Does this sound familiar? You’ve invested in communications training in the past, but the skills didn’t stick. You still find yourself reworking decks, editing your colleagues’ proposals, and presenting on behalf of your team. You wish your peers had the skills and confidence to tell authentic stories and engage their audience, but they dread pitching their ideas or building team presentations.
If you and your team have lived through any of these experiences, you know it can feel exhausting. Unfortunately, you’re not alone. Research conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit shows that communication barriers lead to project delays and failures for 44% of respondents, low morale for 31%, and missed performance goals for 25%.
Fortunately, even if traditional communications training didn’t produce the outcomes you were looking for, you have other solutions to explore. So, really, don’t give up on communications training just yet.
We’ve tried other communications training. Why didn’t that training work for our organization?
Traditional communications training may not create the outcomes you desire in your organization for a wide variety of reasons. Let’s dig into some of them.
Most training solutions don’t teach practical business storytelling skills
Amid all of the content we’re exposed to on a daily basis, great storytelling stands out. That’s why TED Talks, personal brand storytelling, and memorable speeches show up on our various news and social media sites with such regularity. The problem is that most of the stories we see or hear, online or in person, fail to embrace practical storytelling concepts. Most of us, for example, will never deliver a TED Talk. Instead, we’re more likely delivering the non-sexy stuff like giving a project update to clients or presenting a quarterly progress report. So, while we may pick up a few storytelling tips from them, what we can learn and implement on a daily basis is limited.
The benefits of high-quality storytelling aren’t limited to situations where someone stands on a stage and speaks to a large audience. More likely, we will spend most of our time communicating with colleagues, clients, and customers face to face — or at least person to person — via phone calls, email, or virtual meetings. Or we might draft a one-pager about a new product, or create a presentation for a small group of colleagues.
No matter the medium, audience, or purpose, great storytelling will enhance the persuasive power of your message. The most effective communications training teaches people to pair storytelling with insights, data, and recommendations to create a compelling, audience-centric narrative. Data and facts can be dry, but we often need to use them to convey important information — to support our story and help lead to the action we want the audience to take. Incorporating data and facts into a story for optimal impact is part of an easy-to-learn storytelling framework. With that, anyone can become a master storyteller — in any format or medium.
Above all, a business communication training that emphasizes storytelling is practical. Imagine you’ve prepared a 30-minute presentation for your CEO. As you’re walking through the door she tells you, Sorry, I’ve only got five minutes. How do you adjust on the fly? Or maybe you’re presenting to a large audience with diverse needs or care-abouts. How do you cater to everyone’s needs and engage them throughout the presentation? Learning how to use storytelling effectively teaches you and your team how to be nimble, and prepares you to succeed in any scenario.
Charisma isn’t enough
There’s nothing that can replace a charismatic speaker — someone who captivates an audience from start to finish. But even the most persuasive speaker will fail without a good story. In other words, charisma helps, but it’s hard to beat a charismatic speaker who also has a solid grasp of the content.
A charismatic speaker can make audience members feel important — make them feel that someone is speaking directly to them and keep them engaged from start to finish. But charisma is a trait that’s difficult to teach, and it’s only part of the equation for a successful presentation. Can communications training influence someone’s level of charisma? Absolutely. It can help the person learn how to better command the room. But it can’t transform someone overnight, and it can’t really help the person learn how to create a compelling story. So, what’s the alternative?
More effective than attempting to teach people in your organization how to be more charismatic is teaching them business storytelling. This makes sense if you take a step back and consider the two features that researchers say define charisma: influence (the ability to guide others) and affability (the ability to make other people feel comfortable and at ease). What makes great storytelling so powerful is that when it’s done well, it gives speakers opportunities to capitalize on both of these elements of charisma — influence and affability. Even if someone isn’t naturally charismatic, that person can be taught how to shape an audience’s perception by using a narrative that will guide audience members to a desired decision or outcome. See? The speaker is wielding influence. Similarly, an engaging storyteller will have learned to help the audience feel at ease, speak to key pain points and needs, and constantly be aware of the reactions to the story.
Traditional training doesn’t bring the narrative and visual elements together
It’s critical for your next business communications training to teach the skills of storytelling and effective visual design. Research shows that audiences process information more quickly, and remember it longer, when it’s communicated visually. We’ve all seen this in practice: Well-designed visuals complement a speaker and enhance the entire presentation. But it’s ironic that while 60% of professionals say presentation decks are somewhat or very effective, most presenters don’t use these elements often — perhaps because they lack the skills or confidence to do so effectively.
In truth, most professional communications lack high-quality visual components. And yet, we know that effective visual elements are an essential partner for an engaging narrative — not to mention building credibility for and contributing to the success of the speaker and their employer.
How do I know if my team needs communications training?
The cost of poor communication can be significant. In fact, for companies with more than 100,000 employees, the average cost of inadequate business communication is $62.4 million per year. If your organization is experiencing any of the following seven situations, your team could likely benefit from additional (or better!) communications training.
- Teams get caught in analysis paralysis when collaborating on presentations. Lacking clarity on what to communicate — as well as the confidence to communicate effectively — decision making is stalled.
- Leaders spend hours reworking presentations. When organizations haven’t established a common language and multiple people work on decks, presentations lose their coherence. As a result, leaders don’t trust others to craft the message correctly, and take up the task themselves.
- Speakers struggle to distill data into a compelling story, making the message of most presentations confusing and difficult to follow.
- Emails get misunderstood, causing responses and actions that aren’t needed or just go unanswered altogether.
- Audiences are not engaged during presentations and/or meeting participants are distracted.
- Audiences don’t understand the message you’re trying to convey
- Acronyms get in the way of what you’re trying to say or accomplish. They distract from your credibility and prevent your expertise from shining through.
- The same people always present for your company, placing a disproportionate amount of pressure on a small group of employees.
How does storytelling-based training differ from traditional communications training?
From bedtime stories to campfire stories, we tell stories all day, every day — and we’ve done it for thousands of years. We use stories to create trust and connection. Unfortunately, when we communicate at work, we forget how to tell stories and instead pack our meetings and presentations with dry data, corporate jargon, and complex information that bores our audience. But data itself isn’t the problem. It’s the dull and confusing ways we frame and present it.
Storytelling training can teach you the theory and practice of how to turn data into a compelling narrative. But the benefits of this kind of training are not theoretical.
Is the effectiveness of storytelling backed by science?
Yes! Research shows our brains react differently to stories than they do to information or statistics alone. In his book Descartes’ Error: Reason, Emotion, and the Human Brain, Antonio Damasio describes the neuroscience behind storytelling, explaining that “humans respond more powerfully to stories than plain facts or data alone.” We’ve all experienced this at one time or another. Speakers that exhilarate audiences use story, while those that bore us do not.
Is there a proven ROI to business storytelling?
The argument for investing in business storytelling training isn’t just anecdotal. There is no doubt that storytelling engages listeners, viewers, and readers. After all, our brains are wired to respond to stories. But storytelling is good for business too. Skillful use of storytelling can make a pitch more persuasive and ultimately drive prospects to action. Plus, when you use storytelling for internal meetings and presentations, you’ll increase employment engagement and help people remember help people remember vital information more easily.
The right training will have a lasting impact
We’re natural storytellers — until, of course, we’re given data and facts to present. Fortunately, when done right, communications training can transform an organization — producing significant outcomes like increased employee engagement and revenue.
There’s a hunger for professional development in this area. We’re all tired of sitting through — and delivering — boring, unengaging materials that will be forgotten or ignored. In fact, 6 out of 10 employees say that firm-wide training, and having a wider range of communication tools to use, would significantly improve work communication.
If you’re tired of reworking slide decks, editing your team’s emails, and speaking on behalf of your company, try storytelling-based communications training. It will deliver a different outcome — one that sticks with you and your team, long after our training wraps up.