While telling stories is as old as human history, the craft of telling a good story is repeatedly re-discovered. Currently, there is a lot of discussion about telling stories in business. Tell about your brand in a story. Explain your corporate culture to new hires in a story. Encourage your customers to tell stories about your products. In this week’s #kaizenblog chat on Twitter, we decided to take a closer look at stories and how they’re told. As Valeria Maltoni (@ConversationAge) pointed out, “Stories also work because our brains use narrative as shortcut to remember things.”

If you missed the chat, there are a number of links to books, blogs, and other stories that are well worth your attention. To catch up on the conversation and these links, here is the transcript Transcript for #kaizenblog – StoriesThatWorkPt1

Why do stories work? Seems like a basic question but a foundation can be a good place to start. Laura Crum (@LauraLCrum) explained, “from vStorytellingery young, we’re taught to appreciate stories (we read to babies) and having things framed as stories is a throwback.”

  • Caroline Di Diego (@CASUDI) “Stories work because people can relate to them ~ life is story”
  • Paul Pruneau (@PaulPruneau) “Stories connect all of us and our experiences together. They inspire, inform and influence ideas and action”
  • Rob Petersen (@robpetersen) “Q1. Stories work because , if we relate to them,  we can see/believe they can be replicated to work over and over”
  • Sarah Montague (@sarahmontague) “Q1 Stories work because they are a way for ppl to share experiences; makes it tangible + personal”
  • EJ Ellis (@EJEllisTweets) “Stories work because they engage a listener’s attention, imagination & anticipation”

There is a simplicity in what makes stories work. We can process them with our ears and eyes. There are themes and archetypes for us to connect with and use as we tell stories to others. As Stephen Denny (@Note_To_CMO) S tweeted, “Q1 Joseph Campbell says stories give us ‘the experience of life’ McKee says  stories are ‘stories are equipment for living.’ “

What are the elements of a good story? Stories are framed by ingredients that are repeated throughout time orally and in print.

  • Chanelle Schneider (@WriterChanelle) “Conflict, character, growth, change”
  • Stephen Denny “Q2: Key element of a good story is a “dark side” – what happens to our hero (us, usually) when everything goes wrong”
  • Patrick Prothe (@pprothe) “Q2: Key elements? Protagonist, Conflict, steps to resolving conflict. Key twists to plot”
  • David Spinks (@DavidSpinks) “Q2: It’s relatable”
  • Meg Fowler (@megfowler) “A2: Elements of a good story: fully realized characters, a universal challenge, w/ personal twist  & an unmistakable perspective”
  • Amber Cleveland (@ambercleveland) “A2 element of a good story – the listener/reader can see themselves in the story”
  • Catherine Connors (@tipperary_lass) “Q2 – a perfect balance between theme, plot, story structure. Characters and settings”

When we can put ourselves in the story or can react in sympathy or empathy, stories are much more engaging. Emotion seems to be a key ingredient as well. For many of the participants in the chat, they talked about journeys and transformation. Cathy Larkin (@CathyWebSavvyPR) remarked on the telling of a story,”Q2-elements of a gd story-knowing your audience, who you’re writing for. & yr goal – what reaction/action do U want.”

To make it more concrete, Valeria Maltoni asked, What are some examples of great stories?

  • Chris Paulsen (@chris_paulsen) “Examples-Winston Churchill saving Europe; Reagan surviving an  assassination attempt.”
  • Laura Crum “Others: Bill Gates as a dropout and now unbelievably successful. Obama’s story that got him elected.”
  • Jeff Gibbard (@jgibbard) “Example of a great story: Kurt Vonnegut’s: A Long Walk to Forever, part of Welcome to the Monkey House”
  • Rich Becker (@RickBecker) “Apple. Zappos. Papa John’s. All of them had great stories at the start. They invited you to become part of their story.”
  • EJEllis “6th Sense: great because your perception of the story is greatly altered when the status of Willis’ character is revealed.”

Maybe great stories can rise up and be told but storytellers are a key piece of what gives a story life. John Reddish (@GetResults) pointed out the enduring power of stories as lessons, “Great teachers have always used stories 2 spread their words – Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Joseph Campbell a good resource.” There was a lot of back and forth about branding and the stories that go with this. Does using social media make it more or less important to tell stories? Joe Sanchez (@sanchezjb) observed, “the increased importnce of storytelling reflects importnce of communication-all driven by social media.”

The elements and examples of great stories certainly echo why stories work for all of us so well. Developing the craft of telling stories becomes more essential with so much use of social media in branding and marketing ideas as well as the products and services of businesses large and small. How does your story connect?

  • Thomas Kuplic (@tbkuplic) “Q3: There must be a way to invite audience to participate. Do something, take action, live the 3rd act with you.”
  • John Reddish “Q3 – in speaking world our “signature” stories (unique 2 us) are our bread and butter – tailored to each speech”
  • Eric Tsai (@designdamage) “A3: ur story connect when u meet audience where they’re at, feeling related, they get that u get them”
  • Patrick Prothe “Re Q3 – IMO for story to connect, must strike a nerve, hit an emotion w/ aud. therefore u must understand them first”
  • Linda Naiman (@alchemize) “A3: I use arts in groups as crucible for storytelling –people connect thru imagination trust, + thru embodied learning”
  • Matt Fox (@persuasionfox) “depends on purpose of the story. How do I want to influence the person determine the type of story”
  • Rob Petersen “Q3: Great stories connect when audience sees themselves in it, taking the same journey & achieving the same results”

Really there were so many tweets about how stories connect (and links to illustrate points), it became clear that developing one’s craft as a storyteller had to include how you engaged with your audience. It was striking that there were very few references to customers or clients. Does this mean that stories of our businesses are entertainment?

Since it is clearly a craft that has to be learned and practiced, Valeria Maltoni suggested that we have another conversationa about storytelling so look for Part 2 of “Stories That Work”

What does make stories work and why?

*#kQ4-This is a special one-off conversation that came out of  “Year In Review (So Far)”  that will include a simultaneous Skype converation and Twitter chat. The focus will be on your goals and the actions you want to take to achieve these goals. Look for announcements on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and in this blog space.