Why you need to adjust your story depending on your audience

I went to an event about women in senior leadership this week. It was a good discussion about the need for women and minority voices on the boards of businesses as well as politics and how to nurture future leaders through mentoring and coaching. As I looked around the room I thought about all the different stories taking place within it as people thought about how the topic applied to them:

  • Some would be thinking: “Am I a leader? Am I in a position where I could mentor someone else to help them develop leadership skills?”
  • Others might think: “I would like to become a leader. I know I could do it. How could I find a mentor?”
  • Another member of the audience might say: “I love the idea of mentoring someone but I am self-employed. How could I help?”
  • Or: “That sounds good but who am I to lead?”
A fleet of paper boats. One leading at the front.

There would have been other stories too. Stories people had about whether they believe women need help to climb the ladder in their business. Stories about their own experience of mentoring or being mentored. Stories about their own experience in companies, whether women’s contributions were seen as equally valuable or not. And then stories that developed during the talks:

  • Perhaps, “yes I would be interested in standing as a local councillor or maybe as an MP.” This was a call to action made by one of the speakers.
  • Some might have thought about the new housing development happening near them and whether they could contribute to discussions about what’s needed. We have several new developments, including a new town being built near us and one of the issues raised was the benefit of people with different experiences being able to point out whether a community space would work for all and arguing the case for services which might not have been considered like Changing Places toilets.
  • Others that they had always taken notes in a meeting but yes, thinking about it, that did mean they contributed less because they were focusing on getting what everyone said down on paper. (One tip was not to take notes but use your smartphone as a dictaphone.)

Why your audience's stories matter to your story

When people are reading your website or listening to you giving a presentation, they will be interpreting the information you give them in the light of their own stories. We see the world through stories. Stories about:

  • Who we are
  • What we believe in
  • What we think is useful
  • What we want to achieve
  • How much money or time we are willing to spend to get there

We use our lived experience and a multitude of beliefs developed throughout our lives to respond to new information.

One person might listen to an elevator pitch and think, ‘yes, that’s brilliant, I’m in!’ The person sitting next to them might think, ‘that’s nonsense, it will never work’. Their responses are different because their stories about what is on offer are different. They are measuring it against different standards. 

Jadah Sellner presenting at Youpreneur Summit

How to tell a story that takes your audience into account

Have you ever wondered where to being with your story? How much information to give?

You can have one story and tell it in different ways depending on your audience.

Focus on the part of your story the people you are talking to will find most interesting. What do they want to get from your story? 

Are they interested in your experience?

Are they interested in how you did something?

Do they simply want to be entertained and you’re going to give them the added bonus of educating them along the way?

Another thing to think about when telling stories is the format you are presenting it in.

Are you standing in front of a live audience?

If so, do they need slides or not?

If you’re sharing a blog post, could you also create video and audio versions?


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Rachel Extance (photo by Jemima Willcox)

Rachel Extance helps business tell their stories so they can reach a wider audience for their work and ideas. A professional journalist, she knows how to write stories people find relevant and engaging. If you would like help to get your message across, need someone who can write articles for you regularly, or you would like actionable ideas for how to tell more people about what you do, get in touch.

Picture of Rachel Extance

Rachel Extance

Award-winning journalist and blogger. I help service-based business owners communicate who they are, what they do, and why. If you struggle to talk about yourself on your website or your content marketing, get in touch with me.

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One Response

  1. Hi Rachel, this is great. I pick up what you do for living and the insights you have for business storytelling. The opening story is engaging and the elevator pitch story helps make your point. As a potential client, my question is what is the process for writing a story that takes my audience into account?

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The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. The Story Cave Ltd disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.