Putting stories to work is more than storytelling

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —August 16, 2010
Filed in Anecdotes

Telling, telling, telling …  So many in the field of story work focus on storytelling. Sure, telling a good story at the right time has impact. But storytelling represents a mere fraction of what can be done with business stories.

Here is one little example.

Last year I had a call from Kirstyn. She works in HR for a large engineering firm. Kirstyn runs a program for their graduate employees to build their skills over three years. This firm has some or the world’s engineering and scientific experts and the graduate employees get the opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with these experts on some amazing projects. The thing is, the graduates often don’t make the most of it because they rarely get to hear what these experts have actually done in their careers. Why? Because they graduates are unskilled in asking story-eliciting questions.

So we set about helping about 40 graduate employees learn how to elicit stories from their expert colleagues. And after learning the basics we wheeled in some senior experts as guinea pigs to practice with. It was a great way to practice their new story-listening skills but more importantly it was an opportunity to get to know some of the more senior folk in the firm.

And because we know that people remember what they feel we asked Melbourne Playback Theatre to perform some of the stories the experts shared with the graduates.

Here is one of the stories.

Clare (not her real name) was obviously a driven woman. She was in her mid-forties and had the figure of a marathon runner. Her black hair matched her black outfit. She started her story by telling her graduates that she experienced a turning point in her career because of one particular nightmare project. She was performing a quality assurance role on an engineering project and the client didn’t like her. In fact they were hurling abuse at her but she kept telling herself that she was tough and could take it. With every insult she worked harder.

One weekend she decided to visit her parents in the country. As she was walking down the hall of her parents’ house she could see her mother’s silhouette at the end of the hallway. As she emerged into the light her Mum turn around to see her gaunt and exhausted daughter. All her Mum could say was, “Oh honey, something needs to change.” and she gave her daughter a big hug. At that point Clare decided to get balance in her life and get far away from unhealthy work environments.

You could hear a pin drop as the graduates heard Clare tell this story and their jaws dropped when Melbourne Playback Theatre performed the story for everyone.

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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