March 7, 2018 / Esther Choy
Interact with any child for even thirty minutes, and you will immediately hear how they tell stories about their day. Or they’ll tell you made up stories about some fantasy world. Sharing stories is the most natural human thing to do. But somewhere on the way to adulthood, we suppress this natural tendency at the workplace. We report data. We are told that we should stay logical, rational, and stick to a just-the-facts-ma’am approach. And sometimes, we don’t know what’s appropriate to share and what’s not. To play it safe, we avoid telling our own stories at the workplace. But that doesn’t change the fact that we still crave stories. In fact, Americans on average spend up to four hours a day immersing themselves in narrative based activities. So here are three natural business storytelling opportunities. Make the most of them, and you’ll satisfy your audience’s craving for stories.
1. Share stories to showcase your character.
We’re overly focused on sharing credentials. We want people to know about our degrees, professional certifications, awards, etc. We think that if we make sure to list these, people will trust us. Or maybe instead of credentials, we want to list our competencies. We want to say how detail-oriented and collaborative we are. We want to say we have ten years of extensive treasury experience, or that we’re a brand expert, etc. Too often, we neglect to showcase our character. And the best way to showcase our character is through storytelling.
At my Singapore book event in December, one woman discovered how she could showcase her character by focusing on the theme of transformation.
As a young child in China, she learned her first English words through watching the Transformers animated movie. By the time she started learning English in school, she was way ahead of her classmates. Her English proficiency has opened doors to her. Transformers transformed her life. Throughout her life, she’s also been fascinated by how design thinking and can transform how people live their lives and how communities interact with one another. So she eventually pursued her PhD at MIT and continues to use her Industrial Engineering degree to create more transformations. Linking the TV show allows her to highlight an aspect of her character: that she is driven to transform lives because of how her own life has been transformed.
2. Share stories when you want to create change.
Let’s face it. No one likes change. When we try to create change in the workplace, we must use story to inspire and motivate people to embrace change. Even fewer people like to be told by outsiders that they need to change. But that’s exactly what Glenn Hollister had to do.
You can read the whole story in Let the Story Do the Work, but here’s the gist of it. Glenn had to get airline executives to embrace a new technological change. Very few people like learning a whole new dashboard. But he started by telling the story of a “day in the life of an airline executive.” He spared no details, going through their day minute-by-minute. This not only reassured them that Glenn understood their challenges, but it also helped them to see that the status quo was not working well for them. Then they were ready to accept Glenn’s solutions.
3. Use storytelling techniques even when you can’t share a story.
There are times when it’s not the right context to tell stories, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any business storytelling opportunities to be found. We can, in fact, use storytelling techniques in whatever we’re trying to communicate.
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You can use a hook, for example, to open any pitch, presentation or email so that it grabs the audience’s interest. If your creativity needs a push, here’s a cheat sheet for creating a hook:
- Conflict: Two (or more) needs going in opposite directions.
- Example: I needed to carry my crying toddler to the car, but I was already holding a carton of eggs, a briefcase, and a hot cup of coffee.
- Contrast: Juxtaposes two opposite qualities.
- Example: I am naturally cautious, yet I found myself crouched by the open door of a plane, ready to plunge from an altitude of 12,000 feet.
- Contradiction: Goes against what the audience expects.
- Example: The well-dressed job candidate shook our hands firmly. We were glancing approvingly at her resume when all of a sudden she reached down to her bag and took out a large fluffy cat. It sat on her lap for the rest of the interview.
These are three business storytelling opportunities to make the most of. And making the choice to use stories matters. Without it, people will quickly forget us and the important information we want them to grasp.
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