How to get your story heard at work

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —July 11, 2010
Filed in Business storytelling

In a fast paced workplace dominated by tasked focussed folk hell bent on ticking boxes and creating outputs, it can be difficult to get your story heard. The conversation can go something like this:

“OK, what’s the next item on the agenda?”

The preceding conversation reminded Jean-Pierre of something they should really avoid that happened last year. “You know getting this job done really reminds me of what happened last year. Do you remember how Gary pulled together everyone from budget and wholesale and we had that crazy time creating the budget report?”

“We probably don’t have time to reminisce. Trish, would you like to report your planned next actions.”

There’s a misconception that stories must be long-winded and don’t add much value to a “business” conversation. Of course the very opposite is true. We’ve listed a few reasons on why stories are important to business but in this case stories provide concrete examples of what to do or what to avoid. Examples that people could put into practice. But before they will listen to your story they need to answer a couple of questions in the positive: is it relevant? is it plausible?

With these requirements in mind, here are 4 tips to get your story heard at work.

  1. Preface your story with a relevance statement (a sentence or two) that highlights why the group should listen. “We don’t want to make the disastrous mistake Gary and the team made last year,” should get people in the previous example interested in the story.
  2. Keep your story short. You can say a lot in 90 seconds so you should aim for a story that’s about that length.
  3. Avoid the ‘s’ word. Steer clear of the terms ‘stories’ and ‘storytelling’ because they trigger the wrong mindsets in your listeners, ie. probably made up, for entertainment, unbusinesslike. Instead talk about real life experiences, things that happened, case studies or just launch into the telling (after your relevance statement) with a time marker (which clearly implies you are telling a story anyway) such as last year, in 2007, last week, on Tuesday etc.
  4. Or course your story hasn’t really been heard until people reflect on what was said so finish your story with a question to get your listeners talking about the story. You might ask, “I wonder what we can learn from that experience?” or “What do you think are some of the significant lessons?”

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:

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