How To Tell a Compelling Story at Work (Plus an Example)

We frequently use stories to persuade coworkers and peers to support our initiatives, to demonstrate to an employee how he can improve, or to motivate a team that is struggling. What constitutes a compelling story in a business context, and how can you hone your capacity to persuade through the use of stories?

What the Experts Say According to Nick Morgan, author of Power Cues and president and founder of Public Words, a communications consulting firm, business leaders “won’t be heard unless they’re telling stories” in today’s information-saturated age. Facts, figures, and everything else we consider to be important in the business world, he claims, “really don’t stick in our minds at all.” But by tying feelings to actual events, stories produce “sticky” memories. That means leaders who can tell and share engaging stories have a significant competitive advantage. And fortunately, anyone can develop their storytelling skills. According to Jonah Sachs, CEO of Free Range Studios and author of Winning the Story Wars, “We are programmed through our evolutionary biology to be both consumers and creators of story.” “It certainly can be taught and learned. ” Here’s how to use storytelling to your benefit.

Every storytelling exercise should start with the question: “Who is my audience and what is the message I want to share with them? ” Each choice you make about your story should flow from those questions. For example, if your team is acting as though failure is not an option, you might decide to impart the message that failure is actually the grandfather of success. According to Sachs, leaders should ask, “What is the core moral that I’m trying to implant in my team?” and “How can I boil that down to a compelling single statement?” Or, if you’re attempting to persuade senior leaders to support your project by taking a chance, you could argue that most businesses are founded on taking calculated risks. Decide on your main point first, and only then can you decide how to best illustrate it.

The best storytellers draw from their own memories and experiences to provide examples for their points. What life experiences have you had that have helped you believe in the concept you are attempting to convey? “Think of a moment in which your own failures led to success in your career, or a lesson that a parent or mentor imparted,” advises Sachs “Any of these things could make for intriguing emotional entry points into a narrative.” Although there may be a reluctance to discuss personal matters at work, leaders are more approachable and authentic when they can share anecdotes that show struggle, failure, and obstacles overcame. “The key is to show your vulnerability,” says Morgan.

That being said, avoid making yourself the protagonist of your own tale. A narrative about your chauffeured car and having millions in stock options won’t inspire your staff, according to Morgan. Although you can play a prominent role, the attention should ultimately be on the people, experiences, or lessons that you have personally encountered. And you should try to “make the audience or employees the hero” whenever you can, advises Morgan. Their interest and willingness to accept your message grows as a result. According to Sachs, “one of the primary reasons we listen to stories is to cultivate a deeper belief in ourselves.” “But the audience goes silent when the storyteller talks about how great they are,” It is less likely that your audience will relate to you and your message the more you celebrate your own decisions.

Highlight a challenge Without a challenge, a story is merely not very interesting. “Good storytellers understand that a story needs conflict,” says Morgan. Don’t be afraid to mention that the path ahead will be challenging if there is a competitor that needs to be defeated, a market challenge that needs to be resolved, or a change-resistant industry that needs to be transformed. According to Morgan, “We actually like to be told it’s going to be difficult.” “Smart leaders tell employees, ‘This is going to be tough. But if we all work together and persevere, we’ll eventually accomplish something incredible. According to Sachs, a well-written story with this type of a rallying cry means “you don’t have to demand change or effort.” People want to be a part of the journey, so they will become your partners in change.

Keep it straightforward Not every story you tell has to be a shocking, breath-taking epic. Some of the most popular and enduring tales are straightforward and comparatively simple. Don’t let needless details to detract from your core message. Work from the principle that “less is more. “Putting in too much detail of the wrong kind” is one of the biggest errors you can make, claims Morgan. If it doesn’t artistically advance the story, don’t reveal details to your audience, like what day of the week it was or the shoes you were wearing. But by engrossing your audience with a few intriguing, strategically placed details, such as how you felt, a person’s expression, or the modest beginnings of a now-great company, you can help reinforce your point and get your point across.

Storytelling is a “real art form” that requires constant practice to master, according to Morgan. To hone your message into the most effective and efficient story, practice with close friends, family, and trusted colleagues. And remember that the rewards can be immense. “Stories are the original viral tool,” says Sachs. “Once you tell a very compelling story, the first thing a person wonders is, “Who can I tell this story to?’ As a result, for the extra three minutes you spend encoding a leadership communication in a story, you’re going to see returns that last for months and possibly years. ”.

Case Study #1: Use conflict to inspire and motivate people Josh Linkner was concerned that his staff was becoming complacent. Linkner was then the CEO of ePrize, a Detroit-based interactive promotions business, and he had witnessed how quickly his business rose to the top of the online promotions sector. He claims that in the middle of the 2000s, “we had double and triple growth every year.” I became concerned that we would begin to cling to our past successes rather than creating new ones and that our creativity would suffer. ”.

So he made up a fake nemesis. He stood up and announced that there was a brazen new rival named Slither at an all-company meeting. I told everyone they were bigger, faster, and more successful than us,” he claims. “Their investors had deeper pockets. They were innovating faster than I’d ever seen before, and their footprint was better. ”.

The story was met with laughter from everyone in the room (it was clear that the company was a ruse), but it quickly became ingrained in ePrize’s culture. Executives kept spreading the Slither story by fabricating press releases about the impressive quarterly earnings or capital infusions of their rival, and soon the desire to outperform the fictitious competitor started to motivate better performance.

“It inspired creativity,” Linkner says. “In brainstorming sessions, we used Slither as the foil. Instead of telling the team, “Okay, guys, we need to cut back on production time,” I would respond, “The people at Slither just cut their cycle time by two days. How are we going to do that?” How do you think they accomplished it?’ The ideas on the white boards ”.

Case Study #2: Draw from your own experiences Vince Molinaro, managing director of Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions, Canada’s largest HR advisory, tells clients that he can pinpoint the exact moment when his career direction became clear. It was at his first job following graduation from college, working for a charity that assisted those in need with getting back on their feet. Vince loved the mission but found the atmosphere uninspiring. “Everyone just went through the motions,” he says. I distinctly recall asking myself, “Is this it? Is this how working in the real world feels? “

Vince was asked to join a committee to create a more positive work environment after a senior manager named Zinta sensed that he wanted to make a bigger impact. They started to make small adjustments, and coworkers’ attitudes began to change. He claims, “I personally witnessed how one manager can transform an organization’s culture.”

Then Zinta was diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer. In her absence, the office culture began to revert back. Vince informed Zinta of the unfortunate turn of events while visiting her in the hospital. She shocked him by confessing that she believed her illness was a direct result of long-term exposure to a toxic workplace because she had never smoked and her family had no history of the disease.

Soon after, Zinta informed Vince in a letter that he would have to make a significant decision in his life. He could let other people’s unfavorable attitudes affect how he behaved, or he could work toward professional goals because they gave him a sense of accomplishment. He says, “In her hour of need she reached out to me.” “Even though she didn’t have to be, she was a mentor to me ”.

Two weeks later, Zinta passed away. But the letter transformed Vince’s life, motivating him to quit his job and launch his own consulting company that assists people in becoming better leaders. He says, “I’ve witnessed the kind of atmosphere and culture that a great leader can foster. “For the last 25 years, I’ve tried to emulate that. ” He still has Zinta’s letter.

They consider their own history and the figures who have influenced them as a result, too. In my case, it was a great leader. Sometimes you can learn the most from the truly awful experiences. In any case, he asserts, the strength comes from telling your story to the people you lead so they can learn more about your motivations.

What Makes A Compelling Story?

How to tell a compelling story at work

The steps listed below can help you create an interesting story to tell at work.

1. Know your audience

Your audience is more likely to pay close attention to and remember your story when it is relatable. Understanding your audience’s background can help you decide on relevant details and the main point you want to make. Before telling your story, you can use the following questions to better understand your audience:

2. Determine your topic

Unexpected or unusual topics are frequently those that are most interesting to readers. Even though your story may be based on a variety of anecdotes, concentrating on just one can help you make your point more clearly. This can improve your audience’s comprehension of a concept. Consider posing the following inquiries to yourself to help you choose the best subject for your audience:

3. Structure your story

Consider using a three-part traditional story structure to keep your audience interested:

4. Develop engaging characters

No matter what the subject of your story is, think about selecting a main character who the listener can identify with. If you’re a character in the story, consider which other characters your audience might find interesting. To encourage maximum engagement in your story, think about focusing on a character who has a job or lifestyle similar to your audience. When telling a story about resolving a social conflict at work, for instance, to subordinates, coworkers, or corporate executives, you might put the emphasis on different characters.

5. Include vivid details

The most compelling details frequently provide answers to your audience’s questions, engage them emotionally, or aid in their ability to visualize the story. While you can add details to any part of your story, they work particularly well at the start to clearly establish the setting, the conflict, and the characters. Think about the following details to draw in your audience and make your story memorable:

6. Create tension

Characters typically confront the conflict and take action to resolve it in the middle of your story. This is your story’s dramatic climax, and it’s frequently the source of conflict. It’s helpful to identify the source of the conflict to increase the tension and compel your audience to pay attention. In a work story, your characters conflict might be:

7. Use examples

Before you tell your story, consider reviewing examples for inspiration. Successful storytellers can be actively listened to at work, and you can then make notes of their memorable phrases. You can also pay attention to the types of characters they chose or the way they introduced settings, characters, and conflict through the use of details. You can use the following examples of story types outside of work:

When do you tell compelling stories at work?

Work stories can nudge your audience to take action and remember specifics by:

You may also tell compelling stories at work when youre:

Example of a compelling story at work

The following illustration can assist you in creating a tale that captivates your audience and aids in helping them remember your message:

I’d like to share a story before we get started with our managerial training today.

When I was operating a restaurant in Illinois, I employed a worker by the name of Jemma. She was in her twenties, had a young child to support, and worked primarily in the late hours of the night. As a line cook, she frequently collaborated with three or four other cooks to make sure that customers received their food on time.

There was a severe storm one night, and many of the roads became flooded. Due to the absence of two of Jemmas’ coworkers, delivery clients complained that their food was cold when it arrived. Thinking quickly, Jemma took the lead. She called the delivery people to make sure they knew the quickest route to take during the storm and rearranged the kitchen to increase efficiency. She also requested permission from her manager to provide late-arriving customers with coupons.

Later that night, the rain stopped, and the water receded. A patron remarked the following day on the restaurant’s social media page about how our staff handled deliveries throughout the storm. That was a few years ago. Now Jemma is managing several restaurants in the area.

Jemma quickly decided after weighing her options, which helped her hone her leadership abilities. She advanced her career as she improved her customer service techniques.


What is a compelling story?

A compelling story depends on the elements of storytelling to make that plot interesting rather than on the plot itself to be interesting. A compelling story depends on the elements of storytelling to make that plot interesting rather than on the plot itself to be interesting.

Why is this story compelling meaning?

So, step away from the slides and use these 7 tips to tell a compelling story:
  1. Keep your focus on the audience. …
  2. Have a single message. …
  3. Structure your story. …
  4. Create characters. …
  5. Include the facts. …
  6. Develop dramatic tension.

What are the components of a compelling story?

I found the whole movie to be very compelling and very exciting and interesting and making you want to watch or listen to it

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