How do I become an influential storyteller? In my experience of training storytelling, I have found the power is in the little things; the building blocks that make up every story. The storytelling techniques that bring stories to life. 

Storytelling techniques building blocks

Storytelling techniques are the building blocks of stories

But storytelling techniques that can be pulled out of a story and used on their own as well.

Like metaphors and analogies. In stories these help us imagine, relate and understand. But they are equally useful outside of a story, as part of our everyday language.

That’s why I set about writing The Story Habit (due to be published early 2022).

Because storytelling should be practical. Especially for leaders in the corporate world. 

In the workplace, you don’t need to weave sophisticated narratives of heroes going on journeys. Instead, you need simple storytelling techniques to:

– get people to listen

– make a point and make sure people understand it

– convince people in the most efficient way

Like so many things in life, the beauty is in the little things. So in this article, I’m going to share with you 5 storytelling techniques to help you grow this magical influencing skill.

Show to Teach – The Most Fundamental Storytelling Technique

Experience is the ultimate goal of stories.

It’s also the ultimate education tool.

Nothing helps us learn better than actually experiencing something. Be it a painful mistake, a chance to try out something new, or even a challenging task.

How do storytelling techniques create experiences?

On one level, they transport you into the world of the character. You relate to this character, join them on their journey, and come out informed by their experience.

But on a simpler level, the details in a story are what transports you.

Words paint pictures, by relating to your senses. They don’t tell you “the man was angry”, instead they show you “He slammed his laptop on the ground with all his might”.

Storytelling techniques - Show to teach

Show to teach

These details trigger your senses. They describe pictures, sights, sounds etc.

All experience happens through the senses first, before impacting our intellect. So to teach others, focus on the senses before the intellect by:

– Describing vivid details

– Giving examples

– Demonstrating to them

– Providing experiences

To teach others, work with the senses first, just like stories do.

Analogies and Metaphors – Storytelling Techniques for Bridging Communication Gaps

When I go for a blood test, I can’t read the report. All I see is digits.

But when a doctor picks it up, they see patterns.

Analogies and metaphors

Use analogies and metaphors to bridge communication gaps

Through years of education, the doctor has gained enough experience to recognise those patterns. But thanks to my lack of experience, I can’t.

We have a communication gap.

It’s impractical to send me to medicine school for years and years just so I can read that blood test report. So instead, the doctor finds a simple solution; an analogy.

“This number here is your white blood cell count. Your white blood cells are little soldiers fighting off enemies. And here, you have a lot more soldiers than normal, because they’re fighting an enemy, which means you have a virus”.

Now I understand.

Analogies are, essentially, recognisable patterns, matched against unrecognisable patterns. I recognise soldiers, so they can be used to represent my white blood cell count, which I don’t recognise.

The best analogies are patterns that everyone understands, such as:

  • Jobs
  • Industries
  • Animals
  • Everyday routines
  • Places

And so on. If you want to build your own pool of reliable analogies to explain patterns you recognise that others don’t, then download my Analogies Tool here:

Simplify Messages for Impact

The best stories are just right.

They’re not overcooked or undercooked.

They include just the right amount of detail to make them land with the audience.

EVERY detail shapes the story. There should be no significant details lacking, and no superfluous details attached.

Messages are the same. They need to be just right to land with the audience.

A key principle that helps here is this:

Attention is goal directed.

Attention is goal directed

Attention is goal directed

Once your audience are focused on a goal, all else will be filtered out.

“We are announcing a major organisational restructuring”

Now your audience’s goal is to determine whether or not they will keep their jobs.

“But first, let me tell you why we are restructuring…”

That doesn’t help them determine whether or not they will keep their jobs. Filtered!

If you want a message with impact, think of the goals your audience will be focused on.

“I know you must be concerned about your job security, so let me first explain what you need to do over the next few months to guarantee job security.”

Work with their goals, and your message will land.

Relate, Challenge and Resolve to Change Minds

How do you tell a story that inspires?

Well interestingly, the very essence of story is an exact process we can follow to inspire others.

All stories follow the same basic 3 steps:

1. Relate – A character is introduced who we can relate to

2. Challenge – The character faces a challenge

3. Resolve – The character takes action to overcome the challenge and the story reaches a resolution

Look at any story, and it will have those 3 components. From The Lion King to Pride and Prejudice to even your friend’s story about their business trip last week.

Relate, Challenge and Resolve

Relate, Challenge and Resolve

But we can also take this structure out of a story and use it to inspire people.

This is exactly what Simon Sinek did in his talk about millennials that “broke the internet”.

He related to them when he said they were “dealt a bad hand” and had to deal with “bad leadership”.

He challenged them when he pointed out that their habits will lead to lives of no joy.

And he resolved those challenges by suggesting they put their phones down and spend more time socialising with real people.

Storytelling enables us to inspire people by relating to people, challenging their beliefs and then resolving those challenges.

Materialise – The Ultimate Storytelling Technique for Leaders

The most powerful stories become REAL.

Storytelling techniques - Materialise

Materialise stories

Like money. It’s not real. Those pieces of paper, coins and digits on screens would have no value if no one believed in them. It’s just a story.

But those pieces of paper, coins and digits on screen make the story of money real.

When a story is materialised, it becomes real, and has the power to influence billions of minds.

So you say your company’s core value is “customer care”.

But in so many companies those values are just words on pieces of paper. They’re meaningless.

But the moment you materialise them in the form of:

  • Systems
  • Environments
  • Capabilities
  • Rituals
  • Celebrations
  • Symbols

Is the moment they start to become real.

A nation is a story too. But because it’s been materialised into inistitutions, public services and passports, it brings people together.

Your company culture can do the same when you materialise it.

To lead through storytelling, don’t just tell stories. Materialise them. Make your stories real.

Learn More about Storytelling Techniques

If you’d like to learn more about practical storytelling techniques for leaders in corporate settings then check out The Story Habit.