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Stories are at the heart of communication.

Ever since humans developed language we have used stories as a powerful method transfering knowledge. We teach our children through stories. We build relationships and bonds through sharing stories. We are entertained by stories.

I would argue that we spend much of our non-work time storytelling.   Socially we understand that the best stories are engaging, entertaining, and memorable.  Yet when it comes to business communications we have a tendency to throw all our experience out of the window and to rely on dry dusty data and abstract concepts that are neither engaging nor memorable.

I don’t know exactly why this is and to be honest I don’t much care. What I really care about is helping business people communicate with their customers and staff more effectively and I believe that storytelling is the way to go.

Storytelling has the power to bring abstract concepts to life.

  • Powerful stories are sticky – we remember them
  • Powerful stories are naturally infectious – we are compelled to share them with others
  • Powerful stories have the ability to challenge and change us

So what makes a good story?

  1. A shift of perspective and context – It transports us to a different world
  2. A clear inciting incident – This is the catalyst that changes the direction of the story and draws us in
  3. A clear and satisfying end point -The payoff that we all expect and need
  4. An identifiable character or group whom we care about – this engages our emotions
  5. A clearly identified and palpable risk – What happens if we get it wrong? another strong emotional hook

Don’t take my word for it.   Use the checklist above to test out the stories that you remember and then use it to help improve your use of storytelling in business.


  1. Lauren on 02/12/2011 at 01:28

    Well said Gavin. There’s no doubt, storytelling is the glue that gives us understanding.

    You might like this video of Kurt Vonnegut explaining the shape of stories. I think of it constantly when thinking about how to structure a narrative:


  2. Aled Davies on 19/08/2011 at 10:49

    Agree wholeheartedly.

    I recently learnt about embedding stories within stories, I think it’s called nesting stories. The idea is that you begin a story and before you complete it you start another and before you complete that another and so on. You then close each story in sequence ending with the opening story. Keeps them engaged and you can layer the metaphors for real engagement.



    • Gavin Meikle on 23/08/2011 at 09:01

      Spot on Aled. Nested loops are indeed a powerful tool for catching and holding an audience’s attention but they need a bit of practice.
      THanks for the comment. I’ll blog about them some more in a later article.

  3. Fred E. Miller on 09/08/2011 at 23:06

    Good points here, Gavin.

    One key to stories is to be, as they say in Yoga, “always present and in the moment.”

    When those stories occur in real time, capture them and put them in the hard drive of your brain to use when making a point in your next presentation.

    Thanks for the Post!

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