Business storytelling lessons and Francis Ford Coppola

2 Storytelling lessons every leader can learn from the legendary movie director Francis Ford Coppola

Business storytelling lessons and Francis Ford Coppola

When it comes to finding tips and inspiration for more powerful storytelling, there’s much you can learn from legendary moviemakers like Francis Ford Coppola – who directed extraordinary and still lauded masterpieces like the Godfather movie series (1, 2 and 3), Apocalypse Now, Dracula, and more.

And here are two quotes from Francis that speak to principles he used to enhance his storytelling that you could easily adopt to instantly boost your corporate storytelling impact:

Think personal for greater attention and connection

“Everything I do is personal. I have never made a movie that didn’t have very strong personal resonance”

I couldn’t agree more.

If you can find ways to help audience members to feel more personal resonance from every story you tell, they are far more likely to think about what they would do or how they’d react in any situation you describe. And the upshot? You’ll set your audiences up to be more easily be drawn into, to care more about, and to take greater meaning from your stories. Hurrah on all counts!

In each of his movies, Francis gives you countless opportunities to invest at a deep, human level in his main characters – which, in turn, amplifies how you feel about what they do or don’t do.

For example: The next time you get to watch Godfather 2 (which I highly recommend as it’s still regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made)…

…I invite you to notice how after watching the opening 9 minutes you’d be hard pressed to not get ‘personally’ invested in the formative trials and tribulations the young Vito Corleone experiences and how these influenced his motivations later (when he survives his father’s funeral and the scene that unfolded when his mother begged for his life before he eventually leaves Italy and arrives at Ellis Island).

Contrast this with what I’ve often referred to as ‘top-line’ stories in other blog posts. Ie Stories about generic or anonymous people, groups, facts or sequences of events that tend to elicit passive reactions to a story. For instance, have a quick read of this factual historic story about the Irish Famine on

Great Famine, also called Irish Potato Famine, Great Irish Famine, or Famine of 1845–49, famine that occurred in Ireland in 1845–49 when the potato crop failed in successive years. The crop failures were caused by late blight, a disease that destroys both the leaves and the edible roots, or tubers, of the potato plant. The causative agent of late blight is the water mold Phytophthora infestans. The Irish famine was the worst to occur in Europe in the 19th century.

Now, here’s a question for you. While I’m sure you’d agree there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this narration…

…If this was all you had to go on, would it be fair to say that you’d experience precious little ‘personal resonance’ from this story?

Yes? Enough said.

Don’t overwork narration, tap into senses for a better audience experience

“Sound is your friend because sound is much cheaper than picture, but it has equal effect on the audience – in some ways, perhaps more effect because it does it in a very indirect way.”

So, I’m going to segue a little from this quote for my next suggestion.

One of the great killers of a potentially awesome story is engaging in the mortal sin of over-narration – where the storyteller feels compelled to give an audience excessive detail about characters or situations

Don’t do this. Never feel like you should do all the work.

Truth is, spoon-feeding storytellers don’t do their audiences any favours. And that’s because the brain hates being hit upside the head with too much information.

And once you realise this and that the brain is hard-wired to take shortcuts to avoid overwhelm, you can learn to make hay from this tendency.

Specifically, look for opportunities to tap into sensory cues to allow your audiences to ‘actively’ fill in blanks and form more powerful, personalised, and immersive reactions to your stories.

Ie Look for opportunities to ditch detail by showing versus telling in ways that will directly or indirectly get your audience to see, hear, smell, taste or feel what’s going on in a situation.

They’ll feel less stressed and get more from these scenes. And you have less work to do too. A good plan for all, don’t you think?

Want to learn how you can craft powerful stories that inspire?

To learn how I can help you to find, hone and polish stories that are sure to help you better inspire audiences you’d like to influence, contact me at

Photo credit: C2 Montreal


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