From Homer’s Iliad to Seuss’ Mulberry Street, storytelling has been a part of every culture throughout human history as a means to entertain, educate, scare and persuade. Storytelling even predates writing, with its earliest forms nothing more than a primitive combination of oral gestures and expressions or painted symbols on cave walls.

Today corporate America has recognized the worth of storytelling as a powerful way of illustrating the value of a product or the benefits of a service or simply a better understanding of what a company does. In a world of increased clutter and noise, storytelling is proving to be an effective way for business leaders to rise above the furry and get their message told.

Corporate storytelling is about getting to the core of an organization’s value proposition and developing narratives that simply and compellingly relate “the story” to customers, prospects, investors, media, employees and others in a way that motivates them to think or act favorably. More and more successful companies use storytelling to help their businesses get ahead.

Good stories surprise us. They have compelling characters. They make us think and feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that straight text on a slide or complicated bar graphs simply can’t match. But all storytelling is not created equal. Here are five ways to make your storytelling stand out.

  1. Keep your stories simple and easy to grasp. That means you need to know your audience and have the ability to use language they understand so they won’t need to spend time interpreting and then absorbing. And drop the jargon. Simplicity aides in memorability, so filling a story with technical terms, acronyms and superfluous words will only serve to lose or bore your audience.
  2. People connect with other people, so focus on real-life characters. It doesn’t matter what your company does or how technically sound your company may be. And, as hard as it is for CEOs and marketing executives to swallow, no one cares about your marketing goals. Human beings still drive the action. Concentrate your story on the people involved and humanize them with a dramatic appeal so powerful that the audience feels a stake in what happens next.
  3. In an ideal world people would make logical decisions, but in reality the brain uses both logic and emotions to make decisions. While most corporate messaging is designed to support the logical decision, storytelling should tap into the emotional part of the equation. The stories that are most powerful have a strong emotional component. Humor, pain or joy – or any combination of these and other emotions – make it easy for the audience to identify. If every story were simply facts stated, one after another, most of us wouldn’t listen or remember any of it.
  4. Throw out the journalistic “inverted pyramid” style of writing. And along with it, throw out the need to write chronologically. The most effective storytelling doesn’t need to begin at the beginning. Chronology matters much less than having your story follow an interesting arc. This is true whether the stories you are telling are history, personal narrative or opinion-based intended to persuade.
  5. Effective storytelling relies not only on the story itself, but on the mediums through which it is conveyed. Today that opens a world of possibilities as new forms of media are creating new ways for people to record, express and consume stories. Beyond the traditional written word, consider all forms of contemporary media, digital platforms and images. Consider, too, the role storytelling can play in live presentations, Web-based documentaries, or in inviting an interactive exchange between the company and its employees and/or customers.

Storytelling takes place in a multitude of settings – from dinner table conversations to sitting around the campfire to schoolrooms to dramatic presentations. It doesn’t always have to start with “once upon a time,” but for companies who learn how to use it correctly, good storytelling could lead to a “happily ever after.”