If I asked you to name your favourite speech in history, what would it be?
Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’? Obama’s presidential election campaign speech ‘Yes we can’? Or perhaps it’s something from Churchill’s ‘we shall fight on the beaches’ or JFK’s ‘ask not what your country can do for you…’. The list of possibilities goes on.
What amazes me about these speeches is that, in this age of information overload, we can still recite, or at least recognise these words. We know who said them, and what they meant, years, if not decades, after they were spoken.
This is the power and the art of good storytelling. To say something that resonates with people, evokes emotion and becomes a story which be retold for years to come. In business, we need to get better at the art of storytelling – now more so than ever.
So, what is it about these speeches that made them compelling? For me, great speeches, and great storytelling involves a few key ingredients:
- Making the complex simple: great speeches often deal with complex, difficult issues – things like war and racism – yet the language is simple and concrete, giving clear guidance and inspiring hope.
- Engaging: a good story or speech must be engaging – people should hang on every word and feel like they are a part of the narrative; that this speech is really their speech.
- Emotion: one of the most powerful elements of language is its ability to tap into human emotions. When people feel an emotional connection, they will go along way to support a cause or change their behaviour.
- Clear and concise: people switch off from stories that are verbose. Great stories get to the point and are easy to understand.
- Timing: great speeches, and great storytelling works when they capture the essence of the age.
Why is this relevant for your business?
In the business world we are all orators. We are all out there, standing on our soap boxes, sharing our points of view and spruiking our wares. That’s what marketing and sales is all about. That’s why we have websites (our new digital shopfronts), engage in social media, advertise and participate in exhibitions and trade shows.
The question to ask yourself, then, is simple: “is anyone listening?”
Or are they more attracted to the guy at the other side of the park with the big crowd and the captivating story?
How good is your business story? The three key ingredients
So, time to take a good hard look at your own business story. How good is it? And how well does it measure up to the elements of great story telling? In my view there are three key ingredients you need to review:
- What is the story?
What is your business story? Do you have one? How are you different? Can you weave a narrative around what you do and why people should come on the journey with you?
Take a look at TOMS Shoes for inspiration. TOMS has a simple message: ‘with every product you purchase, TOMS will help a person in need. One for One.” It’s compelling, it’s values based, and it’s super easy to understand. The beauty of TOMS story is that it turns buying shoes into an emotional, values-based decision.
Does your website tell a compelling story? Is it engaging? Or, let’s be frank, is it just filled with salesy, corporate speak, that could have been written about any one of your competitors?
There are many ways to capture your customers’ attention but one of the most powerful is with video. This can range from documentary-style storytelling (one of my absolute favourites is Caring for Giants, a documentary about an arborist) to super simple educational pieces (check out how American lawyer Richard Hsu takes complex legal issues and makes them simple).
- The spoken word
If you were standing in the pub, and someone asked you “what do you do?”, what would you say? And what would your staff members say?
Would they come out with the stilted corporate spiel, or would they respond with emotion, passion and clarity? I spent a few days with Alexander Collot d’Escury, the Chief Executive Officer of Desso earlier this year. When people asked him what Desso did he would say: “We’re a global carpets and sports pitches company. Our business is about three things: people, planet, profits”. This was never what people expected to hear from a carpet salesman – and he had them hooked every time.
In the same vein, if you ask Jock Gammon, the Managing Director of Australian business Junglefy what he does, he will say: “We create green walls and roofs. Our aim is to Junglefy our cities.” More than sparking a conversation, it also sparks ideas and inspiration, opening our minds to new possibilities – which is what good storytelling is all about..
Resources to check out:
- TOMS Shoes: http://www.toms.com/
- Caring for Giants: https://vimeo.com/86136784
- Hsutube: http://hsutube.com/
About Nicole Smith
Nicole Smith has spent nearly two decades helping professional services firms to grow their businesses. A strategic marketing expert, Nicole established the Tin Shed marketing co-op in 2010. See: www.tinshed.co
This article was first published in the January 2015 edition of Business First Magazine.