What’s your reaction when someone, in a business context, says “let me tell you a story?”
I often ask this question during our Storytelling for Leaders workshops. The responses follow a common set of themes including “I don’t have time for this” and “why am I listening to this?”
But the most important response is “it’s a story, so it’s not true”.
The word ‘story’ is negatively coded in western culture, especially in business, and is very commonly associated with fiction.
So, the rookie error in business storytelling is to lead with the word ‘story’. You get a much better result by saying something like ‘can I give you an example…’ or ‘I had an experience…’
This post was prompted last night at the farewell of Air Vice-Marshal Margaret Staib who left the Air Force after a stellar 31-year career. Several years ago, Marg said something to the effect, “there is no place for stories in Defence … but my staff officers know never to bring me a briefing paper without one or two vignettes that illustrate the key points”.
So, beware the pitfalls of talking about stories and storytelling in your organisation. Despite the plethora of books and articles on the subject and the increasing acceptance of the term in mainstream business, you’re better off sharing examples, experiences, events … and yes, even vignettes.