Storytelling Techniques: Ten Things Story Won’t Do for Your Nonprofit or Business

Storytelling Techniques: 10 Things Story Won’t Do For your Business
By Sean Buvala

Real stories can change your company. The best way to express story is through storytelling.

However, your stories must be true and they must be a central focus of your entire organization to work. As a storytelling coach and trainer since 1986, I have been using story long before it was the current buzzword of today. I know both the power and the illusion of story. One of those illusions is that story always works in every situation. It will not. Here are ten things storytelling will not do for your company.

Storytelling Tips: What Story Won't Do for Your Nonprofit Group1. Fix difficult management.
If your CEO is not onboard with your new storytelling process, your process will fail. If your management team has significant problems, control issues or is otherwise unhealthy, a good story will only cover it up for a brief moment. Truth will always win-out.

2. Correct a Bad Promise.
If your company makes promises it never intends to keep, your storytelling will be perceived as lies. Lies will destroy a business or a nonprofit organization.

3. Fix financial misbehavior.
If there are questionable corporate money issues or books that have been “cooked,” storytelling will not cover financial impropriety.

4. Keep your clients after bad service.
Your great story, expressed in storytelling or any other media, may bring in many new customers. However, if these new people experience poor service, they will not return. Rather, they will create a new story of how your company really works- and you can bet that story will spread on the Internet faster than any story you have tried to bring forward.

5. Keep employees who are mistreated.
Telling stories of how great your organization is will not win out over a worker’s long-term negative experience. While storytelling can help with healing after major changes and real apologies, reality always conquers any fake fable the company may create.

6. “Make” people buy your widget.
Repeatedly, business owners want me to teach them the magic words that will make floods of customers come in their door. This does not happen. Your multiple stories will become bedrock upon which deeper relationships may be developed. Let your customers build their trust in you on this rock, not the sand of jingles and campaigns.

7. Force a “viral” anything.
A true “viral” Internet experience is hard to create and is rather random at any rate. The few marketing campaigns of late that have gone viral usually did not equate to profits for the companies involved. Skip the gimmick and focus rather on the genuine stories of your group.

8. Replace all your other marketing.
While research shows that storytelling can carry big ideas, storytelling is not the last marketing tool you need. Older methods of marketing such as direct mail and the latest tools such as social media should be used to bring your story to your new and current clients.

9. Survive the “gimmick” mentality.
In my corporate career, I have Moved Cheese and Flung Fish all while trying to connect with folks in One Minute. These fad trends have come and gone. On the other hand, the importance of story seems to be hard wired in our DNA. If you treat storytelling like your last gimmicky management trend it will fail, too. A phrase like, “Our focus for this year is on storytelling” is a coffin nail for success. Make story your new baseline for your company’s future and you will do much better.

10. Be free of charge.
Not everyone is a natural storyteller. I think that each person in your company can easily learn to recognize and recall stories but they will need training and coaching to learn to express them in forms such as storytelling, writing, video and more. This takes time and training to get this correct for your company.

Do not get too lost in these ten warnings. Story still contains the same power to change lives, connect people and build communities just as it has done throughout history. Having realistic expectations of this tool will help you use story to its full potential.


The author, Sean Buvala, has been speaking about and training clients in the use of story since 1986. Hundreds of companies and thousands of individual learners have experienced his work as a coach. He is the executive director of and a recipient of an “Oracle Award” from the National Storytelling Network. Sean is based in Arizona where his wife says he’s a great cook.

For more information about Sean’s two-day workshop that teaches you to harness the power of business or corporate storytelling, please visit our website at

Photo Credit: ©BOOJOO –

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2 comments on “Storytelling Techniques: Ten Things Story Won’t Do for Your Nonprofit or Business
  1. Yamini Naidu says:

    Great post. You are absolutely on the money as storytelling is not a silver bullet..but one of our customers said ‘It’s close’. Authenticity is one of the keys and the other is having a range of tools including storytelling. And it is absolutely a skill that can be taught and learnt and we can all get better at it. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    • SeanTells says:

      Thanks for the comments. Yes, “it’s close” is very accurate. Authenticity expressed through story and then properly presented through storytelling or other media is a way to shake up just about anything. I have seen a lot of shaking in 25 years.

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