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Storytelling in Business – Why Not? Part 1

The power of storytelling in business

Storytelling is again a topic of interest in the business communications world.  Conferences and speakers around the world are praising the power of storytelling and attracting audiences. My question is, why? Humans have told stories since our earliest beginnings. We all tell stories.

“Storytelling comes naturally to humans, but since we live in an unnatural world, we sometimes need a little help doing what we’d naturally do.” ― Dan Harmon

It was part of our survival and development. Stories are all around us, from campfires to multimillion dollar movies, so why do we have to make a case for it in a business environment?

Generally, I think the answer is fear. We are afraid to “lay an egg”, reveal too much of ourselves, show too much emotion or not be taken seriously at work. After all, work is the activity in which most of us invest most of our waking hours so there’s a lot at stake.

This two-part blog post covers five things we learned when preparing a seminar about storytelling in business. Our storytelling seminar gives participants the skills and determination to tell more stories and better stories in the workplace.

5 Lessons about storytelling in business: Lessons 1-3

What does your listener want?

Lesson 1

What attracts audiences to the telling of a story?  It comes down to three things:

  1. emotion
  2. energy
  3. authenticity

Telling bedtime stories to children is a practical example of the standards adults have for stories as well, though many may not say it. Children will demand expressions of the energy of the characters, the emotion of the plot and telling the story “like you mean it”. Adults need these things too to be engaged.

What makes a good story good?

Lesson 2

As Aristotle observed, a good story starts with a character in trouble. The character is one the audience can identify with–not too good to be in trouble and not too bad to deserve the trouble to come.  The story progresses with the development and deepening of the trouble to create a sense of fear in the audience so the resolution of the problems leaves the audience with a sense of relief.
Aristotle referred to the stages as pity, fear, and catharsis. Stories from Greek tragedy to Toy Story follow this model in one way or another.
In the workplace we can tell stories about problems, consequences and solutions to reflect Aristotle’s model.

Crafting stories that fit

Lesson 3

The STAR Model is a basic and effective format for telling stories in a business environment. The model fits the needs of business audiences as it sets the scene, describes the action in it and talks about what happened to resolve the situation. This model is very effective in behavioral interviewing, answering questions about past performance and offering a status update.

Situation – clearly explain the facts and assumptions that make up the context of the action.

Task – detail the task to be completed or the goal to be reached.

Actions taken – describe all relevant actions taken to complete the task.

Results achieved – describe the immediate outputs and eventual outcomes of the actions taken.

Make sure to check our site for part 2 next Wednesday. See how Target Training provides skill development seminars about Storytelling and many other communication skills to increase your effectiveness in the workplace.

Let us know if you have any comments on the first three lessons below.

2 replies
  1. Jennie Wright
    Jennie Wright says:

    I completely agree with James – storytelling is becoming more of an important skill in business.

    It’s important you don’t tell the story as if they are children, but it’s true that adults also like to be engaged. The more engaged, the more likely they are to follow your whole presentation without getting distracted.

    You can start with a clear signal that you are going to tell a story to get your audience ready:

    1. Let me tell you a story about how we…
    2. Let me paint a picture of what happened.
    3. So, this is what happened.

    Then you can move to the STAR model.

    If appropriate, there are some typical English expressions we use when telling stories to children – use these carefully and with humour with the right audience!

    To start: Once upon a time…
    To finish: And they lived happily ever after.

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