Business Stories: Out Of Place Or On Target?

by drjim on June 16, 2009

Stories Can Be A Powerful Part Of Any Business Presentation

Stories Can Be A Powerful Part Of Any Business Presentation

One question that I keep getting asked over and over by speakers that I am working with is if storytelling is such a powerful communication tool, then why isn’t it used more in business settings? It’s a good question, but the answer is a little bit complicated.

Where Did All The Stories Go?

I can’t tell you how many business presentations I’ve sat though that at the end I couldn’t have told you what was talked about if my life depended on it. It’s not that the speaker was necessarily bad, it’s just that nothing that they said caught my imagination and so nothing stuck.

This is where stories come in – people remember stories long after you get done talking. We remember them because it’s a fundamental way that humans have exchanged information for as long as we’ve been around.

For some reason, people have decided that stories don’t have a place in the environment of business – perhaps they don’t think that they are “grown up” enough and that facts and figures should only be used. This is completely wrong.

What Is The Value Of A Business Story?

Dr. Caren Neile has been looking into the use of stories in the workplace and she reports that Makingstories.net president Terrence Gargiulo has identified 9 key values to using a story in a business presentation:

  1. They empower the speaker.
  2. They can be used to create a particular environment.
  3. They can be used to bond individuals together.
  4. They can help your audience to engage in active listening.
  5. They can be used to resolve differences between both individuals and groups.
  6. They can encode information.
  7. They can act as tools to help with brainstorming.
  8. They can be used as weapons.
  9. They can be used to start or enhance a healing process.

The professional storytellers define the act of storytelling as being “… a face-to-face oral narrative that employs non-verbal communication and imagination“. One side effect of this definition is that when stories are told in a live business setting, they are much more powerful than when they are just written down.

What Kind Of Stories Work In Business Presentations?

Dr. Neile reports that Annette Simmons, who is the president of the company Group Process Consulting, believes that there are six types of stories that can be used in a business environment:

  1. Who I Am: this type of story is used to gain an audience’s trust by having the speaker explain where they are coming from.
  2. Why I Am Here: this story type is a way to communicate your agenda to your audience.
  3. The Vision: this story paints a vision of the future that the audience can see and can then decide that they want to be a part of it.
  4. Values-In-Action: this story shares the good things that can happen when the audience has shared values and the bad things that can happen when those values are violated.
  5. I Know What You Are Thinking: this story shows how connected the speaker is to the audience and that he/she has their best interests in mind.

How Can We Use Stories During Business Presentations?

Stories that your audience can relate to are the best kind of stories to use. This means that you need to spend the time to uncover the true stories that already exist within the organization: the successes, the failures, and people behaving both badly and wonderfully.

The power of business stories is that they provide one of the most effective ways to achieve agreement about how to resolve issues and meet goals. It’s  no longer a question of IF they should be used, but rather a question of HOW MUCH they should be used.

Questions For You

Have you ever used a story in a business presentation in order to make a point? How was it received? Did you feel awkward using a story? Does your senior management use stories when they are discussing the company’s vision and goals? Does this make you buy in to what the company is trying to accomplish? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I just got back from spending the better part of a week up in Chicago at a big health care conference (HIMSS09). This was an amazing opportunity for me to sit back and watch somewhere in the neighborhood of about 100 different presenters get up and do their very best job at communicating. One of these presenters was Dennis Quaid – the actor…

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Terri Rains July 3, 2009 at 2:49 am

You’re so right… Stories are the stickiest thing in a presenter’s repertoire.

There’s something about the narrative form that just resonates on such a deep level.

It’s too bad that so many people focus purely on expositive presentation and that they don’t make a point to effectively integrate their stories.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson July 9, 2009 at 9:26 pm

Terri: Ouch, you are correct – getting the story to work into the fabric of your overall speech is a skill that really shows that you know your stuff. I’m still a student when it comes to doing that correctly!

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