Stories have always been used to motivate and inspire others, and the business world seems to be catching on to the power of that method as more executives are coached on how to tell effective stories.
For example, all senior executives at Nike are known as “corporate storytellers,” and at Kimberly-Clark, seminars are held to coach employees through a 13-step program for constructing stories and structuring presentations around them, says Paul Smith, author of “Lead With a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire.”
“With a business story, it’s not just telling a story to entertain,” he says. “You’re trying to get behavior to change. Humans make decisions emotionally. Logic and bullet points will fall short if you only use them and don’t structure a story, as well.”
Still, using effective stories to provoke emotion is only part of the equation, he says.
“Stories are easier for people to remember,” he says. “People will repeat stories to others and pass on the message.”
But what if you’re not a savvy story teller or are uncomfortable with the notion of using it in a business setting? Smith says just as with any other skill, telling effective stories becomes easier with practice. You know you’re doing it right, he adds, when “what you set out to accomplish gets done.”
What is a sign that you’re failing in delivering a good story? “When people are checking their BlackBerries instead of listening to you,” he says.
Smith provides more than 100 short stories anyone can use to help set goals and build commitment; define customer service success and failure; inspire innovation; and empower others. If you’re not sure where to find other stories, begin thinking about past experiences that might generate a good story or take notes when you learn an unexpected lesson.
Or, you can always tuck away stories other people tell you that you’ve found to be memorable. You can even ask key people for stories to share by asking specific questions such as “Have you ever heard someone introduce himself and gain immediate respect? What did he say?”
Once you’ve got a story in mind, there are some key elements to make it effective. Smith suggests:
Smith, director of consumer and communications research at The Proctor & Gamble Co., says that many people complain they have trouble remembering stories when they need them. His company creates a “company storybook” that is distributed to employees, putting viable stories at their fingertips. If your company doesn’t offer something similar, create your database of effective stories that can be searched by topic and character, he suggests.
How do you use stories in your professional life? Any tips to offer others on effective storytelling?