Start with a Story
30th September 2013
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Hi, I’m Tracy.

I’m new here. And I usually introduce myself by telling a story of where I got something wrong.

For The Best of, I want to let you in on why.

It’s not just any story of failures, of course. We’ve all got plenty of those we could choose from, and those around us could learn a lot from our mistakes.

But this is a carefully crafted tale I’ve often shared, about a gesture of gratitude that goes wrong. As the story unfolds, my hobbies, virtues, and professional experience get a casual mention. And by the time it gets to the big moment where I open my cake tin to reveal the dark rich chocolate cakes I’d baked – only to find my colleague believed I’d put illegal substances in them to influence him professionally – well my character is secure in the story, and my  audience and I are all sharing a laugh. Even better, it turns out they’re pretty well informed about who I am, as well.

It’s true there’s a risk in telling a story admitting a weakness, especially given how important first impressions are. But the gains in telling a well-chosen story are far beyond anything traditional methods of communicating in business will gain you.

Because people listen when you tell a story. Somehow hearing a narrative makes well-practised critical voices go quiet, and instead listeners imagine themselves in the tale. Following the journey vicariously makes them feel they’ve shared an important experience with the speaker. And because we all think ahead, in the best stories, listeners often even arrive at the conclusion on their own – and you’ll never get better buy in and rapport than when they think it’s their idea.

As powerful as it is, storytelling at work is still a mystery to a lot of people. So after a chat with Sara we agreed it might be a good idea to unravel it. I’ll be writing a series exploring how storytelling can transform your marketing, corporate culture, and even personal reputation.

To start, here are three things stories do where traditional communications fail:

  1. 1.   Inform. Few remember listsof facts, and data is equally forgettable. When a speaker explains decisions and strategies in terms of how they personally wrestled with the problem, however, the point sticks with listeners far beyond the presentation.
  2. Persuade. Stories speak to whole brain: the left brain approves of their logical structure, and the right side just resonates with all your good intentions. By following your story, listeners grow to trust you and your idea.
  3. Inspire. Stories show examples of how things could be different. When storytellers are open about their own hardships and challenges, listeners silently consider their own journey. By hearing how you overcame the odds, audiences can imagine that they could achieve the same great outcome, with the confidence of their new inspiring role model.

If you’re still not sure, pay attention the next time you’re bored in a meeting to how the talk is going – and watch your own reactions as well next time you hear a fascinating presentation. Chances are the people around you are already switching onto the power of stories. Try it and see if it makes your conversations feel different. What’s your experience with telling stories at work?


About the Author

Tracy Kenny

Member since: 23rd September 2013

I’m Director and Shop Manager of Kett's Books, a social enterprise bookshop in Wymondham, and I write the White Dot Business Writing Blog. Life in the bookshop keeps the business writing advice real.


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