There are many reasons why stories are not used in business settings. One of the reasons is that every story we tell reveals something about our character, and we tend to be very protective of our character. Another reason is an unwillingness to give out any personal information.
In August last year I was running a session helping people find examples to illustrate the business benefit of their products. I was listening to one participant speaking:
“I’ve got an example… I’m going on holidays soon, and have been doing the planning using XYZ Software. It’s very useful in identifying all the tasks that need to be done and keeping organised…” She continued talking for several minutes, maintaining the same vague, ambiguous speech pattern.
When she finished, I asked if she remembered the four things that indicate if something is a story or not (time marker, specific events, characters and something unanticipated). She nodded.
I explained that by adding in a few details she could turn what she’d said into a story. For example, I asked, “where are you going on your holiday and when?” She instantly turned to me and said “that’s none of your business”.
And she was right. It was none of my business.
But her desire to keep things completely impersonal was a barrier to moving from assertion to example; from something vague to something her audience could picture and comprehend.
The desire to keep things impersonal is a significant barrier to telling stories and business.
Personally, I would think nothing of saying something like “I’m going on a camping holiday with my family to the south coast in March. We’re going for three weeks so we’ll need to take lots of gear; camping, fishing, boating… Especially in March, when the weather is less predictable. So, to keep track of everything, last week I’ve started using XYZ software. It’s been great helping me to…”
If, like me, you think there’s nothing wrong with providing details like this in a business context, there is a good chance you’ll be a good business story teller.
If you think providing details like that is inappropriate, you will probably continue to communicate in a way that doesn’t have much impact and which people struggle to understand and remember.
About Mark Schenk
Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:
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