How to use the Hero’s Journey to connect in the business world
I have to communicate complex financial numbers and change strategies quite often in my job. Sometimes I sit in front of a blank PowerPoint for 15 minutes before I write my first word. I pause because I am thinking about what flow the information should follow to connect with the audience. Also, the audience tends to be from different cultures and work histories, making it quite challenging to get them all to have the same response. When I read Connection, it became clear how the hero’s journey is the path to connecting with stakeholders.
My first corporate connection story
I first realized the power of storytelling in the corporate world when I hosted a workshop to introduce a workflow management software we developed for frontline staff operations. There was very little time to prepare the audience, and for the most part, they were unaware of the problem we wanted to solve. However, they were required approvers to get another funding round.
So I started with a story. I remember it very well even though it was almost five years ago.
“Please close your eyes. Now imagine you have just graduated from the local college in Ho Chi Minh. You get your first entry-level job at (company). You know nothing about the industry, and on your first day, your new manager drops a 250-page book on your desk. They tell you to read it before the end of the week and be ready for customers to call you for problem-solving on Monday. Your nerves cause you to sweat visibly. You think, “are all jobs like this? Will I lose my job as fast as I got it?”.
Now open your eyes.
What I just described is often the situation we have seen when meeting with some teams across the world this year. Now, what if instead of a 250-page binder, you get access to this screen.”
(turn on projector to software)
(Fancy screen with a step by step guided flow for the user. 2 minutes speaking overview).
(Eyes light up.)
Would you say your first-day experience at (company) is better or worse?”
To wrap up the story, we got the funding and built out the software. Mission accomplished.
The idea of starting the meeting with a story was given to me by a colleague. I was not very clear on how storytelling could build connections in the corporate world. But trusted him, so I prepared with all the instincts I could muster.
Quick pitch to connect
After that success, I continued to try to incorporate rudimentary stories into my pitches. However, they were sparse as I wasn’t quite sure how to turn everything into a story. What did become clear, though, is that the higher the level of stakeholder, the faster you need to connect with your audience.
You only have 15 minutes in some pitches, and if you can’t connect with the audience, it is over, almost like a movie trailer. If someone is on the fence about the new movie coming out, a two-minute trailer might be the difference between a sellout and a flop.
When I took a new position recently, I had my first meeting with a potential customer. This customer was a huge opportunity, and therefore I was pretty nervous. Long story short, I did not prep a story, and I struggled to connect with the customer, and I have been able to get them back on the phone.
So, I have dedicated time to soft learning the art of connection. Luckily, my fiancé bought a book years ago called Connection: Hollywood Storytelling Meets Critical Thinking. I read this book and found so much practical information that clicked what I desired to communicate that I started using it immediately.
“Unless the others who hear the message actually listen and comprehend it, there has been no communication. Just politely patterned noise.” — Randy Olson
“One Word ABT Hero” design
The book is full of excellent examples and stories, but I can boil down my biggest takeaway into the “One Word ABT Hero” Framework.
Whenever I prepare to write something, whether it is a presentation script, this article, or a financial summary, I quickly check against this list.
1. One word (WSP Model)
What is the one word you want your audience to take away from this conversation? What is the theme of the connection you are trying to make?
Simplicity is the hardest part.
‘If you want me to speak for only a few minutes, I’ll need a couple of weeks, but if you want me to speak for an hour, I’m ready now.’ -Winston Churchill
2. ABT Sentence (And, But, Therefore)
Define the story in one sentence and frame the conflict.
“You don’t have a story until something happens.” — Randy Olson
(…) and (…) but (…). Therefore, (…).
Whenever you can replace your ‘ands’ with ‘buts’ or ‘therefores’, it makes for better writing — Trey Parker, 6 Minutes to Air
3. Hero’s Journey (Logline Maker)
Write the storyline using the logline maker, adding in emotion and excitement with superlatives!
As a basic rule, superlatives are storytelling gold. Take the case of a yacht salesman, who promises that “Guests will be able to look down on virtually any other yacht”. Virtually any other yacht?! Imagine the perspective buyer wincing at the thought that at least one other yacht is taller than this one. “Virtually” is not the word you want to see if you are buying an enormous yacht. You want the superlative” -Graeme Wood
Logline Maker from Connection — Picture by
The ordinary world exists to provide contrast and provide perspective when looking back from the accomplished goal
The protagonist, or hero, is the person in your story who does the most, wants the most, tried the hardest, learns the most important lesson, and when the hero wins, we win. Even in a larger group, it’s most effective to focus on one relatable person.
The catalytic event is when the hero meets their opponent, the antagonist, for the first time. It doesn’t have to be a person; it could be a new tax law that alters the financial structure of your organization
After taking stock is all about the hero trying to do anything but accept the full significance of the catalytic event. They take stock, check their options, and weigh the odds.
Committing to action is when the primary goal set and the journey’s end identified. The more visual, tangible, measurable, visceral the goal is, the better the story will work. This section, which ends at the midpoint of your story, traditionally goes out on a higher note, the story’s peak so far, both emotionally and externally.
Stakes get raised the “but” or when the conflict shows its face. The antagonist starts to win. Hero makes less progress and hits a point where the stakes are so high that the hero begins falling.
The hero must learn the lesson is one of those beautiful elements of storytelling where philosophy and practically unite. Contained within this one section are three stages — death, gestation, and rebirth — which, as a whole, serves a strong function in moving the story forward. The hero must overcome their flaw and learn the theme of the entire story.
Stopping the antagonist rockets us to the climax of the story. A life lesson is not fully learned until its tested. Once defeated, there is nothing between the hero and their goal.
Hero achieving their goal is them accepting their victory. This part might also include a reflection back to the ordinary world for perspective.
My quick pitch
After learning these lessons, the first attempt I made at putting this into action was to present to a newly hired IT executive in our firm why we should be building product development scrum teams with competencies beyond just technology. I would have 15 minutes. One acceptable outcome might be that they recommend creating a training coalition whereby our team shares the benefits of having multi-functional scrum team members.
I sat down and wrote out my presentation using the above framework.
And But Therefore
We want to develop new innovative products. I know how important speed to market is, but having to constantly pause development to wait for other internal functions to sign off makes the process extremely slow. Therefore, I brought in at least one representative from each function directly into the development team to drastically reduce decision-making time.
In an ordinary world, product scrum teams are made up of engineers or technologists.
I, a product manager, have not needed to oversee the development of an entire non-technical product before.
Then I become a product manager of a service that requires development, legal, tax, customer service, marketing, and other functional components!
After thinking about how to influence these functional authorities without a reporting line,
I commit to bringing in other functions directly into the team.
But when the other functions have never heard of Scrum and have their own jobs,
I learned that I had to do some crash course training events in Scrum and Product Management, so they were familiar with the processes, and get commitment from their managers for dedicated time to the product
To stop product development disruptions.
Now I can run a successful product development lifecycle where the scrum team can make all the appropriate decisions amongst themselves.
Now with the story in hand, I lead the discussion with the executive in a flow state. His impression of what I had to say led to developing a new training initiative around product management across several functions.
So I am now a believer in the power of storytelling even in the business world! Try using the above on your own to see if you can influence those you work with by pitching to them with a good story!
This article’s “One Word ABT Hero” design
Here’s how I prepped for writing this article!
Storyline for this article — Picture by
So I highly recommend picking up the Connection book and the authors’ (Randy Olson, Dorie Barton, and Brian Palermo) other work!