Jeremy Connell-Waite on How to Tell Better Stories - The Ideas on Stage Podcast

by Andrea Pacini —

Andrea and Jeremy

In this episode of the Ideas on Stage podcast we spoke with Jeremy Connell-Waite.

Jeremy Connell-Waite is passionate about helping others to tell better stories, especially executives and future business leaders in the tech industry. He works as a Communications Designer at IBM where he builds narratives for clients around emerging technologies, write speeches for senior executives and lead a performance coaching program for consultants called Impact Storytelling.

In this episode we talked about how to tell better business stories.


I’ve been following your work for some time and I’m excited about this conversation. I admire your deep analysis in storytelling and your ability to draw inspiration from diverse fields.

Thanks, Andrea. Storytelling is a subject I’m obsessed about. This passion drives me to understand why stories work or fail. And yes, I do draw lessons from various fields, like music and film.

You talk about the 9 principles of better stories. The first one is that better stories are transformational. Can you elaborate?

Effective stories change someone by the end. Ted Sorensen, JFK’s speechwriter, used a framework he calls “4 words and 5 lines”. The 5 lines are outline, headline, front line, sideline, and bottom line.

  • Outline: The transformational journey.
  • Headline: A memorable summary, ideally in 15 words or less.
  • Front line: The cold open for the first 90 seconds.
  • Sideline: Personalisation with quotes, anecdotes, etc.
  • Bottom line: The call to action.

The 4 words are clarity, brevity, levity and charity.

Can you explain the importance of having a strong headline in your story?

A strong headline is crucial because it encapsulates the essence of the story and serves as a guiding star for the entire narrative. For example, JFK’s “We choose to go to the moon” is a memorable headline that clearly communicates the goal and inspires action. A good headline should be brief, memorable, and convey the main message in 15 words or less.

How can you measure the impact of a story in a business context?

The impact of a story can be measured by the actions it inspires. For example, in business, you can look at increased win rates, pipeline growth, and overall business outcomes. Having clear, measurable objectives helps gauge the effectiveness of storytelling efforts.

Why do you think Bloomberg is one of the best, if not the best, at telling business stories?

Bloomberg excels because they prioritise clarity and urgency in their communication. They focus on delivering information quickly and efficiently, which is crucial in the fast-paced world of business. Their founder, Michael Bloomberg, emphasises the importance of timing and delivering the right message at the right moment.

Another principle you talk about is that “better stories tell the truth.” Tell us more.

Storytellers have a responsibility to be truthful and transparent. This builds trust and credibility with the audience. For example, David Axelrod, who worked with Barack Obama, emphasised the importance of filtering stories through the lenses of importance, relevance, and truth. Neil deGrasse Tyson also talks about three types of truth:

  • Personal
  • Political
  • Scientific

Personal truth is what you believe to be true, political truth is what a group of people believe, and scientific truth is objective and proven by data.

How do you communicate very complicated topics in an engaging way for non-technical people?

Simplifying complex topics involves breaking down information into manageable parts and using clear, straightforward language. At IBM, for example, we use strong verbs and short sentences to make our message clear, dynamic and engaging. We also use metaphors and analogies to make technical subjects more relatable.

You mentioned using clear and straightforward language. Can you tell us more about readability scores and their importance?

Readability scores help ensure that your stories and presentations are accessible to a broad audience. Tools like the Hemingway app and the Gunning Fog index measure how easy your content is to read. A lower score means the text is easier to understand. In business, aim for a readability score that ensures your message is clear to everyone.

Why do you think surprise is one of the most important elements in storytelling?

Surprise is crucial because it can change the audience’s emotional state and make your story more memorable. Neuroscientists estimate that surprise can intensify our emotions by up to 400%. Incorporating unexpected elements can capture attention and keep your audience engaged throughout the story.

You mentioned watching Al Gore give an outstanding presentation in 2019. What made it so effective?

Al Gore’s presentation was powerful because it was structured to build a sense of urgency and inspire immediate action. He used a rhythm and cadence that kept the audience engaged, and his use of data was both compelling and relatable. The presentation had a clear call to action, making it not just informative but also motivating.

What role does AI play in modern storytelling?

AI is the future. It can help us by providing insights into audience preferences and optimising content. It can also generate personalised stories at scale. AI can improve the creative process, allowing us to focus on the audience.

You’re clearly very passionate about storytelling and its impact…

My purpose is to help people tell better stories about the things that inspire them, whether it’s climate change, education, or any other cause. I believe storytelling can change the world, and my goal is to empower others to use this powerful tool effectively. Even small groups of people can make a big difference. For example, Greta Thunberg has shown how one person can inspire global action. There’s a TED Talk by Erica Chenoweth that highlights it takes just 3.5% of the population to create significant change. It’s important to focus on inspiring small groups, like family or teams within organisations, to bring about change. I’m driven by the idea that well-told stories can inspire action and create positive change.

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