Love Stories, Hate “Storytelling”

The strategic use of stories is growing rapidly in today’s business world as entrepreneurs and organizations recognize the power of story to engage others.  Story has always been a key part of business communication, but the recent spread of “business storytelling” has also perpetuated some myths. I’d love to drop the term “storytelling” in favor of something like “storysharing” or “storylearning.”  Here are seven reasons why:

Myth #1:              Stories are only for children.

Yes, as a child, you sat around the campfire or in circle time because your teachers knew the power of stories to embed cultural values, simplify the complex, and make learning memorable.  Adults can gain those benefits, too.  That’s why leading organizations are using stories for learning, culture development, and to grow faster.

Myth #2:              It’s inauthentic.  “Don’t tell me a story, tell me the truth!”

Storytelling may have the tinge of embellishment or even falsehood, but that really depends on the individual teller.  Authentic, genuine stories remain one of the best ways to share who you are and what you stand for.  Stories can show leadership and vision. Let’s not give this up just because of a few bad apples!

Myth #3:              Stories are a performance or entertainment device.

Gifted storytellers like Bill Cosby, Garrison Keillor, Chelsea Handler or that guy in overalls at the country fair enthrall us. We can learn a lot from their story style, but the mountaintop is just one place for stories.  Most of us share our stories best in smaller campfire or watering hole settings. In this context, stories are more about sharing our true selves than entertaining a large group. This isn’t drama class. You don’t need an acting coach.  Just share stories about topics that you’re knowledgeable and enthusiastic about, and ask good questions.  People will respond.

Myth #4:              It’s all about the “telling”

[StoryTelling + StoryListening = StoryLearning]

Branding yourself and your company is vital to stand out from the crowd in a memorable way.  Every person and organization should have clear About Us and Client Success stories to share. That being said, awareness is not enough; engagement is the new barometer.  The point of telling a story is to prompt a story in response, and to listen.  This is how customer conversations begin.

Myth #5:              Stories are detours; a waste of time in the business world.

Stories are one of the quickest ways to illustrate a point. Our brains aren’t wired to recall facts, figures and slides very easily, but studies show that stories are highly efficient.  If you’re pressed for time, all the more reason to use a story.  The best salespeople and marketers recognize the need to move beyond feature/benefit statements to stories that engage and inspire action.  That’s how business grows.

Myth #6:              I don’t have any stories that anybody would want to hear!

Everyone and every organization has great stories to share, they just don’t know how to find and develop compelling story content.  Tip: Don’t look for stories, look for conflicts.  At the heart of every conflict is a potential story. StoryMining is a process for systematically discovering great story ideas, it just takes a little time.

Myth #7:              Story skills can’t be learned.

You may not be a naturally gifted orator like Steve Jobs or Ronald Reagan, but story skills can be taught.  Understanding the balanced structure of emotion and logic to talk about topics you care about will make all the difference in the world.  Don’t limit yourself to face to face stories. Verbal stories are the most powerful, but you can fill in the gaps with print, video, and other formats, which are consistent and can be scaled up.

What other myths about business storytelling have you encountered?

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  1. [...] The strategic use of stories is growing rapidly in today’s business world as entrepreneurs and organizations recognize the power of story to engage others. Story has always been a key part of business communication, but the recent spread of “business storytelling” has also perpetuated some myths. I’d love to drop the term “storytelling” in favor of something like “storysharing” or “storylearning.” Here are seven reasons why:  [...]

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