Whoever tells the best story wins

Posted by Mark Schenk - April 16, 2014
Filed in Fun, News

In 2001, Annette Simmons published her book The Story Factor. I read it cover to cover and as I write this my dog-eared, tagged and heavily annotated copy sits in front of me. The book has been widely acclaimed as one of the most influential business storytelling books written. Her other titles include Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins published in 2007. We have kept in contact with Annette over the years and greatly admire the practical focus of her work.

.whoever tells best story photo Annette Simmons photo

When we heard that the Australian Storytelling Guild NSW was hosting Annette in Sydney on 5 June 2014, we jumped at the chance to be the Gold Sponsor for the event. It’s a great opportunity for business leaders to spend a day with one of the world’s leading story practitioners. The workshop, titled Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins is aimed at leaders at all levels of an organisation, influencers and thought leaders, change agents, entrepreneurs, and anyone involved in setting strategic direction for themselves or their organisations. Annette’s workshops get rave reviews.

The early bird offer for the workshop is open until 5pm on 30 April. It’s a great opportunity to learn from a world leader. Tickets and additional information is available here.

Shawn and I look forward to seeing you there.


How to trigger positive stories about your business

Posted by Shawn Callahan - April 8, 2014
Filed in Anecdotes, Business storytelling

I’ve just spent a week travelling the California coast with my brother, Scott. We visited many restaurants and wineries but the ones that stand out did something remarkable, something out of the ordinary.

The Palace Grill in Santa Barbara is a Cajun restaurant. Lots of people line up to get a table. Lots of buzz. Our visit  started off like any other restaurant dinner at a popular spot. Great service (nothing unexpected), great food (of course, what else), my brother brought great wine (another Joel Gott masterpiece).

Then at 8.30pm this noisy eating spot is brought to silence by the maître d’  and the service staff hand out the words of the song What a Wonderful World. Louis Armstrong starts singing and everyone starts, a little hesitantly at first, to sing along. All the waiters are clinking glasses with the patrons wishing them cheers and good health.

Now that was remarkable.
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A clever way to bring business values to life in India

Posted by Shawn Callahan - March 24, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling, Story collection

From Anecdote partner Indranil Chakraborty

ic speakingClose to midnight on a humid, monsoon-laden day in August 2011, a few of my colleagues and I were staring at hundreds of colourful sticky notes on a wall. They were the result of a day’s efforts by the senior management of my company, Mahindra Holidays, to create a corporate credo.

We were all excited by what we had come up with: ‘Making Every Moment Magical’. We were in the hospitality business and here was a credo that ticked all the boxes. It was inspiring, measureable, consumer-focused and applicable to everyone from the organisation’s CEO to its janitor. The challenge now was to articulate the supporting values.

Having taken part in this process in the past, I knew what to expect. We would start by saying we shouldn’t have more than four values, as that would be too much for the front-line staff to remember. We’d agree that those values had to include ‘integrity’, ‘customer-centricity’, ‘diversity’, ‘equal opportunity’ and ‘sustainability’, and then we’d argue about which one to drop. The end result, unfortunately, would be a value statement that sounded just like every other company’s value statement.

It was during such an agonising discussion that night, while we were looking down the barrel of mediocrity, that one of our consultants had a brain wave. Weren’t terms like ‘integrity’, ‘customer-centricity’, ‘sustainability’ etc. table stakes in today’s business world? Surely no company could afford to participate in the modern marketplace without demonstrating all of these at a high level. And so we decided to move these table-stake terms to a new document we called a Code of Conduct, which left us with a blank canvas on which to paint truly unique, differentiated values.

What followed was exhilarating. Within the hour, we had articulated four key values: ‘No room for ordinary’ (the ordinary is not magical), ‘Experience is everything’, ‘Make smiles’ and ‘Proud of our club’.

When the euphoria of having identified these values died down, however, I was left with the uncomfortable feeling that this may have been just another esoteric exercise that would only result in a plaque on a boardroom wall. After all, just because the people at our head office got it didn’t mean that potential customers who lived in far-flung corners of India would get it.

Anxious to address this, I read whatever I could find on the subject of embedding values and spoke to whomever I thought might know what was best. But in the end I was no wiser. So I did what I guessed most people in my position would do – I decided to run workshops designed to share Mahindra Holidays’ new credo and values with the company’s top 500 managers.

It was while preparing for these workshops that serendipity struck. I was looking for stories with which I could make my presentation on values come alive when I stumbled upon anecdote.com. While I didn’t spend too much time on the site back then, I did sign up for Anecdote’s newsletter. A few months later, when all the workshops were over and my company had switched back into ‘business as usual’ mode, I discovered through a newsletter that Anecdote would soon be running a two-day business storytelling workshop in Delhi.

That workshop changed everything for me. I had never been much of a class participator as a student, yet I found myself asking questions and concentrating on every word Mark and Shawn said over those two days.

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How to connect brand and sales with oral stories to accelerate growth

Posted by Shawn Callahan - March 19, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling, Changing behaviour, Communication, Strategic clarity

Salespeople detest brand gobbledygook.

And it’s no wonder. Have you heard brand lingo lately?

Lovemarks, saliency, brand-defined competitive sets, brand character, brand claims, brand personality, 80-slide PowerPoint presentations sprinkled with made-up words and forgettable catchphrases …

It’s hard for a salesperson to understand this brand bumf, much less translate it into something they can share with a prospect. Good salespeople do convey the brand, but they do it intuitively by sharing stories that illustrate the brand in action. Like most experts, however, they’re mostly unaware of this skill and their story repertoire. They just do it.

The bridge connecting brand and sales

A systematic approach to sales storytelling can bridge the divide between brand and sales and bring the brand to life.

There are 4 steps in building this bridge. Read the rest of this entry »


How to deliver an effective business story

Posted by Mark Schenk - March 11, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling

Twice in the past week I have been asked about our thoughts on presentation skills training as part of learning to be an effective storyteller…

So, remembering that we are talking about business storytelling here, my advice is that you spend 98% of your effort thinking about the story: its point, the details necessary to make the point, emotion to give it impact and having something unanticipated.


About 2% of your effort should be around how you present the story. The best piece of advice I’ve heard on this is ‘just picture yourself in the moment and describe what you see’. Its absolutely essential that you tell people your story – never read it out to them.

If you do this, your body will move naturally and you won’t have to worry about it.

From our perspective, in business storytelling, authenticity is vital.
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6 ways to avoid a common business storytelling blunder

Posted by Shawn Callahan - March 5, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling

You want a persuasive story with impact, right?

So your natural response is to gather all the details you need to paint a vivid picture, add some emotion, and throw in a good twist. Then you craft your story. When you’re happy with it, you practise telling it – you practise, practise, practise.

And then you feature the story in your presentation.

Well, I’ve seen people do this and it comes off as an overly elaborate and inauthentic performance.


The last thing you want your audience to feel is that they’re simply watching a performance. What you do want them to feel is that you’re sharing an experience with them, just like what happens when people catch up informally over lunch. That’s when you hear what’s really happening.

People in the business world are rightly sceptical about performances.

How to tell a story without giving a performance

Here are 6 ways to keep your story conversational and authentic:
Read the rest of this entry »


How to ensure people hear your story at work

Posted by Shawn Callahan - February 23, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling


“We don’t have time to hear a story.

Just give us the facts.”

Have you heard that before?

The thing is, it’s simply untrue.

We have all heard ‘facts’ drone on for ages. Yet you can tell a powerful and memorable story in a minute and a half, or less. Check out the video below to see that in action.

Here’s the secret to having your story heard. Actually, there’s two secrets.

Never mention the ‘s’ word

First, never mention the ‘s’ word. Never start your story by saying, “I’d like to share a story with you.”

Saying you’re going to share a story, especially in business, often triggers a negative reaction. The audience thinks, this is made up, it’s not business, it’s going to take too long.

Using the ‘s’ word in business is the business storytelling rookie error. Instead, start with point of your story and then just tell it. We call this a relevance statement.

Bryan Cranston might have said something like, “A change in career can happen in a moment.” just before he told this story.

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Australia’s biggest bank takes business storytelling seriously

Posted by Shawn Callahan - February 6, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling


Last week I had the pleasure to meet Eileen Sutton who is a financial services copywriter in New York. I was describing some of the work we’ve been doing for the National Australia Bank (known as ‘nab’ here in Australia and the largest bank in our country by asset size1) and she was amazed that a bank was so progressive. She asked me to write up some of the things we are doing for nab.

For the last four years we’ve been training bankers from all levels across the bank in our Storytelling for Leaders program at the bank’s internal university, nabAcademy.

We’ve done narrative-based leadership development programs, for example for the bank’s executives at the Private Wealth Group. Click here to have a look at the case study.

nab has taken business storytelling seriously. They have even included storytelling as a core capability for senior executives in the bank’s capability framework.

Late last year we featured in a new leadership program for high potential store managers. They kicked off the program with Storytelling for Leaders.

We have also helped the financial advisors be better storytellers and worked with different parts of the IT organisation to help them better connect with the business lines.

nab has been a pleasure to work with. The people there really want to make a difference and care about being good leaders. Of course there is always room for improvement and we play our small part in an overall effort to build the capability of the bank.

1. Source: The Banker, July 2013


The essential mindset for breakthrough innovation

Posted by Shawn Callahan - February 4, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling


Yesterday I presented a couple of storytelling workshops at the Science Communicators Conference in Brisbane. Great people. Excellent conference.

One of the highlights of the conference happened on Sunday at the Storytelling of Science panel discussion.

Five distinguished panelists and our host Dr Andrew Stephenson (Prof Peter Adams, Prof Tim Flannery, Prof Jenny Graves, Lynne Malcolm, Dr Jesse Shore) took ten minutes each to tell a story.

My favourite was by Professor Jenny Graves.


Tipping the scales in your favour in the attention economy

Posted by Shawn Callahan - January 29, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling


The story I’m about to share featured in a case study we recently published about our work with Yammer. It got me thinking about something Ursula (the protagonist in the story) did that all business leaders are trying to achieve. Have a read and let’s have a look.

Ursula Llabres had just 10 minutes to communicate her message to 200 Microsoft sales reps.

In 2012, Microsoft acquired the enterprise social network, Yammer, where Llabres works as a customer success manager. Her objective: help Microsoft Office365 ‘Black Belts’ understand the value and impact of Yammer.

At the event, Llabres shared two customer stories. During a day packed with back-to-back sessions, her presentation stood out from the rest.

“It was the only talk all day where people closed their laptops and listened,” said Steve Hopkins, Director of Customer Success for Yammer’s Australia region and a colleague of Llabres’.

When Llabres finished, hands shot up with questions and Microsoft requested a follow-on impromptu Yammer 101 session for later that day. Reps approached Llabres with more questions and requests to connect on Yammer. The approach Llabres and her Yammer colleagues took to preparing and delivering their messages varied significantly from other speakers that day.

In a world full of information the scarcest resource is attention. Unlike information it’s a finite resource because only people can provide attention and there are only so many hours in the day. And with smartphones buzzing, screens blinking, colleagues popping in for a chat, there are now so many more ways for our attention to be diverted, or even diluted.

The idea of an attention economy has been with us for some time. In fact I remember the first time I heard the term back in 2002 when Tom Davenport and John Beck published their book adeptly named, The Attention Economy. But perhaps the first person to describe the concept was Nobel Prize winning social scientist Herbert A. Simon when he wrote in 19711:

“… in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it”

Ursula was able to draw the attention of her Microsoft colleagues for a couple of reasons: Read the rest of this entry »