An image of a woman in the process of business storytelling, highlighting storytelling in business

As a long-time copywriter and speechwriter, business storytelling is part of my everyday life. Storytelling in business has always been a key part of persuading audiences, whether internal employees or external customers and prospects. But the term “business storytelling” didn’t come into prominence until the early 2000s. If look at Google’s Ngram Viewer (which measures how much a word is used in publications), interest in the subject started to take off around 2004.

Image of Google Ngram showing the use of business storytelling over time.

Another important milestone was the release of The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative by Stephen Denning in 2007. Although many books and articles have been published since then, Dent’s is one of the best storytelling books for business.

Often, the power of storytelling in business is associated with the business leader who delivers a compelling story from the stage or online. But storytelling in business can take any form – from a case study on your website about one of your products or services to a company director presenting at an annual general meeting. So storytelling for business fits into the greater content marketing strategy of any business.

Here I’ll provide an overview of the art of storytelling in business – including business storytelling examples – based on years of experience as a business storyteller.

Creating great content for business storytelling

Although most people can tell a story in some form, creating great stories requires preparation and effort. Consider applying the following steps to create a good story.

Know your target audience – this will make a big difference in how you craft your story. If you’re speaking to an all-staff meeting, you will already know them so you don’t need to build trust as you would with a group that doesn’t know you. Also, not all audiences will know about your topic. For example, if you’re speaking to a younger audience and talking about your experiences in business (which can go back many years), you might need to include more explanation to provide context.

Determine your core message – once you know what your message is, find a story to back it up. Bill Gove, a legendary public speaking trainer, used to say, “Make a point – tell a story.”  This can be a story from your experience or one you find somewhere else (online, in a book, etc.).  But always make sure that the story is relevant to your message. One of my favourite business storytelling quotes is from Denning, who said: “Because we humans find stories such fascinating things, it’s all too easy to get interested in the story for its own sake, and lose sight of the purpose for which we set out to use the story.”

Include emotional elements – creating an emotional connection is a key reason for storytelling. Studies of the human brain show that we make decisions emotionally. For example, I wrote a case study about software that saves business owners a lot of time. As a result, they don’t have to work as long. When interviewing a customer (a business owner) for the case study, I found out that she could get home earlier and spend more time with her kids. Although I included the factual part about time saving, but focused on the emotional part of being able to leave work on time.

Include conflict and resolution – a great story needs conflict to get your readers or listeners involved. This is followed by a resolution to how things worked out in the end. For example, if telling a story about a customer, you can start with how they were dealing with a challenge. Tell a story of how your product or service solved their pain points. Show the customer as the hero. If you’re not familiar with the hero’s journey it’s a model for storytelling that’s been used for thousands of years, and you can apply to your brand story with some planning and effort.

Keep you story short – once you understand storytelling techniques, it can be tempting to create a long story. But as Denning points out in The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling, a minimalist story is often the best approach. With busy lives and so many distractions, the trend is to keep it short. For example, traditional keynote speeches used to run between 40 and 60 minutes. More recently, formats such as TED Talks are under 20 minutes.

Perfect for storytelling in business

If you’re delivering your story in a speech or presentation, practice your story to make sure it comes off without a hitch. That being said, you can use the business storytelling framework in any format – written, video, podcast, etc.

Become a story collector to draw from when you need to share stories in business. When you read or hear stories that you can use in business, write them down. Also bookmark websites where you find the best stories. You can even print out hard copies and keep a physical file the you can access when you need the right story for an event or other format.

Include a strong call to action. Several years ago, I wrote a keynote speech for a man who suffered from a horrific industrial accident. A big part of his speech was the story of how he was injured and his long road to recovery. His call to action was for his listeners to adopt safe work processes to avoid having to go through the pain and suffering of being injured at work.

Keep up by reading business storytelling books. You can start with Denning’s book (one of the best books on storytelling in business) and also take a business storytelling course to enhance your business storytelling skills.

Looking for business storytelling training?

As a long-time business storyteller, I deliver business storytelling workshops across Australia. These are customised to each organisation’s needs. For example, I provided business storytelling training to members of the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. In my business storytelling workshops, I teach business storytelling techniques from experience writing stories for all types of organisations – from SMEs to Global Fortune 100 companies. With interaction and gamification, my business storytelling workshops are fun with plenty of applicable techniques to apply right away.

Here’s the promotional content from the storytelling workshop I delivered for The Public Relations Institute of Australia.


business storytelling by michael gladkoff. In this training he teaches the art of business storytelling.

If you are considering a business writing and storytelling course for your business, I’ll be glad to discuss your requirements in detail. Please call me on 1300 731 955 or use the contact form (Get In Touch) on this page.

Book with open pages and the word 'Storytelling' above it.

Storytelling is a powerful tool to use in speeches and presentations. From early childhood, we develop an appreciation for stories and the ideas they communicate. Including storytelling in your speeches and presentations will enable you to convey your message in an entertaining, memorable and indirect way. People will remember good stories and their lessons long after they have forgotten the finer details of a speech or presentation.

Through storytelling, you bring your message into reality and give it an emotional and/or humorous dimension. If you simply tell your listeners to take an action without a good story to support your message, you won’t be as successful in motivating them.

For example, if a company leader is speaking about the need for change at his organisation, storytelling about a company that didn’t change and failed as a result can be effective. In addition, the leader could include storytelling about a business that succeeded because it was able to change.

Storytelling using personal stories from your life is often the best way to promote your ideas. These stories could be something that happened in your childhood, your work, your family life, your travels, or anything else you have seen or heard. This is why it’s a good idea to write down the interesting stories you hear or experience. If you don’t record these stories, it can be challenging to find the right one when you want to include storytelling in your speech or presentation. If you can’t find a personal story that supports your premise, there is usually a relevant story to be found — but you have to look for it.

Get Storytelling Ideas from What You Hear or Read

A famous and influential speech was the result of a story heard by Russell Conwell while travelling in the Middle East in the 1800s.

The speech based on the story was so popular that Russell Conwell delivered it over 6,000 times around the United States. The money he earned from it was used to fund philanthropic causes, including the establishment of Temple University in Philadelphia, which now has over 40,000 students on nine campuses around the world — a great example of the power of storytelling!

You can read the full speech at American Rhetoric.

Storytelling from Your Life

An anecdote is a short amusing or interesting story about a real person or event. If you pay attention, you can find plenty of anecdotes from your life that you can eventually use for storytelling when speaking.

David Brooks, who won the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking in the early 1990s, is a proponent of storytelling in speeches and presentations. One example he uses when discussing the changing world of technology is about his son. When he asked his then four-year-old son how to spell his name, the son answered: ‘D‒A‒N‒N‒Y Enter.’ It’s a very short anecdote that helps make a point about the effect of technology on our lives.

Like David Brooks, I have been able to find my own story  that shows how technology is changing our lives. One day my son was ill at home from primary school. He was spending quite a bit of time playing games on an iPad. Later in the day he was reading a book and I asked him to do a small task. His answer was ‘Wait. I need to pause my book.’ Humorous gems like these appear to us every day, but we need to look out for these stories, and write them down to save them in a storytelling ‘toolkit’.

Steve Jobs was admired for storytelling in his thought-provoking speeches, which he meticulously prepared and rehearsed. In his Stanford Commencement Address in 2005, storytelling from his life supported his message. Read the full speech to see how Jobs applied storytelling in his Stanford Commencement Address.

After ending one of his stories, Steve Jobs put the focus on the audience and offered advice and encouragement based on his experience. This highlights the point that your storytelling should not only focus on you, but get your audience involved by showing how the lessons you have learned can help them as well. This might include asking questions, offering friendly advice or giving a call to action.

So when you are preparing for your next presentation, ask yourself: ‘What story, or stories, from my life will support my message?’ This doesn’t always have to be something that personally involved you. It can also be something you heard or something you read that had an impact on you. If storytelling ideas don’t come to mind, give yourself a few days to think about it — if you have enough time to do this.

For storytelling in future speeches and presentations, save the stories that you think could be relevant to what you speak about. You can collect interesting stories you read in publications, bookmark them in your web browser, and jot down your stories in a dedicated story journal.

Michael Gladkoff