Naturally incorporating stories in your conversations

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —August 21, 2007
Filed in Business storytelling

Annette Simmons, in her excellent book The Story Factor, warns us from adopting ‘the story voice.’ You know the one. The narrator starts by saying something like “I’ve got this great story” and then proceeds to adopt a kind of sing-song voice as they tell their story. You can tell it’s a performance.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. You can incorporate your anecdotes in your conversation in a natural way that doesn’t draw attention to the fact that you are relating a story. Quite frankly your listener couldn’t care less whether you are telling a story or not. They care whether what your saying is meaningful. And it was while I was thinking about this issue that I happened to pick up Victor Frankl’s essay/book, Man’s Search for Meaning. I couldn’t put it down. Frankl relates his experiences as a prisoner in concentration camps during WWII. It’s a harrowing account yet throughout Frankl leaves the reader with hope.

One of the reasons why Man’s Search for Meaning is so readable is that it is jammed packed with stories. But you don’t really notice them because of the natural way they are introduced. Here are some examples.

Rewards were given in camp not only for entertainment, but also for applause. I, for example, could have found protection (how lucky I was never in need of it!) from the camp’s most dreaded Capo, who for more than one good reason was known as “The Murderous Capo.” This is how it happened. One evening …

Generally speaking, of course, any pursuit of art in camp was somewhat grotesque. I would say that the real impression made by anything connected with art arose only from the ghostlike contrast between the performance and the background of desolate camp life. I shall never forget how I awoke from the deep sleep of exhaustion …

It also follows that a very trifling thing can cause the greatest of joys. Take as an example something that happened on our journey from Auschwitz …

Frankl often starts a paragraph with a point or an observation then moves seamlessly to a story. It reminded me of the improvisation technique I was taught in Toastmasters many years ago to respond quickly and coherently in a one minute speech. Make a Point, give a Reason for the point, provide an Example, then restate the Point (PREP). But the art of Frankl’s writing is how he moves from his point to the example.

This is how it happened …

I shall never forget how …

Take as an example …

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of 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 “Naturally incorporating stories in your conversations”

  1. Galba Bright of Tune up your EQ Says:

    I came across your blog by way of All Things Workplace.
    I like your take on Viktor Frankyl’s approach. It certainly is compelling and, indeed stimulates the reader to apply their own meaning to what they’ve read. You might also enjoy Sidney Poitier’s “The Measure of A Man, a Spiritual Autobiography” I found those stories really compelling…so much so that I wrote a series of articles about it at the Tune up your EQ Blog.

  2. Shawn Says:

    Thanks Galba. I’ll check out Sidney Poitier’s book.

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