Leaders the world over recognise storytelling as an essential skill. The shift to storytelling in business communication has helped companies across geographies overcome the hurdles of traditional command and control communication styles. Today, storytelling presents several benefits for leaders:
- Storytelling helps leaders build strong bonds with their employees and customers, connecting with their audience on an emotional level
- Stories ignite the imagination and inspires people to grow
- Storytelling sparks interest and excitement for a product or company
- Business storytelling helps drive sales through the roof and helps build brand advocates
- Stories make it easier to share and retain information
Everyone loves a good story and we are all, no doubt, inclined—almost pulled—towards great storytellers. At Dufter.in, storytelling is at the heart of our existence. We keep archives of our favourite storytellers and the times they ruled the stage, learning and unraveling their secrets. We’ve dug up some of the best stories by leaders like Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Elon Musk (Tesla), and Brian Chesky (Airbnb) and identified the secret that makes them great storytellers.
1. Richard Branson
Richard Branson holds several titles—entrepreneur, business magnate, investor, philanthropist and many more—but the one he is most proud of is “storyteller.” For decades, Branson has been telling tales of business and personal experiences in an effort to inspire people to write their own destiny; to connect with them on an individual, emotional level. Along the way, he has developed certain methods or tricks to deliver some of the most engaging, inspiring, and emotional stories—making him one of the best storytellers of our century.
One of Richard Branson’s storytelling techniques is citing a strong inciting incident. This can be easily discerned when we listen to him talk about million dollar ideas and describe, in stories, the turning points that launched his businesses to success.
Branson also steers clear of the run-of-the-mill success stories. Instead, he tells a story of conflicts or hurdles. People are more likely to listen to a protagonists’ journey through struggles and how they endeavoured to become successful than just another someone-got-lucky story. And Branson knows that well. Which is why he always mentions his Trans-Atlantic failure story before going on to his tales of success.
Telling entrepreneurs that their ideas might not go as planned can be disheartening. So Branson often tells the tale of the time he took his children gambling in Vegas, but with a twist. Branson wanted to teach his kids that gambling could make them lose a lot of money and as expected, they lost a few games costing him and his children several thousands of dollars. But the story doesn’t end there—after Branson left the table, his kids enjoyed one last game of Roulette and tripled their money with the remaining chips. Branson calls this the “exception to every rule” rule that helps entrepreneurs realise not everything goes as planned.
2. Elon Musk
Only Elon Musk can make people cheer and roar in excitement over a battery. During the launch of the Tesla Powerwall (yes, the battery people cheered for) as well as in other presentations, Musk does one thing impeccably well—he doesn’t tell the story of Tesla, a product, the team, or himself; he tells the story of his customer—you. Tesla’s potential customer is the centre of Musk’s story, presentation, and above all, his business. Musk believes that he cannot tell the Tesla story without his customers and hence always includes them in the narrative. One example of this is the unveiling of the Model S and Model X—when Musk thanked all the customers who bought the Roadster and thus funded the development of Model S and Model X. Which then funded the development of Model 3.
During his talks, Musk puts his audience face-to-face with the enemy. He shows them problems in their lives that keep them from being truly happy. For the Powerwall, it was the act of burning fossil fuels, living in over-polluted cities, etc. This is also called the Problem-Solution method.
Half-way through Musk’s presentations, you still haven’t seen the product, but you’re already invested. Just before he discloses the solution, Musk paints a beautiful picture of what life on earth could be with this secret product he’s about to unveil. This way, he helps audiences experience the benefits without talking about technical and boring features.
A striking characteristic of Musk’s storytelling technique is how he keeps it simple. There aren’t too many characters or a lot of back and forth in the storyline; it’s a straight run from problem to solution that is easy for everyone to understand and buy into.
3. Brain Chesky
With Airbnb, founders Brain Chesky and Joe Gebbia set out to create a new market that many considered risky, unprofitable, and even unsafe for travellers and hosts. Today, Airbnb is the most popular name among travellers the world over. And this journey, from a small internet company to a multi-million dollar business, has gifted/earned the founders an ocean of knowledge, expertise, and skills.
Integrating personal stories, experiences, and events into the business nucleus and driving the business to success with stories is one of them.
Every talk or video by Brian Chesky has one common element—a story. Whether he’s answering questions about how the idea of Airbnb came to him or what the team plans for the future, the explanation always comes with a story. A classic example of this is the launch of Airbnb’s Trips in 2016. A good three minutes into his presentation, Chesky doesn’t even mention Trips, the product. Instead, he takes the audience on a trip through his childhood vacations and urges them to think back to theirs. He then pulls out the big guns—photos of him as a child with his family. This well-calculated storytelling strategy made the Airbnb team seem sincere, deeply invested in the brand, and true to their roots. Chesky had already connected with his audience emotionally as he went on to explain the product.
The stories didn’t stop there. Trips’ launch event included a segment about Airbnb’s local hosts. With the help of beautifully shot teasers, Chesky didn’t just show the audience what to expect on an Airbnb trip, he also wove in the stories of local hosts—sparking interest and driving buy-in from his audience.
A peculiar thing about Chesky’s stories is the happiness and positivity in his narration. Throughout the presentation, Chesky spoke about people, emotions, the magic of vacations, and the importance of community using examples of certain Airbnb guests. By the end of the launch event, Chesky’s audience was certain that they needed a vacation and that it had to be through Airbnb. Mission accomplished.
Business Storytelling India
Storytelling is an easy craft to learn for leaders. Check out this article titled "7 Storytelling Tips for Effective Leadership" in YourStory.com written by our Founder and Chief Storyteller Akhil Kakkar.