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The Small Business Owner's Guide To Business Storytelling The best storytellers immediately draw the audience into the story, capture their attention and set the tone for a unique experience that the audience will remember, whilst focusing on these five key elements.

By Petra Smith Edited by Aby Thomas

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Whilst facts and data make people think, it's emotions that make them act. Sharing stories allows us to connect with people in real life, and create memories that are more intense and last longer. But how do stories impact us on a psychological and physical level, and how can they benefit your business?

You see, the human brain is not built to make sense of large volumes of data or facts, because they are abstract until they are put into context that we can relate to and understand. And we can understand people.

Unlike the binary response typically produced by sharing data, stories activate several areas of our brain, releasing chemicals such as oxytocin and dopamine, heightening feelings of empathy and a sense of involvement, as if we are participating in the story ourselves.

The way in which a story is told has an immediate effect on the limbic side of the brain, the area that controls emotions and memories. This results in listeners being more likely to remember what they heard, and they are also then more likely to be receptive to the proposed call to action. When it comes to business storytelling, there are three key emotions that our story should evoke:

  • This is me The relatable story that shows your audience that you are walking in the same shoes, understand their situation, and know how they feel. When others feel that you are on the same page, this creates an increased sense of trust and credibility.

  • I wish this was me The aspirational story that shows your audience the possibilities. This narrative works whether you are sharing your own story or your clients,' if you can demonstrate what success looks like, and how could it translate into your audience's situation.

  • I'm glad it's not me The "lessons learnt" story that shows vulnerability and highlights mistakes to avoid will bring you closer to your audience. Sharing your journey, including the negatives, creates a connection with your audience, and shows that you own your mistakes, and are using them to drive your brand forward.

Related: Five Ways To (Better) Influence Your Audience When Speaking In Public

Key elements of effective storytelling

We all know how to tell a story, but what makes a difference is being able to tell a good story, and tell the story well, making it relevant to the audience. And marketing is just about that- telling a good story so that it is remembered and shared for a long time.

The best storytellers immediately draw the audience into the story, capture their attention and set the tone for a unique experience that the audience will remember, whilst focusing on these five key elements:

1. Authenticity Your audience will quickly identify whether you are genuine. So, whilst you might want to position your brand in the best position, avoid trying too hard. People buy from people. And they buy from people they like. And unless they see and understand your real values, they won't be able to decide whether they like you or not.

2. Credibility People want reassurance that they are dealing with people who have a credible background and history of delivering high standards– whether this is the quality of their products or services. Make social proof part of your brand story, and share your credentials to prove to your audience that it is not just you who thinks your business is their best choice.

3. Element of surprise The human brain pays attention to novelty- we react to turns and unexpected events, as our brains perk up when we detect something that breaks a pattern. Good stories have the element of surprise, and engaging storytellers have the ability to engage the audience with the unexpected.

4. New perspectives Sharing information previously not heard or presenting scenarios your audience has not considered before opens up new alternatives, and creates an emotional connection that can impact their thinking. Strong stories are about emotions, empathy, and thoughts, so it's important to present new perspectives with emotional impact and meaning.

5. Power of silence As any virtual artist will probably tell you, white space is just as important as the drawing, and a composer would probably say that the pauses are just as important as the music itself. Similarly, silence is a powerful storytelling tool. Intentional silence draws emphasis– either on what has just been said, or what's coming next.

Every business has a story. It's their story that makes them unique, whether it's about their people, customer service, or their innovative ways of thinking and working. There might be many businesses out there offering similar products and services, but every business story is different. Your story is your competitive advantage, and it's what creates a compelling brand, as it triggers interest with potential customers, and strengthens loyalty with existing ones.

Related: Three Key Benchmarks Financiers Consider Before Funding A Small Business

Petra Smith

Founder and CEO, Squirrels&Bears

Petra Smith is the founder and CEO of Squirrels&Bears, an award-winning marketing and PR agency helping businesses to look and grow bigger. With over 15 years of combined in-house and agency marketing experience, working with B2B and B2C brands globally, Petra is a strong advocate of size not being an obstacle, and that squirrel or bear-sized, any business can create a visible brand that drives sales and customer loyalty.  
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