As an Executive Coach I work with clients to increase their impact – helping them land new promotions, win bigger business, and move forward in their careers. Central to this is storytelling. This makes our communications interesting, relevant, and memorable. If you’ve ever nodded off during a presentation – then you know where I am coming from!
So how do we get this right? And how can storytelling help you in your career and business? To get to the heart of this, I interviewed THE storytelling expert Amanda Murphy to get a privileged insight into storytelling and how it can work for you. Not only is Amanda the international TV Producer who founded Big Brother and Supernanny – (now in 47 countries), she is also the Executive Producer for Storyfutures Academy and Lecturer at Royal Holloway University of London.
Amanda, why is storytelling so important?
Because we like stories more than facts. Stories are fundamental to us. We are told stories from when we are young in books, we hear about fables and we remember them. It’s how we understand and connect to the world and each other. It’s hard to connect with and trust someone if you don’t know their story. It’s how we make sense of things.
If people just present themselves as just another stat and a name, it kind of passes you by in the wash of information.
You’ve also got to be a good listener to other people’s stories, because if you can connect to them you may have just found yourself a new client, a friend for life, a mentor or a business partner.
So, are you saying that storytelling builds an emotional connection with people?
Making choices based on emotional connections is what we all do every day – even if we don’t realise it.
People don’t choose clients, friends or buy products transactionally, people prefer to buy from or work with people they like, trust and connect with. To do this, we need to know the provenance of people – as well as products.
For example, when you buy an everyday product like a jar of jam – there’s loads to choose from. If there’s a story around this product, such as how this recipe originated from a Ukrainian grandma in their kitchen – they are creating a story and an emotional connection. You now want to buy that jam because you’ve already imagined yourself in the kitchen with the grandma making the jam!
“Buy-in is emotion” and “the vehicle is the story”.
What kind of information do you think people connect with the most – perhaps to help people listening who may have job interviews coming up or presentations?
People connect with you when you share information about the fundamental person you are, what drives you and where that drive comes from.
Talk about something specific that inspired you. It’s really important to do this – and not being afraid to touch on the more vulnerable side of self.
We also connect with and ‘buy-in’ to people who have risen against the odds, adversity or achieved things that were not expected of them.
As a Coach, I work with people on identifying their personal brand which includes revealing and articulating their ‘story’. As the expert in storytelling, what advice do you have on how to create a compelling story?
1. Could your story ‘ending’ be the ‘beginning’…?
I was inspired by a brilliant session by Nile Rodgers from Chic on ‘How to make a hit record’. He said why bother to build up to something slowly trying to keep people’s attention before finally getting to ‘pay off’.
Nile Rodgers’ advice is to give your audience the end at the top. All his hits start at the end and unravel. He starts with ‘Freak out’ – which is actually the chorus. This gets immediate ‘buy-in’, makes everyone start dancing, gives energy, and tells you exactly what the story is about. It’s the same for David Bowie when he wrote the music for ‘Lets Dance’ – you get more about the story in the middle and when you come back to the chorus it re-enforces the story.
Draw a ‘Narrative Arc’ – a storytelling tool, which clearly captures the beginning, middle and end of your story.
2. Include drama and jeopardy – create suspense
These elements are hugely important to your story. You need your audience to think ‘what if’?’ and ‘what might happen next?’.
For example, in the Apprentice, the editing of each episode is done from the end backwards. When they know who is being fired, they can then build the audience up to it. They include just the right amount of ‘good’ things the losing team were doing for example which creates drama and jeopardy in the story.
So, I would think about the points in your own story that could give your audience a feeling of suspense, jeopardy and drama and use them.
3. Show your vulnerability
Businesspeople do far better when they tell stories of their failings. This is one of the reasons people found Richard Branson so engaging – he tells us of his failings.
Be honest about who you are and don’t shy away from showing your vulnerable side. This could be about your own personal journey or your teams, rock bottom moments in your life, how you got out of these moments, and how they have led you to where you are today.
Your story as a successful person is more likely to engage the audience if people feel they can relate to it. If you just talk about your successes, your audience may switch off because they feel they have nothing to learn from you.
4. Use testimonials to bring your story to life
Bring your story to life with some testimonials and any examples of how products have been unexpectedly used or benefited others. Mention key people who have helped you grow your business or get you to where you are – celebrate them. This helps to keep your story interesting and relatable without just listing dull facts.
5. Create your elevator pitch
You need this 30 second way of telling your story. This is something we use when we develop ideas for films or television, pitching a new show, for example, we have to nail it down into 30 seconds. You don’t have to just use an elevator pitch for your career. You can also do this for your business, presentations, pitches, training courses and so on. Once you’ve created your elevator pitch, you can flesh it out into a longer story using the same structure.
6. Be universally appealing
At Royal Holloway University, I work in a world of academia where there is incredible use of language and academic application – but industry needs to understand it, students need to understand it and we have to get them to come on the learning journey with us. You don’t have to come across as super perfect or all knowing. People will buy into you and your business if you tell them why you are driven.
Use down to earth language when you communicate because this makes you universally appealing. You don’t have to use sophisticated language.
Think about what you do that everyone can connect with. For example, with Supernanny, on the surface it appeared like a seemingly narrow show about parents with screaming kids! but, it’s actually about curtain twitching and wanting to know where you are on the parenting spectrum, which made this show universally appealing.
Include humour. Have you got any analogies you can make? This is linked to communicating your vulnerability and makes you universally appealing to a wide audience.
What about if someone has to deliver a major talk like a TED Talk?
TED Talks often start off with ‘imagine a world’ and then paint a lifestyle picture or a better way of living. If you’re doing a major presentation around coaching, for example, it could be ‘Imagine a world where everyone achieves their full potential.’
It’s setting up the dream and creates the impression that you are a broad, future thinker. Life is not like that, but your communication will feel more aspirational and enable your audience to believe there are things you can help them with to get there.
Are there any ‘rules’ to storytelling?
No, there are a lot of ways to tell a good story. These are tools to get people to think differently about how to tell their story.
In a nutshell, what are your top 3 tips on Storytelling?
- Dump the ‘back of packet stuff’. Nobody wants to hear a list of facts, put that detail in your brochure and on your website instead.
- Pull out your personal journey to be memorable. This will make people interested in you and what you are selling. You are more likely to do that with a story that doesn’t include all the boring detail.
- Be vulnerable. Understand how a narrative arc works and tell the story of your life that includes your failings as well as the successes!
Thanks Amanda, we all know and remember a good story when we hear it – I am sure this conversation will help inspire us all to work on our own stories!
Amanda Murphy is an Executive Producer who has been storytelling most of her career; she is a BAFTA award winning TV Producer for ‘Missed Call’ a digital short film, Produced the first UK Big Brother for C4 & Supernanny which sold to over 47 different territories. She now teaches Producers at Royal Holloway University of London and leads a project (StoryFutures Academy) training professionals in new forms of storytelling using new immersive technologies (VR and AR -augmented reality).
Yvette Jeal PCC is an ICF Certified Executive Coach and qualified NLP & MBTI practitioner with 20 years’ commercial experience. She partners with leading organisations across the world and works with C-Suite, Board level executives and emerging leaders in the UK and internationally. She is passionate about helping her clients understand their personal brand, increase their leadership capabilities and transform their careers. Through her coaching interventions, Yvette has helped hundreds of clients go on to gain promotions, secure new roles and achieve their desired career success.
For more help in creating your story and working on your personal brand to help you in your career, get in touch with Yvette:
T: 07879 602286
For further reading please see my article on Personal Brand – Are you owning your story?