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Storytelling In Day To Day Business

The human brain will struggle to process more than that and will end up treating numerical rigour as an academic exercise after that.

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According to the book Sapiens, one of the major reasons why our species has outmanoeuvred other species is its ability to narrate powerful stories and create a shared vision. Even today, incorporate careers, storytelling is a powerful tool in presenting your content in an engaging style in a large discussion, narrating an interesting business case, having superior appraisal discussions or generating a buy-in from your associated shareholders. In fact, there is so much noise in office, that storytelling is the only avenue left to separate someone from the crowd. Unfortunately, we are all taught to be numerically precise by parroting like zombies with a number punctuating every second word in our communication.

This primer looks at some of the leading principles deployed by movies and ad-films that can be leveraged upon in day-to-day complicated communication.

Narrate the pain point clearly, the clearer it is, the more powerful the communication 
In the romantic world of movies and ad-films, conflict identification is of paramount importance. Typical conflicts are along lines of boy meets girl, boy loses girl or a revenge family drama or a story of growing up for the lead protagonist. In business, a powerful story involves a clear identification of conflict or struggle. In contemporary times, usual conflicts include the need to transform or be wiped out, the incumbent losing market share or the incumbent being the #2 or the #3 player in a ‘winner takes all’ industry. In sophisticated business enclaves, this pain point is also termed the burning platform.

Anecdotal communication is more powerful than robotic delivery of numbers  
Short snippets of information narrated as anecdotes or incidents are way more powerful than delivering an equivalent insight with 7 numbers in every sentence. For instance, an anecdotal representation along lines of, ‘I met Lakshmi enterprises, our largest distributor. The owner mentioned that we are not engaging with them in non-monetary ways which is fairly important to them and hence they were feeling a disconnect’ is more powerful than, ‘Our primary research with 75 distributors and secondary research of 5 industry leading reports indicates that engagement is the #3 most important buyer value for our distributors with a top of mind recall of 63%. Benchmarking on this 3rd most important buyer value indicates we are in the 70th - 80th percentile of our competitors.’

The impact of such powerful snippets lies in its ability to get narrated and re-quoted in other forums and hence building a powerful organisation level communication. In addition, leveraging anecdotes don’t imply compromising on numerical rigour as the anecdote brings the numerical trend to life. In fact, no form of communication should leave an audience with more than 5 - 7 numbers. The human brain will struggle to process more than that and will end up treating numerical rigour as an academic exercise after that.

Ironically, minimalism has exaggerated benefits
The best of drama cantered movies leverage the principle of minimalism during narration. Every second in a movie is deleted and then carefully evaluated if the rest of the movie still stands. If the movie still stands, the second is considered unnecessary and deleted. This results in a narration that is super fast-paced and highly engaging. No one appreciates movies that are garrulous like your boss.

Every spoken or written communication should engage this principle of minimalism. If a sentence or slide is unnecessary, it should be ruthlessly eliminated. The resulting communication will result in a narration that an audience will never lose interest in.

Highlight the resolution with an equal dosage of functional and emotional benefits
In any movie or an ad-film, a resolution to the identified conflict is of paramount importance. A resolution need not always be good (e.g. the Oscar winning movie Parasite). Like in ad-films, a robust resolution in business involves a healthy mix of functional and emotional benefits. For instance, an iPhone promises an emotional benefit of status and youth while it provides for a functional benefit of a superior camera, a super fast processor and a safe ecosystem. In corporate careers, functional benefits revolve around resurgence in sales and costs while emotional benefits revolve around culture transformation and long term sustainability benefits.

Leverage Calvin and Hobbes to come to the rescue
Written communication is as important in powerful storytelling. Powerful tools involving using cartoon sketches, typically Calvin and Hobbes, to illustrate a pain point. This is useful as it deploys dry humour in conveying a controversial message. Also, powerful written communication involves painting the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images clearly. The most important tool I have often seen being deployed to convey powerful stories is to leave an audience with 5 sentences you want them to go back with.

Watch a lot of YouTube junk and sports entertainment to learn from the best
The key question is, how do you get better at storytelling? The answer is very simple, learn from the best. Politicians with mass following are incredibly talented at storytelling. In addition, product launches of consumer electronics companies (think Apple) consciously narrate incredible stories. Finally, if you are in the mood, you should follow how stories are built in sports entertainment (e.g. wrestling). Watching their videos is a great way to having a free master class in story telling.

In conclusion, leadership is about storytelling. While it is a lot of art, consciously practising along the lines mentioned above is highly instrumental in making someone successful and building image capital in the form of charisma.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Sandeep Das

The author, Sandeep Das, is an MBA from IIM Bangalore, a management consultant, the author of “Yours Sarcastically” and a columnist.

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