Seemingly out of nowhere, storytelling has become trendy. These days everyone\u2019s a storyteller: marketers, IT executives and even CEOs. The axiom that everyone\u2019s got a story to tell has never been more apt.\n\n\nI was telling stories before it was a thing. Nearly 20 years ago I wrote a screenplay. (I live in L.A. where writing a screenplay is like driving: Everyone does it, but not many do it well.) \u00a0Screenwriting is a serious exercise in structure and rigor. I took several workshops\u2014including Robert McKee\u2019s Story seminar, all the rage in West Hollywood. I studied Sid Fields, William Goldman and Joseph Campbell. I started using the word \u201carc\u201d as both a noun and a verb.\n\n\nTrendy as storytelling has become, it\u2019s been around since the dawn of civilization. Before written communication, people convened around drum circles to share traditions and rituals. Australia\u2019s aboriginal people used so-called dreamtime stories to explain the origins of the universe. \u00a0Stories make often inchoate concepts real, allowing groups of people to capture \u2014 and eventually record \u2014 accumulated tribal wisdom. The Christian Bible and Jewish Talmud are both full of great stories. (The word \u201cTalmud\u201d is derived from the Hebrew for \u201clesson.\u201d)\n\n\nIn business, storytelling can be a chimera. Marketers want to use storytelling to capture customer mind share (and wallet share). Human resources wants to use it to encourage innovative thinking. IT executives increasingly rely on stories to substitute for jargon-y justifications for new technologies. Often these overlapping conversations celebrate storytelling while never fully exploiting its promise. Like other business trends, storytelling requires context to drive value.\n\n\n\u201cGood stories are engaging,\u201d says Bree Baich, who writes and speaks about data storytelling for business and IT audiences. \u201cGood stories make us curious. They fill in gaps in understanding, moving us closer to decisions. The use of visuals and supporting data also helps.\u201d\n\nTwo types of storytelling\n\nI like to split storytelling in business into two categories: above-the-line and below-the-line.\n\n\nAbove-the-line storytelling usually involves communicating a metaphor for who the company or group is, conveying its voice. Chevy trucks traversing rugged canyons (\u201cLike a Rock\u201d) or a pair of beleaguered financial services execs hand-wringing about regulatory compliance (\u201cKnow BDO\u201d) are two examples.\n\n\n\t\n\tJill Dyche \t\n\nBusiness storytelling can be split into two categories: above-the-line and below-the-line.\n\n\n\n\nBelow-the-line storytelling, on the other hand, relies on more context, and more specificity. CIOs and their teams tell stories to explain how things work, using workaday business concepts like win-loss scenarios or the customer journey as narratives. A CIO in retailing recently illustrated the in-store journey of a customer, \u201cCassandra,\u201d before and after his team had installed in-store Bluetooth sensors to push real-time product recommendations. The average number of items in Cassandra\u2019s post-sensor shopping cart had increased by a third, and she\u2019d added an average of two monthly same-store visits.\n\n\n\u201cEffective storytelling should prompt action,\u201d says Baich, \u201cwhich is why executives are getting more interested in it. Whether you\u2019re trying to gain consensus or simply build trust, stories help the audience connect with you and your ideas.\u201d\n\n\nMy screenplay was about Paul Revere. I became a student of the revolutionary war, faithfully documenting the story of his ride, fictionalizing events when it served my three-act structure, overemphasizing the role of minor characters. (Absent a clear nemesis for Revere, I inflated the role of Major John Pitcairn). I became so besotted with the characters, so committed to the story, I managed to convince a studio executive to take a pitch meeting. This poor man was forced to break the news that his studio had just optioned a screenplay called The Patriot, with Mel Gibson already attached.\n\n\nStorytelling is art and science, and its challenges are familiar. Fickle, demanding audiences, exotic settings, and the special skills of the storyteller inform a story's impact -- and always will. The best business storytellers use stories to color in what success looks like.\n\n\nThe Patriot grossed $113 million. I\u2019m still working. But I still tell stories. And I\u2019m sure that kind studio executive has one of his own, about the poor woman obsessed with Paul Revere, and the news he had to break.