You may not have heard it till now- and to some of you it may seem bizarre and not your cup of tea-but listen well and take to heart: business storytelling is rapidly becoming a core competence for leaders and managers. Business what?
Yes, the word was “storytelling” and it has little to do with Goldilocks, the Three Little Pigs or Alladin’s Lamp. It has everything to do with the communications world in which we live, the glut of information that we have coming at us no end: tweets of up to 140 characters, 30 second TV commercials, Powerpoint and Excel graphs and charts, data, count the sound bytes, we find ourselves all salivating for….meaning. How to make sense of what is going on.
Stories have the power to win customers, motivate employees and gain the support of partners and management. World-renown Tom Peters claims that “the story is more important than the brand“, Professor Howard Gardner, Harvard University, internationally acclaimed expert on leadership: ” One’s story is the single most effective tool that any leader at any level has…”.Harvard Business Review, Forbes and others have written in praise of the new phenomenon.
What is business storytelling?
Business storytelling is the use of a wide range of narrative methods and techniques in which the goal is to get across a message that will inspire, influence or promote a goal or action in the organization or business. Simply put, it is about telling a story in order to get things to move! Business storytelling is about giving business leaders and managers a toolbox that is often overlooked in a world that worships analytical reasoning, data and argumentation and forgets the “other side of the brain”- the one where story is found and generated- the one that seeks and consumes creativity, imagination, emotion and connection. In this hyper-connected world which is drowning in information overload, organizations and managers need to effectively utilize “both sides of the brain” to be successful–what about you?
Why business storytelling?
The reason why storytelling is a good strategy in business? There are four main ones:
Story is how our brain works best. Research has validated time and again that the way we are wired to think is much more akin to hearing a story rather than understanding and analyzing data. We see and internalize things through pictures, when we hear a story the “picture-making” mechanism goes on and that is how we hear and absorb best. Stories illustrate points better than simply stating the points themselves because, when a story is told well enough, you usually don’t have to state your point at all; the hearer thinks about what you have said and figures out the point independently. Apparently thousands of years sitting around the campfire and washing clothes in the river together with our has refined our “story-listening” capabilities.
Stories move us emotionally. That’s important stuff since so many of our communication goals in business involve persuading, negotiating, selling and motivating. When communicated well, the story connects the listener to the point in a powerful way (your point…) and this emotional bonding goes farther and deeper than stating our points and arguments while trying to assume that the hearer is in tune with us. Peter Guber, the ex-CEO of Sony Pictures in the US, and author of “Tell to Win”, has coined a term that resonates well- the story in the business setting is basically “emotional transportation”.
We may forget data and slides, but we rarely forget a story. Stories Stick! When you want someone to remember something try and get it into a narrative form of sorts, if at all possible. In a 1994 study by Dr. Art Graesser of the University of Memphis, people were asked to listen to information presented in story form or in explanatory style. 35 minutes later, their memory was tested. When results were compared, the researchers found that people remembered about 50 percent more from the stories than from the explanatory passages. Other studies conducted in the UK have shown that stories are remembered as much as 22 times easier than information presented in bullet-driven slide presentations. It also makes sense to keep in mind that in 65% of the cases in which people pass on gossip from one to another, a narrative is being used.
Stories use a “pull” approach, not “push”. When we tell a story we are inviting our listeners to identify, it is and indirect approach, which usually piques the interest of the listen- not a “push” on to the potential customer or client. People today are oversaturated with things, products and services being “pushed on them”, the story allows them to pause and think about what has been said, allowing for a deeper understanding and more sophisticated level of communication.