We focus on small stories rather than Hollywood-inspired epics.
Shawn Callahan, our founder, started in storytelling working at IBM as a corporate anthropologist collecting stories in large companies. He found that businesspeople tend to tell small anecdotes, just recounting what’s been happening in their business and their lives. Rarely did he find businesspeople recounting a heroic journey or anything like what a screenwriter would craft. And if a leader did happen to tell a ‘big S’ story, it sounded out of place, even inauthentic.
At Anecdote, we focus on anecdotes that make a business point.
When we started training people in storytelling, we ran a workshop. The participants told us they loved it. It was practical and fun, and people were enthusiastic about trying out their new-found story skills.
After several successful workshops, we thought we should go back and see how the participants’ storytelling was developing. Common responses were: “We have been very busy.” “My boss just wanted the presentation in the standard format.” “Examples are hard to find.” “In the busyness of work, people just forgot to tell a story.” In short, very little had changed.
When we discovered we had been wasting everyone’s time and money, we shifted gears and concentrated on how we could encourage behaviour change. Our training programs became 4–6 months long and included a deliberate practice program. We did everything we could to help participants develop the habit of storytelling.
We believe in learning by doing. It helps our participants a lot when they get to start sharing stories 15 minutes into the program. It shows them they are storytellers. They share stories in pairs, in small groups, and with each other on their smartphones. And they are continually getting feedback from their peers and our facilitators.
We also model storytelling. There’s nothing worse than hearing an ‘expert’ talk about storytelling yet never tell a story. We had a participant pipe up halfway through their initial workshop to say, “I see what you’re doing here. You make a point and then share a story to illustrate what you mean.” Yep, and all without using the dreaded word ‘story’.
Recently we trained 700 emerging leaders of a global consulting firm from around the world using a combination of webinars and online coaching. And we did it over a ridiculously short period of time. We could deliver that project because of our excellent global network of partners who license our story programs so that they can provide them in their local countries. We now offer our training in 28 countries and 11 languages.
We started Anecdote in 2004. And from the very beginning, we’ve helped large firms such as Shell, IBM, Coca-Cola and Bayer improve the way in which their leaders and sellers communicate with stories.
That means we understand large companies: the complexity, time pressures, politics. Our experience helps our clients get things done.
Beautiful and research-based
In 2005, Shawn made the case to his business partner and Anecdote managing director, Mark Schenk, that all of our training materials should be research-based and look gorgeous. Mark was happy with the idea of research-based work, but did we need beautiful training materials?
It didn’t take long for Mark to be onboard with the beauty idea. He saw the overwhelmingly positive reactions of our customers. They loved our materials because they could see the love that went into each workbook, poster and article.
More than storytelling
Most story professionals focus, naturally, on storytelling. But we also have a ton of experience in collecting stories, a skill we call story-listening. The third leg of this story ‘stool’ is story-triggering, which is when you do something so remarkable that your actions trigger a story. We bring all three approaches—storytelling, story-listening and story-triggering—when fostering change in organisations.
Culture of sharing
Max Boisot, a brilliant professor of strategic management, observed that enterprises with intellectual property that remained static did best by keeping their knowledge secret.
So if you are, say, a flute maker, an industry that hasn’t changed much in the last century, your best bet for success is to keep your master flute makers happy so they don’t leave, thereby keeping their methods under wraps.
But if your industry is fast-moving, then your strategy should be to keep creating and then sharing what you have learned. By the time your competitors have copied your methods, you will have already moved on to something better.
This sharing culture spills into our projects, where we go to great lengths to show companies how to do it for themselves and build their capability. It is best for your business if you aren’t reliant on us.
People in business have formed the habit of sharing opinions and viewpoints and making assertions as their primary way of communicating. Only rarely do you hear someone share a story (unless they’ve attended one of our programs, of course). So we work with leaders and sellers to develop this as an oral communication skill. Sure, our work can help with written communication. But, although we pay little attention to them, it’s oral exchanges that account for the lion’s share of the communicating we do in organisations. Our expertise is in how people talk.
Face-to-face or online
We developed our first online training program in 2006 for the University of Canberra. Back then the tools were rudimentary, but the principles have stayed the same: keep participants engaged by using a variety of learning styles, media types, and most importantly get them talking and online chatting. Today we use Zoom to offer all our programs as virtual, interactive live training. We make use of breakout rooms, polls, annotations, chats, and plenary sessions, and the feedback is terrific.