Why Asia's business leaders need to be better storytellers

It takes practice and preparation to communicate like Warren Buffett and Sheryl Sandberg, argues Damien Ryan

Ryan Communication founder and director Damien Ryan
Ryan Communication founder and director Damien Ryan

We have recently held sessions in Asia for executives at global companies around how to deliver compelling stories in a business setting. This is not an exercise in crafting fairytales and fables. Rather, it's about delivering narratives which engage and influence stakeholders. This is pure business communication, with flair.

A well delivered story in business captures attention, builds trust, motivates and focuses listeners on an objective. Steve Jobs, Jack Ma, Jack Welch, Warren Buffett and Sheryl Sandberg are among the many who use storytelling to engage and influence. It’s the perfect platform to deliver a message about, for example, organisational change, the role of innovation and corporate strategy, not to mention the relevance of your product or service. Great stories in business simplify the complex.

Why in Asia, a region which has a high appreciation for analogies, metaphors and anecdotes, is there a need for executives to be better at storytelling? There are plenty of reasons, including barriers with culture and language.

A common reason, we find, is that most executives simply lack the techniques required to deliver a great story. It takes practice and preparation to structure a narrative that addresses a mission, vision or goal. Large companies are often guilty of formalising their corporate language, which can make communication intimidating and ineffective. A story delivered by an individual in business should be informal, with structure. So, how can you structure your stories beyond the standard rule of having a beginning, middle and end? The story should have:

  • Clear purpose: There’s a reason why you’re telling this story, to this audience, at this time
  • Personal connection: The story involves either you or someone you feel connected to
  • Common reference: The audience understands the context and situation of the story
  • Detailed imagery: Enough visual description so we can see what you’re seeing
  • Challenges: Outlining conflict, vulnerability or achievement so the listener can relate and empathise.

Executives operating in Asia are at the frontline of a corporate mission and are often tasked with articulating strategy and goals to local teams and clients. How can executives be better storytellers? Here are some tips:

  • Know your target audience
  • Incorporate key messages
  • Be confident about your style
  • Use anecdotes and examples
  • Make the story personal
  • Use natural language
  • Make the story simple
  • Make the story visual
  • Have a clear purpose

Storytelling can play a major role for executives as they build businesses, and their careers, in Asia. What’s required for success is a clear structure, delivered in your natural style and tailored to local audiences.


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