Anecdote’s Top 10 posts of 2014

Posted by Shawn Callahan - December 22, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling, News

2014, our 10th year in business, was a watershed for Anecdote. Our partner network has grown to 27 partners in 17 countries and it continues to grow. Apart from our partners’ deep skills and wonderful expertise, they are a great bunch of people who are a joy to spend time with. We are looking forward to our partner conference next year. 2014 also saw our first corporate partners who have licensed our programs and are delivering them inside their organisations.

To wrap up the year we’ve selected the top 10 posts which give an insight into the topics that have sparked our attention and that you have found interesting in 2014.


10.  6 ways to avoid a common business storytelling blunder

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. Here are 6 ways to keep your story conversational and authentic.

9. One simple way to bring your stories to life

Often people mistakenly think oral stories are about words when in fact good oral stories are about pictures and emotions. When you hear a story and can see it happening you’re transported to the place where it’s taking place and you relive it with the teller. This natural and effortless collaboration between teller and listener is one of the reasons stories are so engaging.  It’s all about moments.

8. The Power of Failure Stories

Your willingness to share a failure can have a powerful effect. A failure story encourages the person you are hoping to work with to share their own failures, or those sensitive things that are really happening in the organisation. It helps people to open up. After you get over the hurt of the failure, you’ll find that its retelling will be extremely valuable. I recommend you have a few failure stories ready to be told.

7. How an Indian hotel chain turned their customer satisfaction around using stories

A participant in our public Storytelling for Leaders program was  Balaji V., human resources director of Mahindra Holidays and Resorts India. Right after the training he started a major narrative project as part of their brand relaunch that was designed to find the stories of success and amplify them throughout Mahindra Resorts. He put together this case study of what they did and the great results they achieved.
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Acts of leadership humanity: showing deep respect

Posted by Shawn Callahan - December 18, 2014
Filed in Anecdotes, Business storytelling


Emil Zátopek was a giant of long distance running. His record still stands as the only person to win gold in the 5000 metre, the 10000 metre and the marathon at the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics. Apparently running the marathon was a last minute decision.

In 1968 Australian runner, Ron Clarke, visited Emil in his home country of Czechoslovakia. Emil respected Ron’s abilities. He had broken many of Emil’s records but had a string of bad luck. In Mexico City Ron suffered from altitude sickness and nearly died on the track. So despite being the world record holder he never won an Olympic gold. The two runners became friends and as Emil said goodbye at the airport, he gave Ron a hug and put a small parcel in his hand and said “this is because you deserve it, not because we are friends. Open it when you get to London.”

Ron immediately started to wonder what was in the parcel. Was it contraband? Was it a message Emil wanted smuggled out to the West. After the plane took off Ron went to the lavatory to open the parcel. When he unwrapped the box, there, with his name and the day’s date inscribed inside, was Emil’s 10000 Olympic gold medal. Ron just sat there and wept.


How to inspire with stories

Posted by Shawn Callahan - December 16, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling, Culture

We all want to be inspired. And we all want to inspire others. Parents want to inspire their kids. Business leaders want to inspire the people they lead. It can sound like a lofty desire, so how do you actually do it? Let’s start by thinking about what inspiration means in practice. I’m hoping these examples will trigger memories of what inspires you.


As a teenager I loved basketball. My best friend’s dad, Walt, was our coach. After a few games one season we were close to the bottom of the ladder, but by the end of the comp we found ourselves in the grand final. At our last practice session before the big game, Walt gathered us in the middle of the court, pointed to a line on the floor and said, ‘Do you all think you can walk along this line?’ We all nodded and then proceeded to walk along the line. Then Walt pointed to a balance beam and asked us, ‘Can you walk along the balance beam?’ We said, ‘Sure thing coach’, and we walked along the beam. Then Walt said, ‘Imagine this beam crosses a deep, treacherous canyon with a fierce wind blowing across it’. He painted a picture of a very challenging scenario and then asked us to walk across the beam again. We all made it without falling. ‘Lads’, he said, ‘our game this weekend is like this ordinary balance beam crossing a canyon. It’s just another game, yes, but there will be a lot more pressure this time. Are you ready for this game?’
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How to build the storytelling habit

Posted by Shawn Callahan - December 11, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling

Business people love structure. When I ask people after our storytelling workshops what they found most valuable, more often than not they will say they loved the story patterns. These are a few different story structures we teach that are great for changing minds, or for answering the question ‘Why?’

Story patterns are good set pieces, but they only account for a tiny percentage of day-to-day business storytelling. The majority of the time we spend sharing a business story, we are simply trying to make a point. So rather than focusing on how to use story patterns, we should be developing our ability to find the right story to make a business point. We should also be practising the art of succinctly making our point at the start of a story, which, as I recently explained, doubles the audience recall.


Now to be an effective business storyteller, you have to do two things simultaneously. You have to build both your story repertoire and the storytelling habit.

Building your story repertoire

Building your story repertoire is a process of discovery. It starts with fine-tuning your ability to spot stories. Because the best stories are the ones that evoke an emotion, you want to keep an ear out for anything that sends a chill up your spine, brings tears to your eyes, or sets the hairs on your arms on end – stories that make you feel something and which you think you can use to make a business point. (The good news here is that you can make a business point with any evocative story.)

Now you need to tell these stories to remember them. Here are a couple of reminders about how to make stories stick in your memory.

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A simple business storytelling mistake

Posted by Shawn Callahan - December 9, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling, Communication

The word ‘story’ is vexed in business. Imagine this scene. A senior leader stands in front of his people to give a presentation on the company’s direction and says, “I would like to share a story with you.” If you were in that audience, what would you be thinking or feeling when he said that? When I pose this question to my workshop participants they groan and wince. They say things like, “here we go” or “don’t treat us like kids,” “just get to the point,” “what trick is he trying to pull?”

Now let’s imagine a similar scene. This time the senior leader says, “something important happened a couple of weeks ago I’d like to share with you. It’s going to affect our business.” What are you thinking now? Most people think, “jeez, what happened?” They want to know and are ready to listen.

In both cases the leader will tell a story but in the first one the audience is put off by the word ‘story.’ It has a negative connotation in many business settings. We don’t want to be told we are about to hear a story. Worse still, we don’t want to be told we’re going to hear a funny story. Let us be the judge of that.


I tell leaders in our programs to avoid the ’s’-word. Instead talk about an experience, something that happened, an example or just jump right into the story with your time marker: “Three weeks ago while I was at the Mildura plant …” People love to hear stories, they just don’t like to be told they are listening to a story.

We make a similar mistake in print. How many times have you seen on a website, a newsletter, a brochure and even in reports headings proclaiming, ‘Our Story,’ ‘Customer Stories’ or the stories are italicised and indented screaming out, “this is a story.”

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Leadership conducted with passion, teaching and storytelling

Posted by Christopher Kogler - December 4, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling, Communication

Benjamin Zander

Photo © Koren Reyes

Maestro Benjamin Zander – an amazingly approachable human being

My wife, Kate, and I were in Boston, Massachusetts recently visiting our son Sebastian, who’s now attending university there. Sebastian has chosen a path a bit less traveled than others and is a French Horn performance major. Although he’s been in Boston just a few months, he was invited to join the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. They’re an amazing group of young people who are privileged to work with an even more amazing conductor, Maestro Benjamin Zander.

Maestro Zander’s career is truly remarkable. He is the conductor of both The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra; he’s also been a guest conductor around the world. He’s a sought-after public speaker who presented a Keynote address at the World Economic Forum in Davos and has received numerous accolades for his humanitarian work. With his partner, Rosamund Zander, he collaborated on their best-selling book, “The Art of Possibility”.  And, as we discovered, he’s an amazingly approachable human being.

On the Saturday we were visiting, we attended a 4 hour afternoon rehearsal with Maestro Zander and the full Youth Orchestra at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology as they prepared for their upcoming concert at Boston’s Symphony Hall.  Sitting there, watching Maestro Zander work with 100 young, talented people, I was amazed at the way he conducted his business.

He worked with each separate section of the orchestra with passion, joy and a level of energy I simply don’t see that often. Each section of the orchestra received individual instruction. He was complimentary when instructing, direct and respectful when critiquing and taught by telling stories. He was able to focus on the details of each section without losing sight of the holistic nature of the group. Finally, in a manner that appeared effortless, he brought everyone together to produce an amazing sound that no one part could produce on its own. Different sections harmonized wonderfully.

What leadership is all about – passion, teaching and storytelling

I realized while watching Maestro Zander that he was modeling the best of what leadership is all about – infusing one’s work with passion, teaching and storytelling; driving the group’s success forward by his own clarity of purpose and enthusiasm for excellence and, he was having fun doing it!

In his very popular TED talk, Zander explains his process and defines success most eloquently.

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Improve sales performance with Storytelling for Sales

Posted by Shawn Callahan - December 2, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling, Selling

In 1988 I joined the database software company Oracle Systems. I worked in the Canberra sales team, where my job was to demonstrate the technical capabilities of the software to clients.

One day the national sales manager arrived unannounced from Sydney and told us that he wasn’t happy with our progress. He gathered us in front of a window on the 12th floor of our inner-city office, pointed at a nearby building, and asked if anyone had canvassed it.

No-one had, so he picked a sales rep at random and said, ‘Go to every floor of that building and tell them about our software’. He then pointed to another building, and another, each time dispatching a sales rep if we hadn’t worked those offices. We did as the manager instructed, and in the process we made some of the biggest sales in the history of our branch.


We are all salespeople

Sales have changed a lot. Back then you were selling a product. You described its features and showed how it was superior to your competitors’ wares. But as Dan Pink argues convincingly in To Sell Is Human, now we are all salespeople because of the massive shift towards small entrepreneurial companies.

In 1999, when I was working for IBM, the focus had already switched to selling solutions to business problems. These solutions were integrated and complex. The customer was less interested in a product’s features and more interested in how it was going to impact their business.

Selling solutions is now an established major trend in sales. But it has come at a cost. Many salespeople are just not doing well selling solutions. The research firm CEB has shown that the gap between average-performing salespeople and star performers is close to 200% for solution sales, while it’s only 59% for transaction sales.

There is a valuable opportunity here for companies to help their average performers improve their skills and close this gap.

The Challenger Sale

It turns out that a particular style is highly effective when it comes to the solution sale. For their fascinating book The Challenger Sale, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson surveyed sales managers about the practices of over 6000 sales reps. They ran a statistical factor analysis over the data and discovered five types of salesperson:
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Maximise your influence with powerful story techniques

Posted by Amanda Marko - November 27, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling, Leadership

There’s a way to lead more effectively from anywhere in the corporate hierarchy without the benefit of the positional authority that comes in the form of titles and reporting relationships.

Don’t wait to get into the c-suite to change minds, impact the business and leave a lasting impression. Be influential immediately.

Telling stories, listening to stories and getting others to tell stories about you in the workplace will increase your influence and effectiveness. If you want to be more influential, but lack the authority, try using these techniques:

Storytelling techniques

Manage Up

The ability to make your superiors look good, deliver bad news, anticipate their needs and weigh in with your expertise without overstepping are all components of managing up.

Stories are a gentler way to express yourself. Rather than directing those above you, telling a short story that allows them to draw their own conclusion allows you to exert a measure of influence while also demonstrating your wisdom. Don’t just tell stories; listen for them. Understanding what your boss desires could be revealed in the stories she tells.

Manage Down

Lacking positional authority doesn’t mean you can’t amass loyal followers. Establish your expertise, make personal connections and change minds with the stories you tell. When stating your position, start by stating your fact-based point, and then follow with a story that illustrates your view. The story will open listeners’ minds to possibilities. Then you can conclude with your argument. It’s a winning combination for influencing people.

Trigger Stories

“Did you hear how the pitch was doomed until Shelly came up with an on-the-spot idea that the client loved?”

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Business storytelling training in The Netherlands

Posted by Mark Schenk - November 25, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling, Leadership

I visited Amsterdam in early April and met Paul Joosten and Ronald van Domberg. Both fabulous facilitators and both working in the story field. Within a few months they had become Partners in delivering the Storytelling for Leaders program and had completed their accreditation.

While many programs in The Netherlands are delivered in English, there is a strong preference in smaller organisations for programs to be delivered in Dutch. So, the Dutch translation has been completed and its first public outing will happen on 10 December.

Business storytelling training in The Netherlands

We regularly run public workshops in Australia so people get the opportunity to experience our Storytelling for Leaders™ program. Over the next few months there will be plenty of opportunity to learn how to be an effective business storyteller in The Netherlands. Here are the program dates: Read the rest of this entry »


Starting with your point doubles your business story recall

Posted by Shawn Callahan - November 21, 2014
Filed in Business storytelling, Communication

We judge stories we hear at work in three ways. First, is it plausible, did this really happen? Second, is this relevant, can it help me? Third, is it interesting, am I going to enjoy this?

Therefore when we tell a business story it’s important to make clear its relevance at the outset. We need to know what you’re talking about and why you are telling me and this helps significantly with business story recall.


There’s a clever study that shows just how important it is to make clear your topic and your point at the outset. John Bransford and Marcia Johnson, from New York University, asked participants to listen to the following paragraph and remember it:

The procedure is actually quite simple. First you arrange things into different groups. Of course, one pile may be sufficient depending on how much there is to do. If you have to go somewhere else due to lack of facilities that is the next step, otherwise you are pretty well set. It is important not to overdo things. That is, it is better to do too few things at once than too many. In the short run this may not seem important but complications can easily arise. A mistake can be expensive as well. At first the whole procedure will seem complicated. Soon, however, it will become just another facet of life. It is difficult to foresee any end to the necessity for this task in the immediate future, but then one never can tell. After the procedure is completed one arranges the materials into different groups again. Then they can be put into their appropriate places. Eventually they will be used once more and the whole cycle will then have to be repeated. However, that is part of life.

We’ve shown this paragraph to perhaps thousands of workshop participants and needless to say they were universally bamboozled. I imagine you were too.
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