Storytelling is a practice, and there are some great resources available to help you improve.
Microsoft storytelling resources
A storyteller’s bibliography
The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
By Jonathan Gottschall
A highly readable examination of the role of story in the human experience, revealing the nature and pure ubiquity of storytelling across all aspects of life. The author delves into recent research on the brain and human behavior to show how storytelling has played a prominent role in our evolution. Gottschall writes with a sunny, inquisitive touch, yet, a prominent theme is that stories are frequently dark, horrid affairs which dominate our dreams and commune with all manner of unsavory truths. He suggests that the naked terrors of children’s stories, full of abandonment, violence, and cruelty, serve as a virtual practice field for young humans to adapt to the brutal nature of reality. He then offers evidence to suggest that, once grown up, we humans use stories to codify morality – defining what is and isn’t acceptable tribal behavior – and to justify transgressions and sins both personal and national in scope. He examines the role that story and associated art forms played in inspiring and empowering Hitler, and then Germany, to execute the holocaust, and how stories continue to provide a ready means for people to deflect, recast, and confabulate realities that may be too painful or shameful to swallow undiluted. Ultimately, he suggests that, despite new technologies that seem to threaten classical story forms, such as the novel, story will always be woven into virtually every aspect of our culture and existence.
Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences
By Nancy Duarte
This is a glossy candy shop of a business book, a fun ride through a set of strong, smart, common-sense principles for effective presentations. Duarte’s original contribution is the “Sparkline,” an EKG-like approach to mapping the structure of a real-time story. The Sparkline tracks the progression of a presentation from contrasting visions of “What is” to “What could be,” over and over again. It features at least one “STAR Moment” (Something They’ll Always Remember”) and it concludes with a call to action. The book features compelling analyses of memorable presentations, such as Steve Job’s Macworld 2007 iPhone launch, with a Sparkline detailing the merits of each. Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” plays large in this book, as the architecture for both effective storytelling and the author’s approach to educating her readers. The unusual shape of the book and the preponderance of lush photographs and graphics make this a uniquely engaging read.
Storytelling with data – a data visualization guide for business professionals
By Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic
This is a tidy, well-organized compilation of techniques, insights, and accumulated designer wisdom that deserves a place on the bookshelf of any business professional tasked with communicating data-dense information. The book should be compulsory for those who believe that relying on the templates in Microsoft PowerPoint is all that’s required for successful visuals. Though it is written well enough to be a decent cover-to-cover read, its greater value may be as a resource reference. It contains scores of terrific visuals that demonstrate the difference between effective and horrid approaches to a broad set of data communications challenges. Much of the author’s guidance may feel like common sense to those with more than moderately developed right brains (“clutter is your enemy!”), but her insistence on finding and highlighting the key insight, to the exclusion of all other visual noise, is no doubt welcomed by many as glorious liberation from the presentation hegemony that’s common to most large institutions.
Business Storytelling for Dummies
By Karen Dietz and Lori L. Silverman
This eBook (with accompanying print and audio editions) is offered as a nuts-and-bolts primer to help the harried businessperson crank out better communications. As part of the popular “For Dummies” series of instructional/reference books, it is presumably intended as a simplistic, non-intimidating guide for people who, while not overtly stupid, at least consider themselves bumbling communicators. But it’s hard to imagine the dummy who would even consider reading all 350+ pages of this impressive book, which is much, much more than a remedial how-to affair. Written by two seasoned organizational development consultants (who between them have more years of professional experience than Google, Facebook, and Twitter together have been in existence), it is rich with insights, references, examples, and clickable links to relevant content from other solid sources. It is broken into 19 chapters and five parts, easily enough for multiple books, and it covers topics as varied story theory, options for tackling specific business challenges, crafting and presentation tips, and how to measure effectiveness. As a “Dummies” production, it’s rife with cheesy graphics: check marks, bull’s eyes, and warning bombs which are ostensibly designed to provide visual guidance across the content. It’s rare to read more than three paragraphs in sequence without being accosted by one of these elements, and in that sense the experience feels unfortunately fragmented, like a smorgasbord served on small paper plates. Nonetheless, any energies invested in exploring even random bits of this book are rewarded.
Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire
By Paul Smith
A long how-to book that offers to help business leaders tell better stories. Smith does yeoman’s work in presenting a formulaic approach to the storytelling process, in terms that resonate with anyone who has spent time in the “Business Book” section at a favorite bookstore. The author spent decades working in marketing at Procter & Gamble, and many of the story examples in this example-dense book are those that the author and his associates personally experienced. For business people looking for a paint-by-numbers approach to improve woefully inadequate storytelling skills, this book fits the bill.
The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories
By Frank Rose
An in-depth examination of the unsteady marriage of storytelling and Internet entertainment technologies. This is a good book for anyone looking to explore the roots of human engagement and seeking insights in how to deploy online channels to forge new opportunities. This is a detailed, well-annotated read – rich with Mr. Rose’s personal conversations and experiences with luminaires in the film and online entertainment industries. The fun of the book comes in his accounts of the cluelessness with which the guardians of old-school entertainment industries came to terms with Internet-savvy fans of wildly popular movies and television shows. The author explores the starts, sputters, and full stops that befell the brave (and sometimes foolhardy) creators of such bombs as Interfilm, The Lost Experience, and Avatar (the game), each of which attempted to wed old-school TV and moviemaking with Internet gaming. Rose understands that mastering the elements of storytelling can help open the door to the promised land of richer connection and interactivity (a door which remains frustratingly stuck). However, his underlying message is that every time a new medium comes along, from printed books to television, it takes a good 25 years for storytellers to figure out what to do with it. So we may need to wait for Mr. Rose’s third or fourth edition, circa 2025, to see how it all turns out.
Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
By John Medina
Brain Rules is a marvelous journey through recent scientific discoveries on the human brain, with insights that have broad relevance to understanding the dynamics of effective storytelling. The author is a molecular biologist and is himself a terrific writer. He has the rare gift of translating arcane knowledge into irresistible vignettes that highlight everything from how the brain pieces memories together to why there’s no such thing as multitasking. Critically, he provides clear guidance for translating insights into ideas for better living.
The Heart Aroused - Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America
By David Whyte
The Heart Aroused tackles the audacious dare of incorporating poetry into the corporate realm, and in so doing it challenges the harried workaday reader to examine the meaning of his or her time and vocation. In weaving such legends as Beowulf and Finn and the Salmon of Knowledge into the mundane machinery of business life, he reveals how humanity’s most ancient stories contain some of its most essential wisdom, which can serve to not only awaken us to our deeper selves but to guide us as well through our inevitable struggles.