Stories are key to effective business communication. They engage us emotionally, facilitate better understanding, create meaning and build personal, trustworthy connections. Simple stories amplify all these benefits.
Simplicity: A Navigation Tool in a Complex World
How do simple stories help us communicate more effectively in an increasingly complex and confusing world?
Simplicity is our best navigation tool for many reasons:
- On a practical level, ‘simple’ is user-friendly, i.e. it’s shorter; quicker; it’s easier to remember, understand, evaluate and use
- It’s the outcome of a process that distils complexity into its essentials – without stripping it of substance to create a simplistic, dumbed-down version
- It helps us easily recognise new ideas, systems, products, brands in an increasingly overwhelming and confusing marketplace
Simple Stories Simplify Communication
Simple stories are not just shorter stories. They clarify and refine complex ideas and data, making it easier for an audience to engage with what is being communicated and eventually act on it. The great physicist, Albert Einstein, gave us advice on how to do just that: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
We are complex human beings who live in an increasingly complex world, so our task is to make complexity simple, not simplistic! Simplistic is a when we dilute the substance of our message to the point that it can be consumed without reflection or question.
Editing, organising and sharpening our ideas are part of a skills-set we can develop and then improve with practice. The benefits of investing time and effort to learn these skills are huge. By making complex material ‘user-friendly’, i.e. simpler, you create immediate access to it, which in turn makes it more relatable, relevant and applicable.
That’s a huge part of my job. When clients present me with a 3/4-page document, I help them create a 2/3-sentence back-story, or a brand stories or a personal profile statement. The work is first of all finding the pattern in all the detail: it’s the pattern that connects it all together. Then creating the simple story to illustrate that pattern.
How to Tell Simple Stories
I. The Story Structure
The structure needs to be simple if you want your story to be simple. That’s easier said than done when most storytelling courses and workshops present beginners with needlessly complex diagrams and structures, while at the same time assuring us we’re all natural-born storytellers!
The story structure is the container for what happens: the details of who, what, when, why, how. The structure creates a pattern that helps us grasp and remember those details. The simplest structure and easiest one to use is created around a linear, temporal pattern:
Before – Turning Point – After
II. The Storytelling Structure
Once we have our story structure we then need a structure to tell that story. The same rule also applies here: the simpler the storytelling structure, the easier it is to communicate the story and the easier it is to receive it.
The most natural and effective structure to communicate information is the one we use every day – conversation, or dialogue. Dialogue is about reciprocal exchange, response and interaction, as opposed to the monologue, which is a one-way form of communication.
Another characteristic of telling simple stories is using simple language. That means getting rid of the jargon and the buzzwords because they act as a barrier to real connection. Replace them with personal, straightforward, simple language that supports and promotes human-to-human connection. Use the same language you would use in a conversation with a good friend.
The Benefits for Business of Making it Simple
How does keeping it simple actually translate into better outcomes for businesses?
The simplicity-index surveys show that simplicity pays. The top brands globally and nationally all share the common feature of offering their customers a simple experience that is communicated as simply as possible. Here’s how Ben Osborn from Siegel+Gale puts it:
“Our research shows us that 55% of consumers are willing to reward brands that make their lives simpler – and penalise those that do not. Simplicity is an important metric for the communications industry because empathy is the cornerstone of the contract between creators and consumers.”
If simplicity pays, how do we recognise it in how other brands communicate and then implement it in our own communication? Start by asking yourself this question:
Do I consciously choose to communicate in a way that is simple, honest, transparent and personal for my audience?
Isn’t it time to simplify?Learn More
Many years ago I attended my first formal networking event. It was a baptism of fire on many levels. I came away from it with a number of essential networking tips on how to communicate in a business setting and beyond.
During the first half of the evening we sat around tables in groups of 8 and introduced ourselves – a kind of warm-up for having to do it later in front of the whole room.
I introduced myself as a Storytelling Strategist. The man sitting next to me responded by assuring me he would never need my services as he was a “natural born storyteller”!
For the next hour he told us story after story after story … about himself. He interrupted others, he didn’t listen when others spoke. His endless anecdotes were of no relevance to us or the event.
Ever been in the company of someone like that?
When his turn came to pitch to the whole room, he swaggered to the front and talked & talked & talked … about himself. He went over his allotted time of course. He sat down next to me and proudly announced “See, I told you I’m a natural storyteller!”
In the mix & mingle session afterwards he floated from one group to the next, to the next, shoving his business cards into the hands of everyone he came in contact with.
The essential networking tips I learned that eventing:
- Telling random stories to impress is NOT storytelling. It’s waffling.
- Sharing anecdotes about yourself is NOT connecting. It’s a verbal selfie.
- Interrupting others with your opinions is NOT having a conversation. It’s a monologue.
- Pushing your business cards, ideas & views at people is not communication. It’s self-promotional hustle.
- Going over your allotted time is NOT respectful of other people’s time. It’s rude & selfish.
- Talking non-stop is NOT networking. It’s broadcasting.
The same tips apply to networking online. The form is different, but the behavioural norms are still apply. The advantage of online networking is we can discreetly disconnect!
Then some people wonder why they don’t find networking effective or useful!
When we net-work we are creating a net, a web of connections in our field that will help us in a variety of ways.
I connected with two people that eventing and I’m still in contact with both of them Neither became clients of mine. One became a trusted mentor and friend. The other has referred clients to me over the years.
It was a very successful networking event for me on two counts:
- the networking tips learned
- the two lasting connections I made that eventing.
There are many reasons why the race to embrace storytelling in business has often ended up being a swift race to the bottom. Here’s just one example of bad storytelling advice:
“Tell YOUR story”!
The idea behind this advice is that ‘your’ story will inspire people who don’t know you to do business with you! Think about this. Would you want to do business with someone you knew absolutely nothing about after you heard them talking about themselves? No, you wouldn’t.
Why the rush to tell your story?
Plain egoism is a biggie here. There are lots of people who love talking about themselves and live under the illusion that others find their stories interesting. How many times have we been cornered at a party or a business event by someone like that? Another popular argument put forward for telling your story comes from Simon Sinek’s theory Start with Why. As I pointed out in a previous post, he applied his theory to established, well-known businesses and he has since revised his theory.
One of the keys to successful storytelling is correct timing!
No one is interested in YOUR story until they are almost ready to buy from you. So telling your story too early is bad timing and bad storytelling advice! Basic neuroscience helps us get the timing right.
When we talk to strangers, we are operating from the reptilian brain. That‘s the part of the brain that is responsible for our survival mechanism. It knows only yes/no and fight/flight responses. When we are in the reptilian brain we cannot hear the other’s story. We can only ‘hear’ someone else’s story, connect with it and respond to it after we have moved into the part of the brain that is responsible for our emotional and logical response, located in the front lobe.
How do you move someone out of survival mode into receptive mode?
Tell them THEIR story.
Until that shift in the brain has happened, the only story you should tell your potential clients is the one they are able to hear, i.e. THEIR story. That’s how connection happens! To get their story right, you have to know their story. To know their story, you have to have listened to them so closely that when you tell it, they can say:
“That’s me!” “That’s exactly what I struggle with!”, “That’s what I want now!”
If that’s not their response, you need to go back and listen again so that when you tell them their story you are holding a mirorr in front of them in which they see themselves more clearly than without it.
Only when you have successfully done that, are they are ready to hear your story. Otherwise, your story will fall on deaf ears!
If you could do with some help with telling the right story at the right time to the right audience, I’m here to help you!Learn More