Using story to comunicate who we are

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —July 16, 2006
Filed in Anecdotes

George OrwellBefore a leader attempts to convince, share knowledge and even spark action, they should introduce themselves using a story.1 It creates context and builds trust. George Orwell understood this idea well. The first 4 paragraphs of Why I Write consist of a set of biographical anecdotes which helps the reader understand Orwell’s nature. He begins the essay:


From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.

Orwell could certainly write clear and simple stories—two important characteristics of organisational storytelling. It’s important to avoid rambling. He also had a clear understanding why the biographical introduction was necessary:

I give all this background information because I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development.

A business audience also needs to understand the presenter’s motives. You could simply reveal your motives in a series of dot points but people are unlikely to ‘hear’ what you’re saying or believe a word of it. A simple and clear story enables the audience to build their own picture of what’s driving the presenter’s actions.

Orwell’s introductory story is probably too long for a business setting. There are at least three story-based introductions Orwell could have delivered if he was standing in front of 30 people announcing a new change initiative: the story of his early literary efforts; the one about the continuous story created and recreated in his mind as an adolescent; and the one about his discovery of the aesthetic of words in Paradise Lost. OK, so it’s unlikely these exact stories would work but these types of stories are perfect.

1. Denning, S. 2005. The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

2 Responses to “Using story to comunicate who we are”

  1. Dennis D. McDonald Says:

    In my opinion, Orwell — my intelletual hero — is second only to Somerset Maugham in the ability to tell a story with economy and precisions. Example: Maugham’s short stories, and Orwell’s essays, including his “As I Please” newspaper columns.

  2. Gary Bourgeault ( Says:

    As someone who does an enormous amount of verbal communication, I can vouch for your thoughts and comments concerning storytelling being an effective form of communicating who you are and to put yourself in a context in the hearers mind.
    Putting pictures in the mind of your hearers through a story is a great way to help them to understand what and why you’re communicating to them.

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