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10 Common Mistakes That Ruin Your Business Stories

Stories have been used for centuries with our ancestors passing down life lessons through fables and myths that educate and entertain. Stories undeniably have the power to persuade, influence and grip a crowd, which is why business storytelling is such a handy skill to have as part of your professional development.

When you hone the art of storytelling and apply it to business strategies, you not only make profits but also deeper bonds with others. It’s no surprise that business stories are actively used by managers and leaders to inspire action but unfortunately, some professionals still struggle with their presentation skills.

While storytelling takes practice, learning the rookie mistakes of crafting a business story can help you get started on advancing your presentation skills. Here are the 10 common mistakes to avoid as a business storyteller!

1. Exaggerating A Leadership Story

Although leadership stories are a great way to inspire people and create a common vision, they can backfire if you use hypothetical situations. Creating a false story can cause a disconnect between you and the individuals you wish to influence. You tell your own stories because you’ve gone through the emotions of that experience, which you can authentically share with others. If you haven’t experienced something yourself, your delivery usually will be flat and unconvincing to the audience. Instead of connecting with them, you’ll lose their attention.

2. Telling A Personal Story You Haven’t Recovered From

How you express your experiences of difficulties, pain, frustration or fright plays a major role in influencing your audience and motivating them. However, if you are stuck in resentment and grief yourself, you might create a negative impact on your audience and make them take a step backwards.

Don’t get us wrong, sharing an impactful and emotional story you’ve been through is extremely powerful as you get to share your personal learning lessons that can benefit your audience. However, if you haven’t healed from these experiences, that negative energy you feel will also translate to your audience.

3. Announcing You Are About To Tell A Story

Starting your story with “let me tell you a story” may be tempting but don’t do it! Don’t underestimate your audience because they are usually well aware of how business stories are used to inspire and spark action. The problem is, when your audience is hyper-aware of these techniques, they aren’t going to be as interested in what you have to say.

That’s why you can’t be explicit about telling a story or your audience will probably roll their eyes and think “not another cliche business story”. Instead, subtly weave your story into your presentation or business pitch by using phrases like “I just remembered something funny…” or “I once knew this girl/guy…”. These lead-ins give you an introduction to your story without throwing it in your audience’s faces.

4. Holding A Deep Suspense

Your favourite stories in books, TV shows and movies tend to be filled with suspense but remember, business storytelling isn’t the same. The main aim of a business story is to tell a message that can influence or persuade your audience and suspense usually doesn’t help with that. Adding too many suspenseful moments when making a business case can backfire and confuse your audience as it makes it harder to keep up when they’re constantly forced to decode your message. Instead, use business stories to elaborate on a point you’re making so your audience can visualise it better.

INSIDER INFO: Suspense is not the only technique that can capture an audience. You can also inject your stories with humour and build a connection with commonalities. We dive into the different narrative frameworks and archetypes of business stories in our Speak in Stories workshop.

5. Leaving Out the Details

Even though business stories are usually told in a more formal context like a presentation or business pitch, it doesn’t mean that your story should be synthesised for efficiency. Stories can ignite imagination especially when it includes in-depth details. Taking away context to seem more professional can make your story fall flat. Instead, add details like your character names and the timestamp of your story (eg. the year, how old you were, etc.) to get your audience to connect with your story.

“It’s not magic that takes us to another world it’s storytelling.” ~ Val McDermid, Scottish Crime Writer

6. Too Much Information

On the contrary, just because you’re enjoying the story doesn’t mean you should ramble on and on about the intricacies. Too many unnecessary details can drag on your story and bore your audience. Yes, including some details can bring your story to life but details that don’t add to the story will make you seem like an unprofessional storyteller. A story should have a main message so keep that message in mind and craft your story so that it leads in the direction of your main point without going off tangent. There’s a fine line between a sprinkle of details and a draggy anecdote!

7. Skipping Your Failures

Leaders and professionals want to portray an image of excellence and perfection but unfortunately, that doesn’t make them relatable. Before reaching their optimal performance and success, heroes usually go through many obstacles and failures and that is what humanises them. Just like a hero, you should share your stories of failure that allowed you to reach the success you have today. Don’t be afraid of sharing conflicts and struggles because that’s what creates an exciting story and also makes you more likeable.

8. Getting Through Your Story Too Fast

In an attempt to be precise and concise, people tend to get through a story too fast. A story should have a certain tempo and pace and rushing through it can make you lose your audience. Instead, take appropriate pauses when you want to emphasise something or if you want your audience to digest what you just said. Zooming through your story will make it forgettable and unmemorable.

9. Targeting A Large Audience

This may confuse you because our very aim should be to attract a large audience, right? Profit is everything in the world of business so why not reach more to gain more?

When you tell stories to a general audience, your message becomes diluted in an attempt to connect with anyone and everyone. Your story should target a specific audience that has a higher chance of connecting with your story. It’s tough to influence a general audience so narrow it down, sharpen your story and add more depth for a stronger message.

10. Ignoring the Stories of Your Team

A tip to being a good storyteller is to listen out and collect stories from all around you. Just because you may be a leader of a team doesn’t mean you can’t get good stories from your team members. Stories are all about human connections and relationships and you can definitely find those within your own team. This works especially well when communicating with your organisation. Use the stories you’ve heard from your members as the building blocks of your message so they can relate and connect with them.

3 Quick Storytelling Tips

So, how do you ensure your story reaches not only their ears but also their hearts? Here are a couple of tips you can start with to begin crafting the perfect story.

1.  Share your authentic experiences

No one can narrate your story better than you. A great place to start is by digging through your personal anecdotes and experiences. You are definitely bound to find a story of a lesson learnt or a failure-to-success narrative. It’s also a lot easier to channel the emotions of your stories when you’ve personally experienced them. Sharing your raw and real emotions can help you connect with your audience better.

2. Put the focus on your audience

While your stories may be from your experiences, don’t make your whole presentation all about you. The honest truth is that an audience doesn’t want to sit through a presentation that only talks about your successes and experiences they want to be involved too. When telling your stories, actively switch your focus and make your audience the hero. Your message will connect and influence them better when they see themselves at the centre of your story.

3. Less is more

Business stories don’t have to shock your audience. The harder you try to add narrative techniques like suspense into your story, the further you get from your main message. Business stories can be simple and straight-to-the-point narratives without the descriptive jargon you usually find in a novel. Leave out the unnecessary details and push your story towards your main purpose and message.

INSIDER INFO: Advanced presentation skills not only concentrate on crafting your story and delivery, it also includes improving your visual communication through graphics and visual aids. The Amazing Sticky Presentations® workshop improves your presentation skills by concentrating on your visual impact.

While these tips can help you become a better storyteller, remember that individuality is essential. You may have guidelines to follow but showing your personal identity and authenticity is crucial in capturing your audience’s attention.

One last tip: practice, practice, practice!


  4. Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash


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