Storytelling at Work (Part 2)


storytellling part 2

As humans, it is the use of story that defines us…

It’s not simply our ability to communicate. Many mammals can communicate with one another (dolphins, elephants, etc.). It’s our ability to communicate in story form that drives our species forward, learning from experiences, passions, challenges, and so on.

Last week I shared a few formulas for telling great stories. This week, a quick look at how to bring storytelling into the board room. Here are the three most important details from my perspective.

  1. The primary relationship is with your audience, not your character. Keep in mind who is reading or listening to your story. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. What’s important to them? What do they care about? This is who your are writing your story for. Yes, the character is important, but if the character(s) in the story don’t connect emotionally with the listener, all is lost.
  2. Stick to the important details, and be concise. This is the hardest for me. Too often we try to include too many details. Too much data. Too many stories within stories. Some are important, and some are not. This is the hard work. Write and re-write. Remember rule #1 above. Cut as much as possible, perhaps even some parts that you believe are most important. Practice, rehearse, and cut some more. Now your ready.
  3. Be visual: We believe what we see. It’s true. We believe what we see, whether it’s an illuminating picture of the consumer or a bar chart illuminating a single consumer’s story to the masses. Don’t rely on slides to do the talking by writing the story in bullet form. Find the right pictures, or better yet, take great pictures during your research. Spend time enhancing your charts and graphs. And, if you really want to go for it, find a way to be visual outside of PPT. Dress the part. Go on a field trip. Bring in artifacts about the consumer, the project, etc.


Here are a few other very important lessons from several great business leaders:

Walt Disney transcends age groups with his knack for creating experiences that completely immerse people in his stories. He focused on the details and understanding how they contribute to the full picture that the audience would take in.
Lesson: Use details to create an immersive experience; but be cautious that these details don’t distract from the complete story.

Richard Branson never shies away from a conversation and is willing to share the little remarkable moments of his life, even the moments that are not the most polished. There is a since of openness and honesty that reinforces the realness of these stories.
Lesson: Flaws make stories relatable. Don’t hide these details. Embrace them.

charity: water has excelled their mission through storytelling. Particularly in telling detailed and immersive stories of individuals. Video is an important medium for them, and they are careful about hitting an emotional chord while keeping the stories uplifting.
Lesson: Sometimes one person’s story can give voice to many.

The Storytelling Formula (Part 1)


storytellin part 1


(Elements of this post adapted from The Mystery of Storytelling: Julian Friedmann at TEDxEaling)

I’m delighted to tell you there is a formula for storytelling. Many actually. But they boil down to the same rhythmic cadence that we want to take the reader or listener through.

First, a brief look at why storytelling is important: For our ancestors, we believe storytelling began with picture drawings in caves and dancing around fires. These pictures of lions and saber tooth tigers helped to prepare their minds for the hunt. For today’s hunters and gatherers, I argue the same is true. It’s to prepare our minds…for action.

Here are several formulas for storytelling. While they all follow the same cadence, each is described with a different nuance that may apply better in certain situations.

Grade School Formula: Beginning, Middle, and End

It’s simple and basic. But, it’s the most essential component and pattern. In a business environment, I’ve heard this described as: Context, Action, and Result

Aristotle’s formula: Pity, Fear, and Catharsis

Aristotle offers several insights on storytelling. At it’s core, he proposes these three essential elements:

  1. Pity: Developing the characters and building an emotional connection with the audience. This emotional connection gives the writer control.
  2. Fear: Using the emotional connection, as we describe the core challenge and climax, so the audience can empathize with the fear/emotions of the characters.
  3. Catharsis: Releasing the audience from that fear – by giving characters back the control – to provide relief for the audience.

Beethoven’s Formula: Suffering, Struggle, and Overcoming

Particularly during his “middle period” of composing music, Beethoven focused heavily on struggle and heroism. (note: This was also the period when Beethoven suffered an accident that caused deafness.) Found in the program notes for a series of Beethoven concerts given by Maurizio Pollini, “Beethoven’s preference for happy endings is a musical style akin to Schillers philosophy of suffering, struggling, and overcoming.”

The three-part storytelling cadence is crucial. When done right, scientist acknowledge that your brain and body respond by releasing phenylethylamine into the blood stream. This bio-chemical is said to enable peak mental and physical performance, slow aging and make us happier. Think about this the next time you go see a (good) movie. At the end, your heart is racing, you’re inspired, and more alert. So, we can thank Hollywood for making us happier, sharper, and younger.

We all want this, though, don’t we? We want our team to leave the meeting we’re facilitating feeling more inspired, energized, and focused. We want that huge research project to lift people up out of their seats to take action. To do this, we need to use story.

My next post will offer some additional tips, insights, and suggestions for bringing effective storytelling into the office and board room.

How about you, do you have a storytelling formula? Or, a favorite story about storytelling?


Will Krieger

Quick List Tuesday May 31st, 2016

Our newest issue of the Quick List, a bi-monthly summary of what’s happening in marketing research and new happenings at REPASS.

What we are celebrating this week —
The retirement of an integral part of the REPASS team. We said goodbye to Chuck McFadden this week (and got in a little #RedNoseDay celebration while we were at it). Chuck has been with REPASS since our inception and will be dearly missed, but we know he will enjoy retirement!!

Repass Red Nose
What we’re sharing this week–
We do a lot of qualitative research…and I mean, a lot! So we are constantly racking our brains, coming up with new ideas, and connecting with others in the business to see what techniques have the most bang in a qualitative setting. Enjoyed this article from MRA about projective techniques and ones that produce the most “Aha moments.”

What we’re thinking about —
With graduation season upon us, it’s hard not to be a little nostalgic. One of our team members had a son graduate last week, and another attended graduation at the US Naval Academy. Taking a moment to see life through the eyes of a graduate is such a great reminder about all the opportunity, excitement, and good that there is in this world. For so many, the adventure is just beginning. Can you remember your graduation? Has your life gone the course you imagined? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

It also brings to mind a recent blog post on facing constraints and staying creative and imaginative. Take a look, Lessons from the Playground.

Quote we’re pondering —
“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” – unknown

Did you enjoy this Quick List? If so, please forward this email to a friend or follow us on Twitter @REPASSinc.

Thanks for reading! Have a wonderful week.
To Your Success,

Will Krieger
Vice President, Insights

Will Krieger