Unleash Business Storytelling - build a brilliant story 1 story at a time

Unleash Business Storytelling - build a brilliant story 1 story at a time

Business storytelling is all the rage – and rightly so. It can be a powerful way to communicate and move people into action. In this post I am going to share how I build stories.

Not many people know this, but I used to be a journalist and editor.

I was the editor of a successful industry newspaper, and of course, I have been creating content for over 20 years on various blogs, books and media channels. I have been storytelling for a very long time now.

I’ve been in the business of business storytelling all my time at work too, I maybe didn’t always realise it.

I studied Media Science at University, a degree for the modern world (although I didn’t realise that at the time). The premise was around taking complex ideas and making them accessible to a target audience, using the most appropriate mediums available (web, video, audio etc).

Training and working in media and journalism was a wonderful opportunity and there is much we can learn from (good) journalism for our world of work, from ethics to data gathering to communicating ideas to storytelling.

Business storytelling is one of these ideas and today I will share ideas on how to build stories.

As companies embark on branding campaigns, change programmes and fight for the right talent, business storytelling is becoming an essential tool for many companies. Yet, many people aren’t skilled at telling stories. Today, I’ll give you a mini masterclass on storytelling for the workplace.

Business Storytelling is more than facts

If you’ve seen the 11 principles video, or sat the online communication superpower course, or have attended one of the rare in-person workshops, you’ll know that one of the principles in my model is that “stories go where facts cannot”.

Facts rarely move people. Stories do.

And if you think about journalism it’s about discovering the facts and communicating a compelling and interesting story about them. It’s storytelling. Well, good journalism is. It’s about making facts interesting. Storytelling is one way to do this.

Fictional storytelling is great for expressing ideas and creativity but in work we need to focus on facts. If more people in business focused on facts and evidence, there’d be a lot less drama, poor decisions making and turmoil in companies.

A lesson I learned early in my studies and journalism career is that “if in doubt, leave it out”. As in, if we’re not sure about something (and have no evidence or primary source), leave it out. Ethics 101.

“If in doubt, leave it out”

We don’t want mis-guided or misleading stories in the workplace. Facts and evidence are essential – and then business storytelling is how we bring these things to life.

Interestingly, it’s also a good idea to tell stories about things that haven’t happened yet if it’s clear it’s future orientated. An example of this is the Painted Picture step from my Releasing Agility model.

It requires us to tell a story about the future that is compelling and interesting. We’ll cover how to use facts/problems from today to paint that picture in future articles.

Storytelling a “change program” that is happening now or in the future, can also be a good exercise – where we future cast what we believe the change will bring. But be careful, sometimes, when you look back, your stories were merely fiction.

I always bridge both sides. I tell stories about where we are now with facts, then I tell stories, based on the facts of today, about how we’re going to be different in the future; essentially how, if we overcome the obstacles ahead of us, we’ll reach our goals and grow with this.

Storytelling is human

A key aspect of business storytelling is the human element – “how WE will be different” or “how we have changed”.

Somebody overcoming an obstacle and being a better person because of it is the classic hero’s tale story arch (sometimes called The Quest) (Jordan, 2022).

Many great movie and books have this story arch. Somebody, with a challenge, problem or task that seems so daunting, is forced into this challenge without the right skills or behaviours. They typically find some friends to help them. They overcome the challenge and they are better or different because of it. Star Wars. Finding Nemo. Toy Story. Almost every Western. The Goonies. The list goes on.

In business we have problems; a good business has interesting problems that need to be solved. A good manager/leader will make those problems so interesting and compelling that people will want to help to solve them. In a good business they will overcome the problems and be a better person (and better business) because of this journey. Classic storytelling.

Anyone who’s ever worked with me will know this is my style.

We’re here (current reality) and we want to go there (painted picture) but we have these obstacles (problems). We’ll grow by overcoming the challenges and going on this journey.

How to build a story

So, here’s a modified version of Barbara Worth’s Story Build Plan (Chantler and Stewart, 2009) that outlines the building blocks of creating good stories.

Elements I have added/modified are indicated with an *

Outline your purpose and audience. *

If you’re familiar with my work you’ll know this is the basic starting block of becoming a better communicator.

Define your purpose. What are you trying to achieve when you communicate? What do you want to happen?

Then understand, as best you can, your audience. In business it pays to look into DISC. Most organisations (and teams) have an even spread of people from all aspects of DISC.

It’s therefore important to consider this in either the story, or the follow up comms about the story.

You may need to create multiple stories, or stories supported by in-depth analysis.

Set Goals.

Tied to above – once you know your purpose and what you want the audience to do, find the core idea and stick to it.

Don’t weave in seven other ideas, or try to address every issue in the business, or tackle multiple change initiatives. Find one. Stick to it.

Business storytelling is about simplicity and sticking to one story point is key.

Develop your idea.

This is the difficult middle bit. Pull the facts together, the story arch, the points you’d like to make and get all the content expanded.

This is the same process I use when creating a new Keynote talk – always remembering to stick to the core idea.

I have two approaches for this that I use depending on the complexity (and my mood).

Firstly, mind mapping is an effective way to see all the branches and ideas.

Although I am a BIG fan of analogue methods for notetaking and thinking, this is a rare occasion where I suggest using a digital mindmap tool.

Digital tools allow more flexibility when moving ideas around.

The second approach is to use sticky notes. Each note being a salient point, emphasis or ideas. Stick them all on a wall or table, and then move them around to create and build the story.

Solidify your structure.

Tied to above, it’s time to find your beginning, middle and end. Business storytelling, like everyday storytelling should also follow a similar construct. The beginning, middle and end is a good construct.

As I recommend in my Zero To Keynote course, make the beginning punchy and strong. In journalism it’s often called the Lede or Lead; something to grab attention and draw people in.

Make the end strong too – something people will remember or maybe a call to action. Don’t let a good story fizzle out at the end.

People remember how you make them feel (another communication principle) and the recency effect is real – they’ll remember the ending and if it’s weak you may not achieve your purpose.

This middle is all about the information and ideas that expand and build the story. No fillers, no gaps, no clever twists, nothing confusing, no deviations.

This is the meat of the story; the challenge or problem, why it’s important to overcome it, what’s involved and why people should care.

Just because we think the solution/change program/new way of working is right, we need to convince people why it was “rightly” decided upon.

We may care passionately about what we’re doing but others won’t have the same connection or passion….yet.

Write the story through.

Write the entire story out line by line. When I prepare a presentation it’s the same process.

Work on each sentence and ensure each one advances the story and maintains momentum, always sticking to your core point or theme.

Edit. Rewrite. Leave it for a day and come back to it.

Examine The Writing For Power.

Are you using the “active” voice and language that is specific, vivid and creating “emotion” in the story. Don’t change facts. Don’t lie. Don’t manipulate – but use the power of language to enrich the facts and bring the story to life.

Every sentence must work to advance the story and bring those facts to life.

Do a “read around”.

I always recommend this for presentations also. Print the story out and read it aloud. Does it flow?

What sounds weird or difficult to understand? Could you remove some words or an entire sentence and not lose the meaning?

How can you make it more rhythmic and engaging?

The easier the story is to read the better chance you have of it being understood and enjoyed.

Don’t dumb down the content though – know your audience and write for them. Use jargon and acronyms if you know they will understand these terms. Use complex ideas if you know they will understand it.

It reminds me my degree where we had to take complicated scientific ideas, such as the chaos theory, and communicate it for readers of The New Scientist – and then again for readers of a tabloid newspaper. It requires different language, different visuals, different terminology.

Be Ruthless.

Take out everything that adds no value.

“Kill your darlings” as William Faulkner is credited with saying.

Get rid of the fluff, the padding and anything that does not move your story along.

Think about how people will respond and how they will resonate with the hero’s tale (if that’s the archetype you’re using).

Answer any questions you know they will have, in the story. But don’t pad for the sake of it.

A good story doesn’t use more of the audience’s time than it needs to (another principle from the workshop).

Closing Thoughts

You won’t get it right first time. You will need to study the feedback and then learn and adapt.

The more people you ask to review the stories you create, the more feedback you will get – everyone has opinions. Be careful who you ask. At work I suggest creating a small trusted team of contributors, reviewers and editors.

These people don’t need to be professionals at communication – people within your team or business already have many of these skills – they may just not be using them in their day-to-day job.

It’s always worth spending time reviewing and fine tuning the stories you create, especially if your story is going to have a huge impact on the business.

Stories go where facts cannot.

Next time you need to communicate facts, think about how you could turn them into a story. If you’re trying to move people into motion, turn facts into a story to pull on emotions. Emotion and motion come from the same word.

Stories really can help you to communicate ideas, resonate with people and bring facts to life. We certainly do need better business story telling.

But remember. Business Storytelling is like journalism – it should be about facts. And if in doubt, leave it out.

What gets written in business is often considered the truth.

My advice is always to be sure that what you write, and the stories you tell, are true and based on facts, and you’ve done the work of bringing them to life.


Chantler, P. and Stewart, P. (2009). Essential radio journalism : how to produce and present radio news. London: A. & C. Black.

Jordan (2022). Types of Stories: 7 Story Archetypes (and Ways to Use Them) – NN. [online] Now Novel. Available at: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/types-of-stories-archetypes/ [Accessed 11 Jan. 2023].