Storytelling in Business — Show, Don’t Tell
I brand myself not only as a writer, but as a storyteller. The challenge has been to make storytelling work in my career. When I think of a business environment, stories do not come to mind. I struggled with this even in a broadcast newsroom, where the emphasis was always on delivering all of the facts — How do you tell both a compelling story, and include all of the numbers and nitty-gritty details in a simple, direct way? What’s the line between too much story and too much data?
Now that I am writing for Career Girl Network, I want to share my knowledge and expertise in writing/storytelling in a way that you can actually use, no matter what job you’re in. But I’ve wondered — what place does storytelling have in a corporate world?
In my quest to figure this out, I fortunately had the chance to hear Craig Wortmann speak about his book, What’s Your Story?: Using Stories to Ignite Performance and Be More Successful. Though he looks at storytelling from a business perspective, I felt like Wortmann was speaking my language. He hit right away on a common problem: we all deal mainly with facts when we’re trying to persuade someone — whether we’re looking to bring on a new client, investor, or partner. Think about it: How often do you recite the numbers and refer to the data? But when it comes to telling an effective story, it’s not about just the facts — it’s about making an emotional connection, it’s about giving your audience something they can really picture in their mind and relate to.
What Wortmann was hitting on relates to a basic principle in I learned in writing courses: Show, Don’t Tell. Don’t just tell me the facts — show me them at work, in a story.
Here’s a few examples of how you can use stories in business to show, instead of tell:
- Example One: You’re looking to bring on a new client, and you want him or her to know you’re the right one to work with. You could run through your statistics of how many clients you’ve helped do the exact same thing they need or want, or you could think of one client you’ve had in the past who is similar. Tell the story of how you helped that client, and what the end result was. When a potential client can visualize how you’ve helped someone else, he is better able to picture how you might help him.
- Example Two: You have to critique a younger, newer employee on her recent performance. Recently, she’s seemed discouraged as she struggles to learn the ins and outs of the job. Instead of just asking her how she feels or telling her what she has done wrong, tell her an inspiring or comforting story. I had a boss do this for me once, and it made all the difference. On one of my first big news stories, I got lost driving to it, and as a result, I was scrambling to meet my deadline. When I was disappointed with myself, my boss called me in and told me the story of the time he once got lost on his way to a big breaking news story, how he was discouraged, and how he can now laugh about it. I felt much better after that story than I would have if he’d just said, “One day you’ll laugh about this” or “Make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Would you rather someone list off all of the facts, or tell you a good story? Think about which you would relate to more. And if you aren’t sure if you could do this effectively, try to think of some stories in advance. You won’t need to tell the same story in every business situation, so think of several that illustrate different scenarios. Keep them as part of your tool kit, and you’ll be surprised how it can change the way you relate to clients and coworkers.
Check out Wortmann’s book here, and learn how you can use stories in business.