The Power of Storytelling

Storytelling isn’t a new thing for business, but it’s finally starting to get recognized for something unique and not part of general marketing.

Gifted Storytellers within a company are magical people. However, outside of a company, they are highly paid, sought-after consultants. Meetings revolve naturally around the storyteller, and regardless of the level and position within the company, they are the guides and leaders of our endeavors. The storyteller informs the mission of the company and is highly in touch with the customers and the product created.

Traditional methods of explaining a product or process used PowerPoint; despite significant flaws with the product and a crowd of eye-rolls when PPTs were used, the necessity of telling the story was so important that despite its flaws PPT succeeded. It allowed the storyteller to quickly provide data, facts, and most important powerful imagery to craft the message. For some, the application was a crutch. For others, it is the critical component that brought their words to life and unlocked value and business.

Today many companies still use PowerPoint. Some of the most brilliant stories and presentations I’ve seen have come from this decades-old product that was used to present an incredible vision. Design firms are notorious for being able to craft such clean, brilliant presentations that the audience quickly forgets what the application serving it is. It doesn’t matter. The story is uninterrupted by mundane things like an application.

The method of storytelling should be simple, straightforward and compelling. It’s why PowerPoint has survived despite being very basic in nature. There are far more powerful tools available for storytelling, but in the end the user has to know how to use them.

It’s fashionable to dismiss and ignore PowerPoint as a storytelling vehicle. They cite its “old-fashionedness”, or it’s relation to Microsoft as being old school and somehow worse as a result of it. Many have been subjected to the “bad” PowerPoint presentation, endless slides of bulleted lists, and charts in which simply getting through it becomes an act of heroic survival. We’ve all been there. That’s not storytelling at all; it’s a numbing marathon of numbers and figures.

The people that blame PowerPoint miss the point. At the end of the day, PowerPoint is simply a tool. It can be replaced with Keynote for Apple users, or any one of a thousand applications and services that believe they have created “the better mousetrap” for presentations. But the core of great storytelling has nothing to do with the technology: it’s all about the storyteller.

There are many better ways than PowerPoint to tell your story, but at the end of the day, the quality really relies on the teller. New ways to tell the story do so through a three-dimensional canvas rather than a sequential one. Being able to start at the beginning and branch your story out in many different directions can be the most powerful storytelling model there is. Storytellers who can craft their message that way, and use tools that allow them to do it, become incredibly powerful.

Ultimately the application must serve the storyteller and not get in the way of the message. Great applications for storytelling provide the tools and features needed to bring the story to life and nothing more. A boring PowerPoint presentation will still be boring regardless of the fonts, color, or animations brought in to add flavor. A bad message cannot be saved by props; it dies regardless of the bells and whistles taped onto it.

While being a master storyteller seems daunting at first, the biggest hurdle is just to begin. Observation and reporting on those observations are simple once you put yourself in the shoes of your customer, your guest, your user, or more simply put: the person you’re trying to sell to. What happens when they come into your store? Where do they go? What are they interested in? When do they purchase their items and what happens when they do? All of these elements craft your story and when put together you’ve created your story: the customer journey.

A good story also prompts many questions. How did the customer come to use your product? Why did they pick your product over others? What was the feature or benefit that delighted them, and what was the feature of benefit that they struggled with? Put together it asks the most important question of all… what were they thinking? These questions form your plan and direction. They inform your efforts to improve upon the journey, increase loyalty, and drive adoption.

Every important step forward starts with the story. How you tell it is up to you.

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