The process of becoming an effective storyteller in business is … well … a process. It doesn’t often happen by chance. The first step is learning how to spot a story. Then you need to start actively noticing stories – assessing things that happen in terms of their potential as useful stories.
The next step in the process is to build your story repertoire. It’s no good being the ‘one-story wonder’. You need to have many stories in your kitbag to have a fighting chance of being able to tell an appropriate story at the appropriate time.
One of the most under-utilised sources of stories (and influence) in a business context is personal experience. Earlier this year I had a coffee with Anna Bourchier, who shared a great example of how our personal experiences can be completely relevant and effective in a business context:
A few years ago I was being interviewed for my first change job in a number of years. There were 2 main interviewers and a 3rd person observing. The primary interviewer was very intense: a high octane woman who barraged me with questions. I felt I was missing the mark and the interview was slipping away from me.
After some frustrated sighs from the interviewer she impatiently asked ‘what is your change management philosophy?’ I paused before answering – and figuring I wouldn’t get the job anyway – I replied “Ok, every day I walk my dogs, and every day I pick up their dog poo. But many other dog owners don’t and it drives me crazy – the ground is covered in dog poo.
So, to get the other owners to pick up their dog poo I would confront them. Mostly this would just result in abuse or an argument. And, the amount of droppings in the park did not diminish. I was singularly ineffective in effecting change. So, I thought maybe I needed to change.
From them on, I took extra bags with me and when I saw someone not pick up after their dog I would be friendly and casually offer them one of my spare bags. Over time, more people started doing the right thing and the amount of droppings in the park reduced considerably. So, this experience helped me understand that you can’t force people to change, you need to involve them in the process and give them choice.
And for the first time in the interview the interrogator smiled and said “that’s a good answer”. And I got the job.
Filling your kitbag with stories
Here are two simple ideas for building up a repertoire of personal stories.
Character Trumps Credentials
In 2015 we published a free-to-download eBook with this (now unfortunate) title. It’s a collection of 170 questions designed to help you find your own personal stories. Some will not work for you, but others will take you immediately to an experience – these are the ones you should capture in your story bank. Don’t evaluate the stories that are triggered; just collect them at this stage.
We have also created a story-triggering email system. Each week you’ll receive an email with a story-eliciting question, a regular little prompt to keep you building the habit of collecting stories. If you’d like to be added to the group of people receiving these emails, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
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: