Beware Of The Storytelling Trap
I recently attended the Association For Talent Development (ATD) convention in Denver. To say the least, it is a marvelous convention for business trainers, professional speakers, and workshop moderators.
I was especially impressed with the fact that there were 14 talks given on how to use storytelling as a presentation tool for management, sales, training and recruiting. However,from what I was able to discern, the primary purpose behind many of these talks was to promote storytelling’s ability to entertain an audience.
To suggest that entertainment is the main purpose behind storytelling in a business context is like saying that the most important reason we need to eat is for the taste sensation. Clearly, storytelling can be a way to entertain an audience But in business, this is not storytelling’s main purpose. Oral storytelling as a business skill is a way to add emotional context to facts, thus making those facts more memorable, and convincing.
If audiences become entertained as a result, that’s an added extra.
One of the most important things any business storyteller must know is that performance storytelling is potentially dangerous. It’s one thing for screenwriters, stand-up comedians and stage actors to use stories to entertain. But in a business setting, performance storytelling can lessen your credibility, negate your content and embarrass both you and your audience. Business audiences like funny, but they need meaningful.
Many people in business mistakenly reject the notion of storytelling simply because they believe they are not natural storytellers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Granted, you may not be the next Mark Twain, but if you were blessed with an ability to think and talk, I have some good news for you. You are a natural storyteller. If you have any doubts about this, consider the last time you ever talked to someone about something that happened to you.
There are specific story patterns that, once learned and practiced, can help you harness your natural storytelling talent into a something that will better influence, inspire and motivate others. But short of formalized training, just view any of the keynote presentations delivered by Steve Jobs. You won’t see him trying hard to get a laugh. But what you will see are some emulatable examples of how to use anecdotes, personal experiences, metaphors, everyday human events and natural dialogue to make his point.
Storytelling has been proven to be one of our most useful and effective forms of communication. Use it right and you will become more memorable, engaging and persuasive. Use it the wrong way and you’ll wish you hadn’t.