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Disney’s 100th Year: The $82bn-a-year storytelling strategy every exec needs

By 16th October 2023Blog
Chris Carey holding Mickey Mouse

Imagine awaking after a 100-year slumber, not to true love’s kiss, but to the same power that fuelled Disney’s billion-dollar empire while you slept?

The right story, told the right way, can move us to think, feel and act differently. Storytelling transforms more than boring presentations – it sells and cements ideas, catapults careers, and company fortunes.

And if you think ‘storytelling’ sounds childish, use the word ‘narrative’ instead and read on…

Walt Disney’s unwavering belief in the power of storytelling led to his building a billion-dollar company and leaving a legacy that has continued to skyrocket ‘to infinity and beyond’!

No matter your sector or seniority, taking the leap to embrace story can work its magic quicker than a Disney kiss, transforming a frog into a prince.

An uncomfortable truth

“It’s like anything new, initially standing in front of a business audience to tell a story takes courage. But, as the moral in virtually every Disney movie shows, fortune favours the brave. I’ve never yet worked with an executive who has been disappointed for having shared a story,” says Chris Carey, Axiom’s founder and Managing Director.

Even Walt Disney himself had to dig deep to find the courage to commit to telling one of his first stories. Back in the 1930s, he had a vision – to tell a feature length animated story. It had never been done. Critics scoffed at his idea. Audiences wouldn’t want it. The cost would be astronomical. They weren’t wrong about the costs. Walt gambled his studio’s future though because he had faith in his vision for story. In December 1937 ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ premiered and, as we already know, profits dwarfed the costs, giving Walt and Snow White their happy ending.

The science behind story

Storytelling is effective because it fires so many regions of the brain.

Scientific studies using MRI scans, show different areas of the brain light up like a Christmas tree when we listen to story. They also show a mirroring in brain activity between the teller and listener of well-told stories.

We literally experience what the storyteller describes, so we don’t just connect with the words, but with our emotions. We feel story, and that’s powerful.

But why is storytelling so powerful?

Story makes complex information accessible. And the real magic is that once engaged with the story, people become far more receptive to the facts, figures and data, in fact seven times more memorable.

But the real beauty is that stories are sticky, shareable and anybody can retell them. We don’t just remember good stories – we pass them on.

That’s why stories are so valuable in business. They are the starting point for transformation – both seeding and speeding change.

“Savvy professionals use story because it’s the most effective communication method ever devised and we still haven’t found a better one,” continues Chris.

Six Storytelling Secrets we can learn from Disney:

1. Know your audience – Relatability

Disney crafts stories with their audience in mind, ensuring relatability.

Warning: If you neglect this, your message might fade into irrelevance.

2. Have a clear purpose – Intentionality

Disney’s tales illustrate the change that ensues when audiences engage with their narratives.

Warning: Without a clear intention, your audience might miss the point and disengage.

3. Charismatic characters – Likability

Even rogue characters, like Jack Sparrow, are crafted to be likable.

Warning: When characters aren’t likeable, audiences don’t always engage.

4. Embrace the rollercoaster – Journey-focused

Authentic stories embrace challenges and learnings. Disney protagonists don’t always have it easy, but they grow, ensuring a compelling narrative.

Note: Business tales aren’t fairytales, but whether yours has a happy ending or not, there’s always an invaluable lesson.

5. Stir emotions – Emotive appeal

Remember Bambi? Disney isn’t shy about pulling at heartstrings. Your business stories shouldn’t be either.

Insight: Emotional stories stick and drive action.

Make it timeless – Re-tellability

Disney classics like Cinderella have been retold countless times, each iteration capturing new audiences.

Top Tip: If you don’t want your messages to fade faster than Cinderella’s magic at midnight, make your stories simple and easy to retell.

What do these Disney-inspired insights tell us?

What these insights tell us is that the magic lies not just in telling a story but in telling it well.

Disney’s success also confirms we’re a storytelling species, so it’s nonsensical to ignore storytelling’s magical powers in business.

And the best news for anyone who’s read stories like Frozen, Peter Pan, or The Lion King aloud: you’ve already honed some storytelling skills. You just need to brush them off and rub that rusty lamp to unleash that inner genie.

And once you do, if you find yourself wishing for some support, then your wish is our command! Maybe you’re not sure where to start, you want to finesse your storytelling skills, or you are just too busy to craft the right story? Here at Axiom, we’re able to grant three wishes to fulfil your storytelling needs.

Wish 1.

Storytelling for leaders: Keynote coaching

Our leadership coaching offer formalises how we’ve successfully worked with senior executives to tell stories for 30 years.

Over four coaching sessions, we’ll help you:

  1. Get clear about what you want to have happen after telling your story.
  2. Develop the content you need to get your story straight.
  3. Rehearse telling your story in the time available.
  4. Polish your performance to give the result you want.

Wish 2.

Empower your team with story: Introductory eLearning course and live workshops

Want to understand the basics of storytelling at work? Then our Storytelling eLearning Course is for you. With half an hour and £75, this online session offers everything you need to start sharing better stories.

Or perhaps you want to go a bit deeper for some of your brilliant colleagues who are failing to connect by hiding behind technical expertise? Then our half day live storytelling workshop is ideal for those at all levels.

Covering storytelling techniques and the elements of what makes a good story your people are sure to come away with the confidence to craft, tell and sell a great story… perhaps the story about the difference your team will make to business performance.

Wish 3.

Strategize with stories: Big Picture Communications

Can everyone in your organisation easily retell your strategy?

With 10 minutes and a Big Picture, they will be able to do so.

Used by some of the world’s leading organisations, The Big Picture approach is a proven communications technique for sharing complex messages in an accessible way.

The Big Picture blends metaphor and imagery. Shared through storytelling it’s a way of getting people to engage with strategy, without using strategic language.

When people use a Big Picture, most don’t realise they are even talking about strategy. Yet time and again it’s helped colleagues see a future vision, understand their contribution, and onward share that strategy to make it a reality.

Unlocking your narrative potential

You don’t have to be a showman to tell great stories. All anyone needs is a little help honing the craft for a business setting.

Doing so might not make you the next Walt Disney, but it can captivate your audience, driving action. And that, we promise, can propel both your career and your company’s fortunes.

Ready to transform your business communications with the magic of storytelling? Let’s craft your narrative together.

Contact us!