Hitting The Sweet-spot With Business Storytelling

Telling stories is great, in the right place and at the right time. But I’m seeing a worrying trend of people being encouraged to divulge personal information through stories, that makes them and people around them feel uncomfortable in business.

Written By : on June 5, 2016

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Telling stories is great, in the right place and at the right time. But I’m seeing a worrying trend of people being encouraged to divulge personal information through stories, that makes them and people around them feel uncomfortable in business.

I was nineteen when a grown-up friend shared a piece of her wisdom with me.  “If anyone asks how you are, simply say; ‘I’m fine, thanks’.   The “I’m fine” response often comes from a fear of vulnerability.  But never showing our vulnerability disconnects us from others and often from ourselves.

Storytelling gets us beyond hackneyed phrases such as ‘I’m fine’.

Stories have a right place and at the right time element.  Showing vulnerability doesn’t mean divulging information that makes you squirm and chances are that if you do, your audience will feel awkward too.

Brene Brown talks about sharing your vulnerability with people who have earned the right to hear your stories.

I agree with her.  Talking to someone you trust about your vulnerable feelings can be cathartic.  Showing your unhealed wounds to the world isn’t good for your soul.   These kinds of stories are not audience-ready.

Story listeners and viewers can quickly become emotionally fatigued.

Social media has created a forum for personal stories to be shared more readily.  However, a constant stream of difficult stories burdens on the listener.

Charities were the first to use stories to tug at our heart strings.  The tactic worked for a while but its impact has lessened because listeners reject the emotional burden.

In healthcare, it’s been shown that contrary to expectations – emotional messages, laid on thick, don’t change behaviour – they turn people off.  A lighter touch with an uplifting vision works better.

A lighter touch with an uplifting vision works better.

Professional people historically avoided revealing anything about themselves that didn’t communicate perfection.

A classic example is the stock answer to the interview question about weaknesses. The savvy candidate identifies a trait they know will impress their prospective employer and they frame it as a weakness. The candidate humbly confesses to being too conscientious, having a tendency to burn the candle at both ends or to drive too hard for results.

The interviewer nods while labelling the music to their ears as ‘a great work ethic’ – thinking  – “you’ll work your butt off – you’re hired.”  Everyone is playing the game.

Smoke and mirrors in interviews is merely the tip of the iceberg.

The aftermath of the last recession revealed shoddy corporate behaviour and customers were rightly furious. The unsustainable craziness of the ‘more for less’ culture of the naughties is well recognised – although it still has its worshippers.

There’s a growing desire for greater connection. 

Many businesses are seeking to evolve from a robotic and disconnected culture underpinned by ‘I’m fine’ and other meaningless jargon, to one with more empathy and connection.

Realness is essential to tackling business challenges in a collaborative way.

Storytelling can bring more authenticity into business.

Deep pockets of “I’m fine” and its smokey pals still exist in the business world, but things are changing.

There is a sweet-spot with storytelling.

You’ll find 30 personal narratives in The Tao of Storytelling.  Those 30 are a fraction of the thousands of stories from my life.  Each story had a message for the reader and earned its keep in the book.

You too have thousands of stories you could comfortably share. But how can you identify an audience-ready story?

Here are six ‘Right Story, Right Time’ questions for personal stories;

  1. Does the story serve a purpose?
  2. Are people likely to see themselves in the story?
  3. Does the story have a message or a lesson that might be useful to others?
  4. Do you feel comfortable sharing the story?
  5. Does the story respect the privacy of other people in your life?
  6. Is the story hopeful and uplifting?

You can tell a variety of stories in business. Company founder or brand stories or case study stories or even ancient myths all work well.  You could even use a narrative from a movie that inspired you or book you’ve read.

However, personal stories told well, and in the right place have the greatest impact.

You don’t have to share your deepest secrets and those kinds of stories are rarely audience-appropriate or message aligned.

Simple stories like the one I tell here in 8 Ways To Make Your Message Matter can hit the sweet-spot. You can see the challenge, the struggle, the frustration, the turning point, the insight and the life-long message in just a couple of paragraphs.

There’s some personal revelation but nothing uncomfortable.  The story could be told in two or three minutes – people’s attention has to be earned.

So look for stories that answer the six sweet-spot questions and tell them to enable you to connect better, show your humanness and deliver your message in a more impactful and memorable way.

What to learn more?

You can download The 12 Secrets To Influencing With Story (FREE report) from the home page.



Claire Taylor is co-founder of The Story Mill – a business that creates innovative programmes to support organisations to make their brands more human and foster a culture of authenticity and innovation. We run engaging storytelling workshops including: Storytelling in Leadership, Influencing, Branding, Strategy, Culture and Innovation.Claire is a Corporate Storyteller, Coach, Consultant, Trainer and Author of The Tao of Storytelling.

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