It’s hard to dance without music. And it’s hard to listen without story. That’s why when a presentation is full of (only) numbers, data, and facts, many managers become fatigued. They sit through many presentations and meetings, and so few of these presentations contain materials that are vivid, capture their imagination, or are memorable. Without story, parts of our brains take a nap.
We evolved to perk up our ears to story. Kids crowd around the campfire while listening to Grandpa tell his life stories; they fixate on every word he says, every change in tone, every movement of his hands. They gasp when Grandpa roars, and they lean in closer as he whispers to the children about how he had to stalk an elusive deer quietly. That’s because stories were the most vital tool to pass on knowledge for the longest time in human evolution: what berries to avoid, how to hunt dangerous woolly mammoths, or how to climb tall trees when bears give chase.
But in the office, there are no stories to tell.
What story exists when it is just business as usual (or better known as BAU)? Oh, but there is; stories abound if we only knew where to look.
The participants at People Potential’s two-day The Business Storyteller training in May also started with zero stories. But soon, they had two, later eleven, and by the end of the two days, twenty-seven stories!
They were managers, and “business as usual” meant that they spewed out facts and numbers when speaking at a meeting. To the managers, an excellent presentation equalled a presentation filled with data and evidence. That is until they experienced The Business Storyteller. During the two-day programme, there was excitement, anticipation, and gleefulness at discovering stories in the everyday moments of their lives – stories that could become business stories and be inserted into everyday conversations, meetings, discussions, and presentations. In 24 hours and through the power of storytelling, their worldview turned from monochrome to technicolour (in the parlance of this boomer generation trainer)!
But sometimes, it wasn’t easy for us to coax stories out of our participants. Even Badrul, a safety officer who was in charge of ensuring the safety of his colleagues, a role that should be rife with stories of danger, mystery, drama, and even near death, couldn’t recall any memorable stories to tell. So we did something different.
It was just after the Hari Raya celebrations, so we asked our participants to regale their colleagues with their Hari Raya stories. But what we got was,
“It’s just a normal Hari Raya.”
“My Hari Raya was like every other year.”
That’s when we asked participants to move, get up off their chairs, and write the 1,2,3’s of what happened during Hari Raya in chronological order onto sheets of paper. They then went on to place the sheets of paper down on the floor. Standing up and looking over their Hari Raya itinerary, they saw their Hari Raya from a different angle, from above. In the observer position, suddenly, a story sprang to light.
Rosie ran out of santan just before Hari Raya. And without the creamy aromatic coconut milk, nasi lemak isn’t very lemak, and beef rendang isn’t the same. Instead of disappointing her family, Rosie drove all around her neighbourhood to look for the elusive santan, finally resorting to getting relatives from other states to buy some for her. As Rosie told her story, she used her arms to great effect, and her voice contained highs and lows, pauses and speed-ups. The class erupted into laughter as Rosie unravelled her story. They supported Rosie in a way seen in ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. And this was coming from participants who just moments earlier were saying, “My Hari Raya was like every other year.”
At this point, the class started changing. The floodgates opened, and personal stories began flying from all directions. This became the stepping stone for participants to craft business stories that are relevant to their work environment.
With the participant’s storytelling muscles warmed up. It was time to surface their business stories. With our ‘searching for stories’ tool, our participants started to find stories buried deep within their memories. Then, using our story structuring tool, they shaped their stories into structures that could be told in a business setting. And finally, to make their business stories even more memorable, participants learn to use the ‘adding impact’ tool to create original metaphors.
Our virtual storytelling tool helps participants to find business stories and helps to structure these stories for use in business settings. The face-to-face tool is similar.
The Business Storyteller programme is a success when ??participants can create a pool of well-structured and engaging business stories that they can use to send a compelling message, share a thought, or onboard others with an idea. Earlier, I briefly mentioned Badrul, the safety officer who didn’t have any business stories to tell. Imagine how effective Badrul could be in getting his colleagues to take safety seriously – if he could tell compelling stories of disasters, accidents, and near misses to his colleagues. The next time they think of not wearing their safety helmets or construction boots or leaving their safety harnesses behind, they will remember the stories that Badrul seared into their memories.
But the programme has surprisingly done more than that; at the end of the training, participants gathered around a closing circle to share what they’ve learned. Time and time again, they emphasised how important it is to be mindful and consciously notice and recognise what’s happening in their life. And even though this was not an outcome that our instructional designers and trainers had designed into The Business Storyteller, we’re glad because consciously being mindful of life’s moments and engaging in life’s experiences is often associated with a positive shift in mindset. As for managers, by inspiring their team through storytelling, they drive their organisation’s success.
As well as their own.
Hi, I’m Regina Morris, a delivery skills senior specialist at People Potential and a master practitioner of NLP.
“Antoine de Saint-Exupery, in his book The Little Prince, wrote: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
I try very hard to see with my heart. But it used to be a bad thing. The heart was seen as purely emotional and did not belong in the boardroom. Yet it’s with the heart that we decide on integrity and deliver with passion. It’s a quality that I bring to all my training. By seeing with my heart, I’m patient with my participants, and I make learning fun. And my heart believes, without a doubt, that all my participants have it in themselves to grow and improve.
Talk to us about how we can help your people inspire and drive action with their conversations, meetings, and presentations through the power of storytelling. Ask Mints about The Business Storyteller when you email her at [email protected]