Stories and Storytelling are Good for Business

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). 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. What is the solution?

First, 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 in schools or the local libraries.

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.” They then created What You Know, which is EduTech’s own storytelling magazine.

We have to use all of our imagination to work storytelling into meetings, marketing and every day encounters. 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.

What great success stories does your business have? Start making use of their power and you will be amazed by how quickly the word travels.