The participants in my recent webinar for the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) on July 2, 2019, “Delving into the Art of Storytelling in a Business Environment,” asked a lot of important questions. I will answer many of them in this series of blog posts.
Question: Where can you find stories if you don’t have something that illustrates the idea you want to communicate?
The good news is that stories are everywhere, within you and all around you: in your life experience, in the lives of others, in literature, film and even paintings. This means you can be picky, only using stories that interest and ring true for you.
Sometimes I know that I need a story for a particular purpose – for example, preparing for my recent IABC webinar, I needed to show that stories can be misused in a business setting – so I think through my memory for stories that might work. In this case, I remembered a corporate team I worked with a few years ago telling me that they tacked an extra 15 minutes onto every meeting with their boss because he always told the same, long story.
Other times, I start with a great story – in the webinar, I told a story about my Corteo colleague Valentyna Pahlevanyan that I often use in my trainings, and even included in my first book, The Secret Life of Clowns – and then find ways to shape that story to fit each different situation.
You are the auteur of your story – you can zoom in, zoom out, choose a point of view, tell one part in detail, etc. to shape the narrative to your needs. But always make sure your story means what you want it to mean – tell it at least three people before bringing it to work. Ask them, “If there was a moral to that story, what might it be?” and “When were you most engaged? Less engaged?”
A participant made this comment: “I’ve talked to people who don’t feel like their experience is interesting enough or has any significance that others would want to hear.” I often hear some version of this in my workshops and webinars. My response is two-fold:
- First, your stories may be more meaningful to others than you may realize; sometimes even the simplest stories ring true and create greater understanding of self and others.
- Secondly, it is the sheer act of storytelling that brings you closer to others and invites connection with people, not necessarily the “wow factor” of a certain story, or for that matter, the talents of the storyteller. Sometimes a dazzling story in a conversation or meeting can intimidate other people rather than invite them to share stories of their own.
The power of stories lies in their relevance to the situation at hand and the human connection that comes with the generous act of telling and exchanging stories.
Pro Tip: I try telling stories where the hero is someone other than me. This keeps my head from swelling and allows me to introduce people I love and have learned from to my listeners. If done right, telling a story where you changed, where you learned something, can be more powerful and vulnerable than a story where you taught something.
What’s your take?