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Use the Power of Storytelling for Business Information Sharing
By Chris King

If you are visiting this website, I am sure that you are already convinced of the power a good story holds, but how do we convince the business world that a good story holds more power and is more memorable than hearing and/or reading a descriptive paragraph that relates to an accomplishment, a procedure, a product, etc.?

This became so evident recently when I was part of a committee judging nominations for the Regional Company and/or Organization with the Best IT (Information Technology) Training Program. There were several criteria that we were to grade. The nominees had been asked to write a 250 word paragraph for each of the seven criteria (because all of them were wordier than 250, we gave them a break in this respect). Most of the criteria were straightforward and asked for descriptions.I could hardly wait, however, until we reached the final one: "Do you have any great Success stories?"

You can imagine my disappointment to find that only one of the nine nominees told us a story. The others blabbed on about profits and accomplishments, etc. The one with a true and moving story - about a young man who was helped by the training to get a job and a scholarship that turned his life around - won our vote. The sad part is that I know that every one of the companies or organizations have plenty of success stories. They just don't know how to tell them. As storytellers, how can we help them?

Don't call it "storytelling." Even though publications all over the nation - and even the world - are writing about the companies, organizations and trainers who are making use of the power of storytelling, very few of the upper echelon will react well to our telling them that they need "storytelling." So many people have the wrong perception of what storytelling entails. They think it is a quaint event that is performed for children (usually in libraries and often is only the reading of books to the very young). We can tell them that the World Bank now uses storytelling for information sharing, and that a company called EduTech produces a publication called ASK for NASA that consists of employee stories. Todd Post, editor, writes, "The success we've had with it (ASK) has allowed us to examine our own problems holding onto knowledge. Right there in front of our noses was a successful model to emulate. Since we knew how to do storytelling for others, why not give it a shot at home?" They then created What You Know, which is EduTech's own storytelling magazine. Read more about them and their storytelling by clicking HERE.

Even so, storytelling can be a hard sell. I once had a boss who when I told him that East Tennessee State University offers a graduate degree in storytelling, he laughed and asked if the thesis consisted of telling "The Three Little Pigs" correctly. At least, I dropped him as a boss, but that didn't promote the storytelling needed by that organization. So, how can we convince companies and organizations to make use of the gold produced by a great story?

We have to use all of our imagination and love of storytelling to work it into meetings, marketing and every day encounters. I am not suggesting that we act underhanded - just a little bit sneaky. We all know that the stories are there. I suggest taking a small notebook to work or to a company you know well (you may do some freelance work for them or know others who do) and start writing down the casual stories you hear at the water fountain, on the way to an appointment, at lunchtime and in the elevator. Start asking those who have worked a long time at the company/organization about the history - how it was when they were hired and why they have stayed there. When awards are presented, interview those who receive them - get the full story.

Start a small booklet of good company/organization stories. Name the heroes and heroines. Ask others you trust to write up some stories for it. The stories should not be long, but all should include the beginning status quo, a character and/or characters, the crisis or challenge (doesn't have to be huge or life shattering), the climax and resolution, and how the original status quo was changed. Details are important, but should not be overwhelming. With all of the easy-to-use desktop programs available today, you can put together a small booklet filled with these stories and give a copy to many of your peers. You will be surprised how, once the word is out, how many other people will ask for a copy. It may be even time to start a small magazine or company newsletter that consists of stories.

Before a meeting starts (if you have any way of setting agenda items), ask if everyone would share a quick incident that they have recently encountered, what happened and if it changed their thinking and/or approach. Or ask what was the funniest happening last week. I know it may take some time to get this off the ground - and, I don't suggest forcing everyone to take part in the beginning. You will be amazed that if you can continue this quick story sharing introduction, those who haven't contributed before will start having a story to tell and everyone will look forward to this. I know a company that started adding a half an hour to the end of their weekly sales meetings for a story sharing session. This soon became the most popular part of the meeting and, as we storytellers know, the most valuable part of the meeting.

Once the storytelling starts to take hold - and it will if you are persistent and keep it going - the next step would be to call a group of the most enthusiastic story lovers and tellers together to work on the "Grand Narrative" of your company and/or organization. This will define what your group is all about. What describes the mission and goals in a clear and understandable way? For example, before the World Bank became known as an information sharing entity, it was known as a lending organization (which was facing great challenges in that capacity). It is OK to redefine your "Grand Narrative" even if you are a large, small, or even a one-person company.

Now is the time to take your storytelling plan to upper management. Convincing reasons that you can propose for capturing and using stories are to accomplish any of the following:

  • Share knowledge for succession planning.
  • Promote team development to enhance productivity.
  • Exemplify values to build community.
  • Capture lessons learned to develop best practices.
  • Prompt action to change the company or organization.
  • Record the past to preserve corporate heritage.

Armed with these purposes and the stories that have already been shared and recorded, you will be able to convince the group that storytelling should be a daily occurrence. What great success stories does your business have? I would love to hear from you. Send me your FEEDBACK!


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