Telling a Story


My manager came up to me earlier in the year and said:

“You’re missing something.”

“Am I”

Pause and raised eyebrow.

“I’ve got management courses, soft skills, financial acumen, international experience on personal development, what am I missing?”

“Storytelling.”

I am very lucky to have a manager that knows that being good at your job is only half way to moving into leadership positions. Having spent the past 8 years working to become a honed business machine I was at risk of becoming inhuman. A jargon filled expert who can leave a room feeling like they’ve been blind-sided by a world they didn’t know existed (particularly possible in tech spheres).

So I went on a storytelling course. What surprised me most was that I got it, completely. I was nigh on method acting in this workshop, people were laughing, applauding and getting involved. The simple fact is that we’ve all got it – we were told stories before we spoke, our life is our story, we go to the theatre, listen to music, watch TV all are stories. That is what we connect with as humans and stories are the key to our identity and importantly our beliefs – they are emotive.

When buying a house – for most of us it is the largest financial investment we’ll make in our lifetime – yet we’ll commit to this after a couple of 15 minute visits with the agent. Why do we buy?Because we can picture ourselves there, we’ve constructed a story. So, if as individuals we unquestionably part with hundreds of thousands of pounds in 30 minutes, so too can this work in business.

One of my main roles is digital proposition design, identifying opportunities and selling it to the business for financial investment. Yes the figures, rationale, break-even, propensity modelling is important but that isn’t what is going to get buy-in.

story telling
4 elements of a story

I love this cartoon (mainly because of the time-travelling snake archaeologist) and although it is the extreme end of the scale actually it is the heart of the business pitch. Take this scenario – you are losing market share to disruptors from a different industry who threaten your relationship with the customer and (at the core) the profit and loss sheet (unhappy shareholders aren’t a good thing). You’ve got a great idea to use digital services to meet these disruptors head to head and catapult the business into a new relationship with the customer. Standing at the pulpit threatening the business with impending doom and terrifying stats might work but what happens if you tell the story?

“We (the hero) have found a place in the hearts of customers, continually delivering great products and great services for over 20 years. These new corporations (the ruthless arch enemy)  are threatening to entice our customers away to a different way of engaging with our product. The world is changing but above all it is about creating a better experience with and building better relationships with out customer. Giving them the control and choice (here comes the break-through heroic quest) by focussing on accessible digital services when-ever and where-ever they want we are changing the landscape not being changed by another’s vision of the future.”

What’s more appealing a monotone of stats and doom and gloom or a story of hope, triumph for the greater good? Ok, there aren’t any time-travelling snake archaeologists, but in barely a minute you have told the story and all that you need to do is go back to being good at your job providing the rationale, the figures and the model.

Time to think about connecting with people first and talking shop second.

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