Everybody Loves a Good Story

One of the questions we hear at the midpoint of one of our programs or coaching engagements is: “How do you know so much about our business?” There are some special companies that we know pretty well, but what we tell many groups is it feels like we know you because we’ve shifted your storyline to what your listeners value about you. We may not know you in and out, but we know the listeners sitting in your audience.

And, our response to skeptical clients is the same. When someone wants help building a compelling storyline, we sometimes hear, “You don’t know our business well enough.” And, my response is always: “It’s your job to know your business. It’s my job to know your listener.”

As we’ve dug deeper into storylines and storytelling, we’ve quantified the perspective of the listener to better understand their interest and appetite for stories. The quantitative results aren’t pretty; most listeners are frequently frustrated and bored by dry content. And, I think we probably all knew that. But, the level of frustration is something that every communicator should sit up and take note of.

We wear listeners out. There is a dichotomy in our lives as listeners.  On the one hand, there has never been so much creativity in how people grab our attention in our personal lives. From videos to songs, Facebook to Instagram, we get expression and we love it! We have shortened our attention span to capture thoughts in a single caption or a two-minute YouTube clip.

Then we go to work. We’re asked to sit in meetings, presentations and conference calls. Most people do this at least twice a day; some do this all day.  It isn’t short, it isn’t expressive and we are exhausted by it.

Our research shows that 60% of listeners go to presentations and meetings where they are unsure of what they will be asked to do with content and what they should have done to participate in the discussion. In fact, 30% go further and say they don’t know why they were invited, what the topic is and who the presenter will be.

At a time when businesses are so focused on their customer’s voice and personalizing every aspect of marketing, how can we be so bland in most of our presentations?

Listeners say that presentations are hit or miss.  Half of the time, presentations are rarely memorable, they are frequently too long, they are rarely entertaining or enjoyable and can be a waste of time at least half of the time. Yikes!

And while our attention spans are short, as listeners we’d prefer a presenter who is a great storyteller and who takes time to develop a storyline on a topic than someone who is too brief, even if knowledgeable and factual. That’s surprising since the feedback that many presenters get is, “you need to get to the point; you’re too long winded.”

That’s real feedback. We’ve worked with many communicators who ramble and just can’t make their point clearly.  But, what listeners really want to know is what’s your point AND where is the storyline going? And when they know both, then they are more than willing to join you on the journey.

But the challenge is that the journey itself may not be entertaining enough to hold the listeners’ attention.

According to our conversations with listeners, business communicators need to make story content more memorable and repeatable. It’s a tall ask because telling stories takes confidence, and it takes a physical effort to animate a story in a way that listeners find entertaining and engaging.

Only 22% of listeners frequently hear stories that are memorable. And listeners say that stories would be more memorable if the presenter were a better storyteller and if the story aligned better to the topic. So, it isn’t just about entertaining the listener. It’s more about connecting with them, and it takes work to align stories to storylines in a way that makes a point personable and relevant to a listener.

And even if you’ve accomplished that, it may still not be enough to be repeatable! You’ve experienced great communicators who tell a memorable story. But as a listener, you don’t repeat it or use it. And, that defeats the point of storytelling.

Only 18% of listeners say that they repeat stories that they hear in a business setting. That’s interesting to contrast with how often we repeat stories in our personal life. We can’t wait to share someone else’s story if we relate to it or took something away from it.

But, it doesn’t happen often in business. Listeners say that stories have to connect with them. Stories have to involve some emotion from the storyteller and audiences like to be surprised by the direction or twist in a story. It is a tall order for communicators, and most people draw the line before they get really good at it.

People who like to tell stories say that storytelling is natural for them. It helps them connect with an audience and drive a point home. And, people who don’t tell stories say it makes them uncomfortable because they just aren’t good enough at presenting to take the risk. They worry that a story will fall flat and not connect with the listeners and they think it’s difficult to find business relevant stories.

It sounds as if there’s no middle ground, but there should be. That’s why we wrote the book and teaching a program about storylines and storytelling. It isn’t a skill that should only be reserved for the best communicators. It’s a skill that every communicator should embrace and leverage to connect business content with listeners.

Our research shows listeners want stories, and they need stories to repeat your points!

We knew this. We just needed to prove it, and our research shows that listeners are a little more frustrated than even we realized.

So, are you ready to be memorable and repeatable?

If you are, you should join us for one of our programs, Connecting Stories to Storylines. Or, if you’d prefer to read more about our research, you’ll have to stand by. We’ll publish what others are learning in our programs by the end of the year.

But even while we’re writing, we’re always here when you need us.