The power of storytelling in business: 5 lessons learned

Storytelling is a topic of great interest in the business communications world.  Conferences and speakers around the world are praising the power of storytelling and attracting audiences. Why? Humans have told stories since our earliest beginnings. We all tell stories. 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? Why do people want training on something that comes naturally? In a business context, perhaps we don’t want reveal too much of ourselves, show too much emotion or not be taken seriously at work. Our storytelling seminar gives participants the skills and determination to tell more stories and better stories in the workplace. This post shares five lessons learned about storytelling in business.

Lesson 1 – What does your listener want?

What attracts audiences to the telling of a story? We identified three things:

  1. emotion

  2. energy

  3. authenticity

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

Lesson 2 –  What makes a good story good?

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.

 


 

“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

 


Lesson 3 – Crafting stories that fit

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.

Lesson 4 – Courage to connect

If work for you is simply an exchange of power, storytelling and other enhanced communication tools are not important.  Others will translate what you say into orders if you are in a power position just as you may interpret orders from your superiors. If you want your workplace to be a place where people build something together instead of following the orders of the few, storytelling is an active strategy to humanize the workplace for you and your co-workers. It provides opportunities for meaningful connections that inspire trust.

Lesson 5 – From stories to action

A good story can set the stage in a business environment and yet we often need to make the purpose clear once it is complete. We can achieve that Socratically through a debriefing method or by simply telling the listeners what we had in mind directly.

A clear explanation of the purpose of the story provides a natural, logical connection to the observation of what the teller and the listeners need to accomplish in a business environment. When listeners can connect the story to their current situation, they become involved in the process of identifying what to do and why it needs to be done—without having to be told.

 

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