A strategic story mustn’t be a script

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —June 6, 2013
Filed in Business storytelling, Strategy

Smart people hate to be told what to do or say. Yet way too often leaders are given a standard set of powerpoint slides or even a script and are asked to share these pearls with their colleagues. Enthusiasm, and authenticity, plummets.

There’s definitely a better way. A few months ago I was teaching 150 leaders from a pharmaceutical company how to tell their strategic story. After everyone quickly learned the story and then told it to a colleague I asked the whole group if there was anything in the story they didn’t like. There was clearly a heated conversation happening in the middle of the room as a woman shot her hand up and pointed to her colleague. He was given the microphone, stood to address the crowd, and then paragraph by paragraph pointed out the things that niggled him. When he finished I just said, “no problems, just tell it how you would like.”

Strategic stories should be like an original music score and every leader should be able to create and deliver their own arrangement. If you’re a jazz guy you do the jazz arrangement. If country and western is your thing then you go with that. You add your own anecdotes to bring it to life and as long as it is recognisable as the original score, then it’s an effective strategic story.

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:


  1. This is lovely Shawn, it’s a connecting point between story and storytelling in the business story practice. It’s also where you get to hear the question, “but what about the message?” 🙂 It’s quite amazing how employees are trusted when dealing with sophisticated technologies and huge budgets, but not with “the message”.
    I’m suggesting a little more around the fear to trust one as being able to know what is “recognizable as the original score”. People can arrange (advanced skill), they can also attach their own style (natural skill), they can translate (basic skill), adapt to the listener’s culture (natural skill), keep the core and add something, elaborate in one place, etc. Giving them a scale of possibilities helps each person find a way without the fear of making a mistake – which often gets them into a paralyzed state.

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