April 2, 2013



This is a continuation into the exploration of business stories. Check out “Why we need better business storytelling,” and “How to build better business stories” for additional insights. 

Stories are important. Throughout history, stories serve as the primary means to share information. Good stories put information in context. Powerful stories move people to action.

The reality is that while familiar with the term, most lack even a basic definition of a story. Unable to define a story leads to the inability to tell a story. Worse, it means most individual stories remain hidden.

Stories left untold are a tragedy.

Examples are not stories

When working with clients to craft better business stories, the first hurdle is helping individuals realize the difference between stories and examples. Most organizations relay examples — size of company, title of person, business challenge, results of solution — in a perfunctory way.

These are not stories. A basic story has characters, conflict, and resolution (learn three steps to build better stories). A business story leads a journey and shares the right mix of emotion to connect and move people.

The flood of examples leads to a predictable call for more stories. This results in more examples labeled as stories (learn more in Why we need better business storytelling).

Why the call for more stories leads to more examples

The steady call for more stories in business is based on faulty presumptions:

  • People know what constitutes a story
  • Knowing what a story is leads to the proper development
  • Proper development of stories leads to powerful storytelling

Optimistic, but not the experience of most people. As a result, people struggle to figure out the elements. Without much insight or training, the resulting examples are passable and embraced as stories. The cycle continues.

The challenge lies in freeing the stories inside each person.

Why stories need to be liberated

I am driven by a simple belief: each individual has a story. Their story is worth telling. Every person’s story deserves to be heard.

Onsite client engagements often provide the opportunity to dine with my hosts. A glass of wine, a relaxed atmosphere and time to get to know one another usually primes the storytelling process. A few simple questions about career paths or life outside work usually gets the ball rolling.

Except the answers are not usually stories. Initially, they tend to be a series of story fragments. Concept without conflict. Challenges downplayed. Resolution left out for fear of bragging. Rather than a compelling story that draws us in, people resort to listing off accomplishments like reading off their resume. Most people politely listen as they mentally prepare their list of accomplishments to share.

This is the moment when the story is crying out to be liberated!

The fragments are clues. When absorbed and processed, they lead to a natural line of questions that allows us to coax the story out of someone. It’s a delicate balance to ask the question in a way that frees the story. Otherwise, it comes across as grilling or judging someone, and that has the impact of shutting them down, driving the story deeper.

The process is a natural discovery that enriches everyone. Better yet, as the story emerges, the pace of the conversation often quickens as participation grows. People relate to the story, and want to share their insights and experiences. The power of stories to unite people on display!

Individual stories are the core of powerful business stories

Organizations are comprised of individuals. In my practice (and nearly two decades of experience), I’ve learned that to advance the organization it is important to address the needs of the individual. Working with people to liberate the stories inside them is a powerful way to give them a voice, to contribute to the fabric of the business.

Powerful business stories are, or start with, strong individual stories. Perhaps they detail how a product was discovered, a solution developed, or how a person (or team) overcame a struggle. Sharing the story validates the person and provides a time-tested way to connect with others.

People want to be heard. We have an innate need for our stories to be told. The challenge to overcome is that simply asking for the story doesn’t normally work. We need to adopt a different approach to liberate the stories of individuals, to build better business stories.

Next, learn Three steps to liberate and share stories

About the Author Michael Santarcangelo

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.

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