Share a personal story for maximum effect in business communication
The two of us were having lunch on a sunny Friday afternoon. A fellow program facilitator, whom I’ll call Jonathan, asked for my thoughts on how he should close out the week at 5 p.m.
We were finishing week number two, and some participants were “hitting the wall” in this very challenging marathon of a four week training course. Demanding tests, a month apart from friends and family, and long days were all taking a toll.
“Here’s the sports video I’m thinking of using,” he shared. “It has a great motivational message.”
Indeed, it did have a generally positive message, but it seemed somewhat disconnected from the situation at hand.
“Jonathan, what about that story you told me a few weeks ago?” I asked him. “That was a story from the heart, and I think it would be much more meaningful for everyone to hear that story directly from you.”
At five p.m. that Friday afternoon, Jonathan went ahead and shared the story of a challenge he had faced as a child.
Jonathan’s energy was up. He spoke deliberately, with conviction. He paused to collect his words, further increasing our anticipation. His voice cracked at moments and his emotion was obvious to everyone in the room.
As he finished the story on a high point, telling how he had eventually overcome a personal hurdle, the participants broke into applause. The mood as they left the room for their weekend of relaxation (and some more studying) was noticeably more positive than it had been just few minutes before.
I left the conference room just as buoyed as everyone else—happy that it had gone so well for Jonathan—and reminded of the need to do a better job of regularly incorporating personal stories into my own business communication.
The sports video that Jonathan wanted to show would probably have not had as much effect as the personal story. Certainly, “borrowed stories” that we find from other people should be part of any well-rounded storybank, but they usually can’t trump a relevant personal story.
Are easy to tell, because no memorization is required.
Emotionally attract us because of the speaker’s own energy level.
Convey a sense of authenticity that borrowed stories cannot.
Help us to feel closer to the speaker, who may reveal private thoughts or feelings.
Can make the speaker stronger through the vulnerability paradox.
Is there an experience that you’ve had that might work well as a story in a professional setting? Give it a try!