The True Story of an Overlooked Mode of Business Communication

In the beginning, there was storytelling.

Humans have been telling stories for as long as they’ve been communicating. As individuals, stories are central to our experience of learning how to communicate. And much of the communication in contemporary life, from journalism to political discourse, relies on narrative structure.

In spite of its pervasive role in human affairs, though, storytelling is often overlooked as a mode of business communication. However, stories can be an effective way to organize business messages in a surprising number of scenarios, from recruiting and training employees to enticing investors and customers.

Advertisements are often mini-narratives, with the product or a user of the product playing the role of the hero. Entrepreneurs use stories to help investors see how their new ideas have the potential to affect people’s lives (and therefore generate lots of sales and return on investment). Companies tell the story of their founding and early years, using their heritage as a way to explain who they are today.

Career-related stories, such as how someone found the opportunity to work on projects he or she is passionate about, can encourage skilled employees to consider joining a firm.

Business stories can be cautionary tales as well, dramatizing the consequences of career blunders, ethical mistakes, and strategic missteps.

Whether one’s purpose is to inspire, persuade, teach, or warn, chances are narrative technique can make the message more interesting, personal, and memorable. As the business media landscape continues to evolve and fragment, storytelling is likely to become evenmore important as a way to stand out from the clutter and chaos of competing messages. In fact, we’re adding significant coverage of storytelling to the newest editions of our textbooks, including a variety of student activities and cases.

Have you discussed storytelling in your business communication classes? We’d love to hear any stories you have to tell. Go to, search for this topic, and write your comments.