieve this are:
a. Harness the power of the Declarative Sentence. Declarative sentences are statements with a period. They are simple, but when used effectively, can change the world and the way your audience responds to your story.
Martin Luther King’s, ‘I have a dream’ speech and Obama’s ‘Yes, we can’ slogan are two Declarative Sentences/S.T.A.R moments that have gone down in history to become some of the most impactful declarative sentences today. They are clear examples of how the power of language used by leaders can be harnessed to make people take action.
b. Metaphor: Don’t just tell people what your product is, but tell them what it’s like. Lead with language and paint your story with language as a leader. Metaphors enable you to do two powerful things:
i. Make new things familiar, and familiar things new
ii. Communicate with impact. Use metaphors in creating colorful stories that resonate with your audience.
Business storytelling doesn’t always come naturally. Like any other skill, it can be learned but it requires practice. Start by thinking through your Why? Why you started your business, what your motivations were, and what struggle or problem you are trying to solve.
The write it out, no matter how long it is. Try not to edit this initial braindump. Then start cutting down your words to five hundred, then three hundred, and finally, one hundred words. As you get better and more comfortable, you will eventually have a powerful one-sentence story about your business that will that is impactful and carries strong meaning with your audience.
Here are some inspiring 100-word stories to help you get started: https://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/100-word-stories/