Jane Praeger: Storytelling to Build Your Business

Jane Praeger, a lecturer for the M.S. in Strategic Communications and M.S. in Communications Practice programs, recently hosted a workshop about using storytelling to advance your career. She also used her vast experience as the founder and president of the strategic communications firm Ovid, Inc., to lead attendees in an exercise to craft their own stories.

Praeger offers advice on why we should be using stories, how to create them, and how to use these stories to meet business goals.

1. To persuade, emotion is just as important as logic.

“Our brains are hardwired for story; it’s part of our evolutionary process,” says Praeger. The orbitofrontal cortex is the emotional center of your brain, responsible for anticipating the consequences of an action. When it’s damaged, making a decision is impossible. Logic and facts are important, but emotions are just as necessary for decision-making.

2. Storytelling is efficient.

Storytelling appeals to both the left and right sides of the brain, engaging both logos and pathos. Praeger explains, “One of the most effective and efficient ways of communicating facts, information, and emotion all at the same time is through the power of story.”

3. Storytelling can advance an organization’s goals.

Narratives are underused in business settings, says Praeger. “Much of what we do in our professional lives is persuade people. We persuade them to get on board with a particular initiative or persuade someone to hire us.” Stories are a way to subtly invite someone into your way of thinking. She says that, as you take your audience on a journey, along the way, you may change their minds.

4. Stories help make facts more memorable.

One of Praeger’s clients was a nonprofit that fights for the early release of non-violent criminals. She spoke about one particular inmate, an eighteen-year-old from Kentucky, who received a fifty-year sentence for selling marijuana three times. That anecdote is much more memorable than a list of facts and statistics. By putting a human face on the data, the cause becomes that much more powerful to the audience.

5. Stories are a way of positioning yourself.

Leaders and communicators are hired to tell stories. If you’re able to tell a story about yourself during the interview process, you’re proving that you have this skill. Stories are also a way to differentiate yourself from the hundreds of other job applicants. Rather than listing off the bullet points on your resume, you will come across as honest, authentic, and memorable.

6. Stories allow us to let our guards down.

When we hear a great story, we become so involved in the emotion of the story that our logical side recedes, so our tendency to argue or be skeptical fades. This often occurs in movies; audiences usually forgive continuity errors because they’re so involved in the story. Similarly, an interviewer lets his guard down when listening to a story, and his mindset shifts towards one of openness.

7. The best stories are easy to follow.

The most successful stories are meticulously planned. They cover a specific incident, should be rooted in one place and time, and be simple for the audience to visualize.

The tale should start in the midst of the action and should involve a conflict or obstacle, Praeger says. Jumping right in draws in the audience and holds their attention. Stories shouldn’t be too long, ninety seconds to two minutes is ideal.

Praeger also recommends telling the audience what the lesson of the story is. When you’re using a narrative in a business setting, don’t assume that people will infer the meaning. Tell them what the takeaway is.

Learn more about the M.S. in Strategic Communications.