How to tell stories with impact

Jeremy Waite, Communications Designer at IBM
Storytelling is one of the best ways for marketers to get their message across. Jeremy Waite has told stories on stages across the world. He’s helped some of the world’s leading figures tell their own. This fundamental marketing skill is one that can be taught, and in this session, Jeremy will help you learn.

Key takeaways on how to tell stories with impact with Jeremy Waite

  • We’re all storytellers and we react best to what’s told to us in the form of stories. Applying this idea to marketing effectively and consistently will skyrocket people’s trust in your brand or business.
  • Only four words matter in telling a great story: brevity, levity, clarity, and charity
  • Begin your story with these five lines: an outline, a headline, a frontline, a sideline, and a bottom line
  • Good storytellers always address the elephant in the room first
  • Look for the black swan: the piece of information that changes everything. Go all-in on it when you do. This is the definition of honesty in storytelling.
  • Use Jeremy’s 5 Stages of Communications Thinking™ when structuring your story
  • Stop trying to be a “well-rounded individual”. Be as weird and imbalanced as you naturally are, and embrace it.


Step 1: Forget about telling a story – Start with getting clear on what you’re trying to do

  • You’re trying to create an emotional connection to make people feel something so that they do You want to drive that emotional connection through the relationship you’re building with your audience.
  • Whether you’re doing a multimillion-dollar deal or trying to sell a canister of oil, humanize your business.


Step 2: Have a strong foundation for your story

  • Only four words matter in telling a great story: brevity, levity, clarity, and charity
  • Once you know the story you want to tell, put together these five lines:
    • An outline
      • Let your audience know what to expect
    • A headline
      • A ten-word statement that encapsulates your story
    • A front line
      • The most important point in the story should come first
    • A side line
      • A quote or a poem
    • A bottom line
      • Your call-to-action


Step 3: Acknowledge the elephant in the room – then reveal the black swan

  • If you don’t do this right away, it’s been proven that most of your listeners will not remember much of your story.
    • You don’t need to know the answer. You just need to address it.
  • Engage the audience until you find out what that mythical creature is – the black swan.
    • This is the piece of information that changes everything.
    • Talking about the black swan is the definition of honesty in storytelling.
      • Don’t be afraid to talk openly about the darkness.
    • Sticking to a PowerPoint presentation doesn’t make it easy for you to go off-script and follow this new train of thought.
      • Embracing spontaneity is key!


Q and A on how to tell stories with impact

Q: How do you come across as authentic in a cynical world?

A: It does start with finding your why; but Simon Sinek doesn’t go deep enough. Once you’ve found your why, what do you do next? Ikigai is the answer. This is a Japanese process to find your actual sense of purpose and belonging. Draw four circles to represent “everything you love”, “everything the world needs”, “what you’re good at”, and “what you’re paid for”. The stories you should be telling are found where those four circles overlap. No one will ever accuse you of not being authentic if you tell a story in the middle of that diagram.

Q: How do you measure the impact of great storytelling?

A: It depends on who your audience is. In the commercial world, I’m thinking about a triple bottom line: economics (i.e. make or save money, etc.); employees (i.e. improved happiness, teamplay, etc.); and environmental (i.e. reduction of carbon, etc.). That’s 1+1=2. In the business world, we’re data-driven. But what I really care about is telling an emotional story that makes people do stuff that I can’t measure. That’s where 1+1=3.

Q: Who are your favourite storytellers?

A: I change them a lot, but: Maya Angelou, Amanda Gorman, Robin Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Mister Rogers, Jane Goodall, Taylor Swift, Greta Thunberg. They’re all different. They all break the rules; but, you kind of need to know the rules in order to break them.

Q: What’s the most impressive speech you’ve ever heard?

A: That’s easy. One of them is cliché and the other is slightly more personal. The cliché one, which I think is the best speech that’s ever been written, is I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr. My personal favourite speech is the greatest TED Talk of all time by a considerable margin: Do Schools Kill Creativity? by Sir Ken Robinson.

Q: What’s your story with ADHD?

A: It’s a superpower when you understand it. For years and years, I had massive imposter syndrome and a big chip on my shoulder. I met Gary Vaynerchuk a long, long time ago and for a very small period of time I said I wanted to do what he does. What I didn’t realize at the time was that, first of all, my place was behind the scenes. I think a lot of great speechwriters have to be comfortable with anonymity. You want other people to shine. It takes a while to get there and you need to learn how to pack up your ego. What I noticed is that I can hyperfocus and go down a foxhole and become obsessed with something without something. That can be a superpower. But the problem with ADHD is – squirrel! – gone. And the thing that five minutes ago was the most important thing in the world, all of a sudden, I can’t care less about. This is the darker side of ADHD. There isn’t a scale of one to ten. It’s like, one to random. I describe it as having 37 TV channels going in your head at one time and somebody else has the remote control, which can be exhausting. The challenge is to focus on what you’re greatest at. Here’s what I recommend: Google “ADHD” to see if you have those tendencies; though don’t self-diagnose. If you do, the day that you realize you have it can absolutely change your life and the impact you have on your personal relationships, let alone the impact you have professionally. Stop worrying about being a “well-rounded individual”. Stay over there and be really weird and imbalanced, and embrace it.