Storytelling: Beyond the buzzword pt2
Fiona Quigley concludes her piece on why telling stories is such an effective part of corporate learning strategy.
Why do people engage with a story?
Storytelling is essentially about making meaning. As we listen to or read others’ stories, we integrate our own experience by trying to connect the stories to something we already know. Stories are a ready-made turbo-boost for learning. They tend to fast-track us into learning-through-experience by making us the safe observer rather than the daring driver.
Stories convey much more than facts. In this information age of ‘high-fact’ diets, they are often an antidote, a respite. They help us make sense of, synthesise, the information that bombards us. Through the telling of human stories, we get better connected as humans, understanding that emotions and the unconscious mind are every bit as important as rational thoughts and our conscious selves.
For me, hearing a colleague or a friend tell a story about overcoming a challenge or achieving something means more than listening to hours of sanitised facts and PowerPoint presentations. I do want to hear the facts, though – I’d just prefer it in a story-based sandwich, inedible bits and all!
I think we have an important choice to make about the type of stories we tell and are willing to listen to. Do we really want to use sanitised storytelling to hoodwink our staff into creating a future corporate narrative that they are never going to engage with? Or do we want people to listen to real, unfiltered stories, and then be able to make up their own minds about what those stories mean in relation to their own experiences?
If we consider storytelling as a neutral tool – just as we would, say, a paintbrush or a mobile phone – then it is what we do with storytelling that makes it potentially a good or bad influence.
Gathering real stories in business
So where does that leave us? How do we, in a practical sense, use storytelling in business?
Maybe we need to ease up on the overuse of contrived stories to deliver a particular message, and instead focus on capturing real stories that actually happened, in all their emotional complexity. If someone knows that they are listening to a real story that has had a real impact on someone’s life, it has more chance of unlocking a deep connection and becoming a catalyst for change. If I know that a story is contrived – I’ll just filter it like any information that doesn’t resonate with me.
A story isn’t a story until it is told. It is only funny when people laugh. It is only sad when people cry. It only has impact when people wonder in amazement. So, by telling a story, you are doing something not only for yourself but for the listener too – authentically, honestly, openly and transparently.
To implement storytelling in your organisation, consider these tips:
- Keep it Informal and light-hearted
- Offer anonymity
- Lead by example – owners and senior management tell their stories first
- Provide a simple tool
- Don’t set too many rules (length, content, etc.)
- Don’t criticise
- Have a theme of the month, but make it fun (e.g. how you learned your hardest lesson, the funniest mistake you learned from in your career)
- Debrief the stories at team meetings – what do they mean to you?
The big advantage of living in the technology-savvy 21st century is that it’s much easier to capture stories than ever before. We can blog, podcast, interview, record, and publish most types of stories faster than it can take to post a letter. We can also easily set up searchable archives and start to use innovative technologies such as natural language processing, data mining and data analytics to really capitalise on the stories we have all yet to tell.
So go on, what’s stopping you? The truth is out there...
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