Why Storytelling Will Be the Biggest Business Skill of the Next 5 Years

Written by Shane Snow | @shanesnow

The article first appeared on the Content Strategist blog. In 2012, a pale woman with crazy eyebrows and a keytar strapped to her back made a video of herself, wearing a kimono and holding up hand-Sharpied signs on a street in Melbourne. One by one, the signs flipped, explaining that the woman had spent the last 4 years writing songs. She was a musician, and had parted ways with her record label, which had said the cost of her next album would be a whopping $500,000. She and her band mates were very happy to no longer be with the label, and had worked hard to create some great new music and art. But they couldn’t finish producing the record on their own. She needed people’s help to get it off the ground and to make what was now her business — independent music — work.more

“This is the future of music,” one of her signs read. Another, “I love you.”

And then she posted the video on Kickstarter. In 30 days, it raised $1.2 million. 24,883 people pre-ordered the album, bought artwork, or simply donated money. The album and tour became a huge success, and the artist turned her music into a real, profitable business. The woman in the kimono, if you haven’t heard this story already, was Amanda Palmer, and she went on to give a massively popular TED talk about the whole affair.

Palmer changed the game for independent musicians with that campaign. And she did it, not by simply asking for money, but by telling her story.

Workers and Leaders Need To Tell Good Stories

We share billions of links every month, to tens of millions of pieces of content. As the deluge of content in our lives, and the means of accessing it, grows (Ahoy, Google Glass!), what stands out has to be increasingly compelling. Those who can create, find, and share the good stories will build followings, to their outsize advantage.

This goes for individuals as well as businesses. All things being equal, people with powerful personal brands have a leg up on getting jobs and being promoted to leadership within them. And personal brands are built on, among other thingstelling and sharing great stories.

Additionally, the Internet means that like it or not we’re all competing for jobs in a global labor market, and millions of us will soon be freelancers. Whether employed or freelance or not, the best way to get the attention of and be memorable to the people who pay us (clients, bosses, donors) is to tell true stories in exciting ways.

Stories make presentations better. Stories make ideas stick. Stories help us persuade. Savvy leaders tell stories to inspire us, motivate us. (That’s why so many politicians tell stories in their speeches.) They realize that “what you say” is often moot compared to “how you say it.” (Again, for better or worse.)

And like Amanda Palmer’s flip cards endeared her to tens of thousands of strangers, stories can help us build businesses and independent careers. Sure, we need science and data to make the right decisions in life and work, but the best business books and keynote speakers use stories to help us retain to the points when the stats fade from memory.

There’s a Native American proverb on my office wall that says, “Those who tell the stories rule the world.” As technology increasingly intertwines us, I believe that’s increasingly true. It’s our job as businesses and workers and leaders to make sure the good guys are the ones telling the best stories.

And like any skill, we’re going to need practice at it.



Audrey Cavenecia