Storytelling in Business


Storytelling has no place in business. How often have we heard that at the de Burgh Group? Business we have been told, is about facts and figures, bottom lines, strategic staircases, aims, goals and business solutions…

When was the last time you sat through a monotone delivered presentation crammed with this sort of jargon accompanied by a dull Powerpoint presentation reiterating the same message? Hands up if you spent that session fixating on the presenter’s bad choice of tie, a smudge on the chair in front, a film you recently saw, what you might be having for lunch… in other words, anything except for the content of that presentation.

See what we did there? We told you a story. And even if we exaggerated the content, you could at least relate to the point we were getting at. The art of storytelling is greatly overlooked in business. But why? In our everyday lives, stories connect and engage us all – from breaking news to conversations with colleagues and contacts. Business, after all, is about connecting with people.

Bringing business to life – from the boardroom to the office

Stories have the power to inspire and to motivate and we have been telling them since the dawn of time. From cave paintings to the wizardry of a wirelessly HD multi-function smart screen, we have always looked for a way to bring our material to life. However, the business world frequently relies on tech and data to present the picture without acknowledging that the source material may be a trifle… dry.

Bullet points and mission statements may grab the attention on the page, but they are not an effective means of communicating to a live audience. However, a tactically placed story can bring a presentation to life, create empathy with your audience, make your presentation memorable.

More than a source of entertainment, stories, when told with an outcome in mind, are a reflection of your business, a form of putting you, your firm, your team in the picture (a little like those cave paintings). Far from being a piece of fiction, they can make you real and set you apart from your competitors.

Stories have a role to play beyond the auditorium or boardroom too. They have a place within the day to day running of a business because we learn from stories – how to do or not to do things. Sharing stories that illustrate best practices focus the team on common goals in a way that dry data and jargon heavy clichés can’t and stick in the memory far more effectively.

What makes an effective business story?

Of course we all know people who can’t tell a decent story or joke. They over complicate, dwell on details that don’t need dwelling on, turn simple tales into long winded monologues and rapidly lose our attention…

The basic formula for a good business story is:
Keep it simple – Keep the message clear and don’t overcomplicate,
Keep it human – We all like to see ourselves in a story, find examples people can relate to.
Keep it relevant – Don’t meander off tangent and lose your audience in the process.

A good story is like a great recipe. It needs a bit of creativity to mark it out as memorable.  In some of our de Burgh Group storytelling seminars, we will be challenged on this and invariably somebody will say “but I’m simply not that creative.” Creativity does not have to be on such a grand scale.  Creativity is in finding details that will spark the imagination and captures the emotional side.

Engage your audience by taking them on a journey because once you have their attention, you can get them to digest your facts and figures far more easily. Have a clear beginning, middle and an end that does not lose sight of what your business does, or the message that it is trying to promote.

“Not only the content, but the overall presentation was excellent.  It was well worth coming here and spending half a day out of the office.”

That was a feedback comment from one of our de Burgh Group Storytelling in Business seminars, a welcome endorsement and a good point to end this article on. After all, just like you, we’re always striving for a happy ending too…

Luan de Burgh
May 2016


Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of The de Burgh Group – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.