6 Storytelling Tips to Tell Your Business Story Like a TED Pro

“The greatest tool of communication given to us by Mother Nature is on the table,” says John Bates, CEO of Executive Speaking Success & Business Coaching. This tool he’s referring to is the power of storytelling!

Business Storytelling Ted Presentation

Image via Flickr

I recently joined John Bates and some fellow Boston professionals in a modern, glass-enclosed room at JLabs in Cambridge to learn how to tell a story like a TED Pro. Once I saw TED in the title I knew the talk had to be good (and I was right). John Bates has an impressive background actively coaching CEO’s and executives at big name companies like Motorola and Johnson & Johnson, training 100’s of TEDx speakers and “is considered one of the best communication trainers working today.”

The Importance of Storytelling in Business

So what does storytelling have to do with your business? Everything! If you can’t properly convey a story then your products are not going to appeal to your audience. Bates reminded us that we love stories so much that we have to be trained to not fall for anecdotal evidence. Why? “Because our brains value stories over anything else,” states Bates.

Stories can be incorporated into all your forms of content: blogs, e-books, whitepapers, and even your “About us” page to captivate your audience. The value of storytelling can also be transferred to other departments to grow your business – for example training your sales reps to tell the story of your company or product or using your story to captivate investors and bring in the big bucks $$$. Once you learn to tell a good story, your audience is always going to be wanting more, which will turn your readers into leads, your leads into customers, and your customers into loyal customers.

6 Key Tips for Business Storytelling

Well, what if you’re an awful storyteller? Then keep reading because I’m about to share some of Bates TED-worthy wisdom.

When Bates was young his dad, a Vietnam War veteran, would tell gory war stories and he would sit there bug-eyed with his jaw on the floor, mesmerized by every word that rolled out of his dad’s mouth. Little Bates asked himself, are all kids bloodthirsty, or is there something wrong with me? But as he grew wiser with age he realized that war stories have it all, which brings me to the first takeaway.

1. Every story needs the 5 C’s – Circumstance, Curiosity, Characters, Conversations and Conflict

So why was Bates fascinated by his father’s tales of battle? Because they always incorporated these 5 mesmerizing C’s. So when crafting your story lay out the circumstances. Set the scene and give the vital information that will provide context for your reader. Use curiosity to leave the reader wanting more (this trick works in headlines too). If there is nothing to be curious about then why would the reader keep reading? Characters and conversation go hand-in-hand. If you’re telling a story without any people and no dialogue your readers will likely doze off. And last but not least, conflict, which is easily the most important element. As Bates explains, “If there’s not any conflict then there’s not much of a story.”

2. Stop bragging and start relating to your audience

I can still remember sitting in the 90-degree heat draped in my black cap and gown as sweat dripped down my legs on the day of my college graduation. As I sat their impatiently twiddling my thumbs and trying not to pass out, I attempted to listen to the keynote speaker without throwing my Poland spring bottle at the stage. The speech was awful and resembled a laundry list of his accomplishments.

At the end of the day no one cares that you graduated top of your class from Harvard or cured a rare form of cancer in Africa. These accomplishments are wonderful and noteworthy and I would definitely recommend sharing them on your resume, but when it comes to telling a story, people want to hear about your failures. Why? As human beings we relate to your failures because we are all flawed. “People don’t connect with your successes, they connect with your messes,” states Bates. “Your message is in your mess.” Bates went on to explain that you don’t want to be the Luke Skywalker of your story, but instead be the Yoda: “You’re not the hero of your talk, your audience is.”

3. Spark the emotional side of your audience’s brain

For those of you that did not cry in HardBall when Baby G was shot or in The Notebookwhen Noah and Allie die holding hands, I have one question, what’s wrong with you? I’m kidding, but in all seriousness even if you did not cry during these heart-wrenching scenes, your heart strings were pulled and you felt something. Whether you feel sad, happy, scared, or content, feeling something makes us feel more alive, which is why it is critical to make your listeners or readers feel. “None of the facts and figures matter until you have some sort of emotional connection,” said Bates. “Stories are a great way to connect emotionally.” When crafting a story, Bates recommends thinking about what emotion you want to communicate and then provide information to support the emotion.

4. Get Your Readers Engaged Through the Senses

The smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies rushed into my nose the second I opened the door. The dimly lit Christmas lights gracefully draped across my warm basement apartment, and I could hear the sound of Carolers singing in the cobblestoned neighborhood streets outside. Do you see what I’m doing here? Did your heart just melt into a fuzzy ball? Appealing to the senses through your story immediately engages the reader. Set the scene by describing what it visually looks like. What sounds occurred? What smells filled the air? How did it feel? Appealing to these senses that the majority of your readers have experienced has a way of engrossing them into your story. As Bates stated, “Get the entire brain engaged instead of just a thin slice.” Bates follows the principles of VAKO: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Olfactory. With these four elements in your story, you’re likely to draw in and lock down your audience. But make sure not to overdo it, your story needs some meat (cough, cough the 5 C’s) to keep your audience interested.

5. Start Your Story in the Middle

Far too often storytellers or marketers give way too much detail upfront. They start their story in chronological order, putting the audience to sleep before the exciting stuff occurs. By the time you’ve reached the AH-HA moment, your audience members are synced into their Instagram feeds or in a deep-dream filled REM sleep. Perhaps they just clicked onto a new page, never to return again. If you are anything like me then your attention span is about as long as an inch-worm so snap out of it and get your audience into it. “Life happens in chronological order – that’s boring!” states Bates. “Start in the middle, where things are exciting. It’s much more interesting.”

6. Give Your Audience What Matters

Do you remember that time when you told a long, detailed story to realize your friends looked about as engaged as they do during their commute to work on a Monday morning? At the end you come head first with a sarcastic “Good story…Tell it again.” Your face turns as red as a strawberry and you immediately cross story-telling off the list of things to do in a social setting. I’m here to tell you that your story didn’t suck! Congratulations! The way you told it did. Why? Well, it might have actually been an awful story, but you likely included waaay too much unnecessary detail. No, we do not care that your alarm went off on-time as usual or that your bus was a few minutes late. We’re much more interested in the fact that your teacher was fired for a rumored relationship with a student or that your bus driver was drunk and knocked over 4 mailboxes before getting handcuffed in front of the principle. Bates said it well, “Give us what matters to us. Pick three points and don’t cram unnecessary information in. Bring just the key things to the top.”

So keep your audience on the edge of their seat with these tips to charm them and leave them wanting more. Before you know it they’ll be avid followers of your content.

These tips are just dusting the surface of what it takes to tell a good story, therefore I’m curious:

What do you believe makes a great story?

How do you incorporate storytelling into your content marketing efforts?


culled from wordstream.

How To Start A Successful Business In Africa With $100 or Less. Here Are 5 Entrepreneurs Who Did It!

There are two myths that are often associated with success in business. One is that you need a considerable amount of capital. The other is that it could take you many years to beat the odds of success when you start with nothing much in hand.

Here are five entrepreneurs who made it BIG in Africa with about $100 or less in hand and who now earn a considerable amount after just having started a few years ago


  1. From school drop out to insurance magnate (Kenya)

In 2007, Heshan de Silva dropped out of school and as things got worse for him in the US, he joined his parents back in Kenya to get his life back together.

Aged only 18 at the time, his parents gave him 10,000 Kenyan Shillings (US$116), which he used to start a new business. He targeted the bus travel sector in the country by selling insurance bundled with the bus ticket purchase. And it is widely reported in the media that by the end of the year, the business had made 90m Kenyan Shillings (US$1.05m). Isn’t that amazing!? Heshan has since invested that money in his new business, De Silva Group, a venture capital firm.

With an incomplete education, no capital, not even a great deal of life experience and yet Heshan made it in a short period of time. He was featured in CNN and Forbes Magazine as one of Africa’s most successful young entrepreneurs.


2)    From graduate to high-profile online marketing company (Nigeria)

Abasiama Idaresit graduated with an MBA at Manchester Business School and moved back to Nigeria in 2010 to start his own business. Today, he is the Founder and CEO of Wild Fusion, a digital marketing company.

Guess what? He started his company in 2010 with a gift of $250 from his mother and it took him 8 months to make the first deal. Just three years later, Visa, Vodafone, Samsung and Unilever as well as several large Pan-African corporations are his clients and his company is valued at over $6 million in revenue. Yes, you heard that indeed right; $6 million! And yes, he started in 2010. Wild Fusion has now become Google’s certified partner in Africa!


  1. From a broken iPod to a chain of mobile phone repair shops (South Africa)

Take Axel Fourie from South Africa. By the time he was 27, he had tried unsuccessfully to set up several businesses. When his iPod was faulty and he was told by specialists that nothing could be done about it, he searched for a YouTube video online and learned how to fix the iPod himself!

He then put an advert into a local newspaper and offered to fix faulty iPhones and iPads. The response he got exceeded his expectations as he was flooded with calls and requests from potential customers. He knew he was onto something!

Axel opened his company iFix and started fixing iPods and iPhones from his university dorm. This was in 2007. Today, Alex runs a chain of 8 stores and employs 85 people. He has since expanded his business into manufacturing mobile phone accessories which he exports into 12 countries across Africa. Oh, we forgot to mention the amount of his starting capital. Here it is: Zero! (unless he paid a little for that newspaper ad). 


  1. From 4 pigs to a commercial farm with 4,000 pigs (South Africa)

Anna Phosa started her pig farm venture in 2004 in Soweto with about $100 in hand. She bought four pigs with that money after she was introduced to pig farming by a close friend.

A little less than four years later, in 2008, Anna was contracted by Pick ‘n Pay, the South African supermarket and retail giant to supply its stores with 10 pigs per week. This was a first breakthrough and the request by the retailer grew quickly to 20 pigs per week.

But the really amazing bit happened in 2010 when Anna signed a breathtaking contract with Pick ‘n Pay to supply 100 pigs over the next five years under a 25 million Rand deal – that’s nearly 2.5 million US Dollars! She did not even have so much land or enough pigs! With a contract in hand, Anna received funding from ABSA Bank and USAID to buy a 350-hectare farm property.

Anna started with 4 pigs in 2004, today her farm employs about 20 staff rearing 4,000 pigs at a time. Her perseverance has made her a millionaire!


  1. From African backyard tree nursery to biggest garden centers (South Africa)

And now to one of my favorites, because it is really such a hands-on job anyone could start today, tomorrow or next week. It’s the story of De Fynne Nursery. I know what you’re thinking but this is not a children’s nursery. It’s actually a tree nursery! You have to be aware of this amazing story!

The venture started in 2001 by South African entrepreneurs, Jacky Goliath and Elton Jefthas, in Jeftah’s home backyard. I don’t know exactly how much they invested, but it must have been peanuts, because tree seedlings to get you started in Africa usually cost a few pennies. And then you just need a backyard and some plastic containers. That’s it for a start.

Back to De Fynne Nursery: market demand grew fast and steadily which meant that they moved the nursery to a 0.5 hectare land in 2005, and in 2008 had to move again to a 1.5 hectare area outside Cape Town where they hosted 600,000 plants!

Today, the De Fynne nursery supplies its products to retailers such as Woolworths, Massmart and Spar in South Africa and it was reported that they since moved to a whopping 22-hectare commercial property. This is a simple start up idea on a shoe string budget anywhere in Africa where you have a booming housing & hotel sector and expanding city areas!

Marketing Doughnut Series: 4 Steps To Marketing Your Small Business With Zero Budget.

Every small business needs to be focused on marketing at all times, even if you have a full order book and clients waiting, you must keep on marketing and the best marketing is creative marketing. It’s smart, very affordable and delivers measurable results. Let’s get started…


1) Facebook

Create a profile for your Facebook page.

You can use your existing personal facebook profile or create a new profile for this purpose. For instance if your facebook page is ‘Pearls Connect’, you can create a profile also called ‘Pearls n Pearls’ or something close.

Note that a profile is different from a page. Essence of this profile account Is to be able to tag your contacts when you post.

A Facebook page however will require you to have a budget to promote anything.

Smart thing to do is to make that profile the admin of your facebook page.

—– Another simpler method is to share posts from your page using your existing personal profile, then tag your contacts.


2) Facebook Groups

Facebook Groups such as ‘Sell and Buy anything’ allow you sell products and services to members of the group.

You can upload pictures, set prices of your products, receive direct messages from clients.

Very simple. Look for the groups tab on facebook page. Choose a group category that works for you. Look out for marketing groups.

It’s better to use your created company profile not personal profile to join the group. You cant join a group with your business page.

And be sure you are allowed to sell on the group.


3) Email Marketing

—Look out for all the business cards you’ve received at events.

— On a plane sheet/computer, create 5 columns: Client Name, Business Name, Product/Service, Email & Phone Number.

— Categorize these clients based on what you are offering.

— Don’t market first, share some useful tips, trends.

— Infact don’t SELL. Just pitch how what you have can get them what they need.

— Emails, SMS, Phone Calls work well.

— Follow up

— Make sure you have new entries on the sheet (5-10clients) weekly.

— Meet 5-10 potential clients weekly. Don’t just chat away, get their cards/email/phone nos. Add them to your list.


4) Online Directories:

For Nigerians try:

– Jiji.ng

– OLX.com.ng

– Vconnect.com


For Nigerians and other countries try:

….Take note of the featured products you see on the front pages.

… Identify the tags used.

…. Use these tags to set up your business ad.

…. On these directories, you can promote your product for as low as N800 for 7 days.


Further Reading:

Eight Creative Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses

Every small business needs to be focused on marketing at all times, even if you have a full order book and clients waiting, you must keep on marketing and the best marketing is creative marketing. But marketing doesn’t just consist of online advertisements, landing pages and selling. It actually consists of so much more, if you’re stuck with the same old marketing ideas, take a look at how you can make marketing much, much better with these strategies.

1.     Creative Marketing Best Tip Ever – Develop An Awesome Elevator Pitch

When people ask you what you do, whether you’re in an elevator, in line at the grocery store, at the doctor’s office with the kids or at a business event, it’s important for you to be able to explain to the people asking what it is that you do in a succinct way that invites more questions.

An elevator pitch isn’t just a 60-second monologue; it’s more like learning different ways to answer the same questions based on the audience you’re speaking to, so that they leave understanding what you’re about.

Let me give you my basic elevator pitch “I help businesses identify realistic online goals and then I help them achieve these using website design, content and online marketing”

I sometimes expand upon this however unlike most website designers, I’m trying to focus on the major benefit I give to my customers whilst also telling them quickly and in a way everyone can understand, this is one of the fundamentals of creative marketing, you tell people what you can do for them in a creative way they understand and that they can see the benefits.


2.     Get Involved Online and Offline

Get out from behind your computer and get involved in offline events. Go to meetings, business networking events, and conferences. In addition, participate in telephone conferences, webinars, and social media. But do it all in a proactive, involved way that advances your business goals.

Before doing any event, online or off, ask yourself which goal being involved in this particular activity helps you achieve. Then, base your participation and how you communicate with people at the event on reaching that goal.

3.     Develop Meaningful Relationships

Finding a person to collaborate with is a great way to improve your business and find new ways to market. By creating short-term joint ventures with individuals and companies who market complementary products and services to the same audience, you can expand your reach exponentially. Don’t form these alliances willy-nilly. Each venture and each relationship needs to have its own goals involved which align with your overall marketing goals.

4.     Write a Book

You’re smart and you know about your niche. You either know how you became successful, or you know a lot about a particular subject that you can share with others. Writing a book, and getting it published today, is a simple process. All it’s going to take is time. Be sure that your book has an ultimate goal aside from making money. It’s not likely book sales alone are going to make that much. But a book used as a marketing tool to sell other products and services can help increase your net worth substantially.

Alternatively you could incorporate a blog within your website and you could write and add content to it, the more content that you add and the more regularly you do this, the more visitors and the more successful your website will be and all it takes is a little creative marketing and brainstorming to get started.

5.     Speak in Public

Once you’ve written a book, you can leverage it to engage in public speaking events. Find events that are attracting your target audience and simply go tell them your story. Create a “one page” document/web page to market you’re speaking and subject matter to event leaders.

At first you may need to do some events free (get permission to record it) and later you can actually make quite a living out of public speaking if you desire to go in that direction. If not, the act alone can be a great marketing strategy.

6.      Give Your Opinion

Find ways to get your name associated with expert status. Use the service Help a Reporter Out (http://www.helpareporter.com/) to find people to pitch your articles, speaking, and answers to and who will use your quotes in stories. The more you’re quoted, the more you will become known as an expert. You can do the same thing with targeted and focused guest blogging, expert panels, interviews and more.


7.     Ask for Creative Testimonials

Go straight to your current customers and clients and simply ask them to write, record or make a testimonial for you. You can even have a contest to make it more interesting. For instance, “Create a meme about how awesome your product is, share it with friends, get the most votes, and win a $100 dollar gift card to use towards my services.”

8.     Break the Mold

If you really want to differentiate yourself from the crowd, find a way to break some rules. You don’t have to be unethical to push boundaries and break rules. Many people believe they have no right to take a leadership role without having first been a follower. That’s insane, because you can be a leader without having been a follower. If you are good at what you do, there is no reason you have to punch any cards or push any particular buttons in any particular order to be at the top.

Creative marketing means stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something different than you are currently doing. If you’re not doing something new every quarter at least when it comes to marketing, you’re not really trying.


Article by Elizabeth Edwards, Tech4her Africa’s Founder.