‘Business Storytelling’ The most important thing to remember


A facilitator launched into a workshop with this story:

“Last week I watched my wife preparing a pot roast. As I watched she cut off one end of the roast and set it aside. I Asked her why she did this. She answered, “Because my mother always cut off the end of roast.”  I was still confused so I went to my mother-in-law and asked the same question. She said. “Because my mother always did it that way!” I still thought it was strange and so I went to my wife’s grandmother and asked her about this strange family practice. She just laughed and said, “I always cut off the end of the roast because I didn’t have a pan big enough the hold roast.” Some traditions are like that!  Let’s look at what we do and why we do it that way.”

All the participants connected with the story and the message.  The next day another facilitator arrived and said ‘I want to share this parable with you’ and repeated the same story!  Much to the shock of all the participants.  Needless to say the  credibility of the previous facilitator was shot to pieces…because he had passed off  this parable as his own.

One of the participant’s shared this whole experience with us adding ‘We were so angry and didn’t care any more about the valuable stuff that we had learnt in the workshop any more.  All we could remember was he had lied to us by saying this had happened to him when clearly it was a well known story.  We started to wonder what else he had said was not true.’

If a story is not your own, the simplest yet most important storytelling technique is to always credit your stories.   Credit your stories and stay credible.  This is the most important tip for business storytelling.

Where have you seen authentic or inauthentic storytelling?  Please share your comments with us.

Frank Lowy please ring me! Business Storytelling and Australia’s bid for the World Cup


Business StorytellingEvery four years  like a lot of people, I am gripped by soccer fever, thanks to the World Cup and  turn into a complete soccer tragic!  Given our time zone differences, here in Australia this involves setting our alarm for the earliest hours of the morning to watch the games ‘live’.  But it is absolutely worth it!

Like most people in Australia I am deeply disappointed that Australia won’t be hosting the 2022 World cup.  Life is a tough teacher.  You have the experience first and then you hopefully learn from it.  So what did we learn?  I am of course going to be looking at this through the lens of storytelling.   Caveat: We all know the whole bidding process is complex involves many strategies, and many players, political wrangling etc. So this is in no way a solution but something to consider as part our learning.

Using the storytelling lens and comparing Australia’s bid with Qatar’s three things to consider:

  1. The emotion each pitch was tapping into
  2. The audience
  3. The audience’s objections

Every time  I heard Frank Lowy pitching to host the World Cup he talked about Australia being a ‘safe pair of hands’.   The Australian bid tapped into a negative emotion, fear.  It looks like the FIFA committee (the audience) was not looking for a ‘safe pair of hands’.  Their decision to go with South Africa for the previous World Cup indicates this.  Another plank in our bid was ‘Make a country’s dreams come true’  which could apply to every country bidding for the World Cup.  On the other hand ABC news reporter Emma Alberici said Qatar presented a bid full of emotion, imploring the executive committee to make history by sending the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time.  Compare ‘Safe pair of hands’ with ‘The opportunity to make history’.

But what about the audience?   Any narrative we engage with has to be right for the audience.

On their web site FIFA states ‘For the Game. For the World’.  It is interesting to note the Qatar bid tag line states  ‘For football, for the Middle East, for the world’.  Perfect alignment.  Qatar was telling the committee you have the option to unite the Middle East and the world through football …compare that with making a single country’s dreams come true.

In their bios on the FIFA website one of the questions for the Executive Committee is ‘What does football mean to you?   It is interesting to note the range of answers from  Unity and friendship’, ‘Responsibility, service and joy’, ‘Team spirit and social responisbility’, ‘Unity and teamwork’.  Again the Qatar bid taps into this.

How do you in storytelling overcome the audience’s objections? One of the key hurdles for Australia was the time difference.  The Australian bid website states ‘A time zone for more than 60% of the world’s population. Australia will work closely with FIFA to ensure that the match schedule is designed to maximise total television audience numbers around the world’.

All necessary statement of fact but compare how objections can be handled in a compelling and emotionally engaging way.  In one of Qatar’s bid presentations a child is heard saying ‘So say the Israeli teams and the Arab teams go to the world cup and they play against each other.  Israelis would come to cheer their team and the Arabs would also come, then they would get to know each other’.  An adult voice then adds ‘Indeed what we saw in South Africa was harmony between all people there’.

Giving a speech after the wining host was announced, Qatar 2022 Bid Committee Chairman Sheikh Mohammad bin Hamad Al Thani said “On behalf of millions of people living in the Middle East, thank you,” he went on saying “Thank you for believing in us, thank you for having such bold vision. Thank you also for acknowledging this is the right time for the Middle East. We have a date with history which is summer 2022. We will not let you down. We will make you proud.”

He was letting the panel know this was about  football, but it was also about the Middle East and the world. The legacy they would leave the world with this decision.

Congratulations  Qatar on the historic win.  Frank Lowy please ring us and let’s start working on Australia’s bid for 2030.  The time is now …

Business storytelling and The Social Network movie


On the weekend I went to see The Social Network,a film about Mark Zukerberg the founder of Facebook.  While watching the film,  I was struck (yet again) by how powerful stories can be. Especially when compared to a statement of fact or even a metaphor.

In the movie, Zuckerberg sets up a meeting with Sean Parker, the 20-something founder of  Napster. Zuckerberg is being persuaded by Sean Parker to think big.  Parker actually does this in three stages.  First with a  statement, then with a metaphor and finally with a story.

Parker says “What’s cool is not a million dollars, but a billion dollars’.

Parker then advises Zuckerberg to choose his future using a metaphor: When you go fishing you can catch a lot of fish or you can catch a big fish. You ever walk into a guy’s den and see a picture of fourteen trout? No, he’s holding an 800-pound marlin and that’s what you want’.

Later, at a San Francisco night club, Parker influences Zuckerberg with this story of the founder of Victoria’s Secret.

‘A Stanford MBA named Roy Raymond, wants to buy his wife some lingerie but he’s too embarrassed to shop for it at a department store. Comes up with an idea for a high end place that doesn’t make you feel like a pervert. He gets a forty thousand dollar bank loan, borrows another forty thousand from his in-laws, opens a store and calls it Victoria’s Secret. Makes a half million dollars his first year. He starts a catalogue, opens three more stores and after five years he sells the company to Leslie Wexner and The Limited for four million dollars. Happy ending, right? Except four years later the company’s worth five hundred million dollars and Roy Raymond jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge. Poor guy just wanted to buy his wife a pair of thigh highs.’

So did the story work?

Jim Fink in his article Facebook IPO? Insights from the Social Network Movie says the lessons for Zuckerberg were :  THINK BIG , be patient and you’ll maximize the value of the business.   Jim also goes on to add that Zuckerberg took Parker’s advice. When former Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel offered to buy Facebook for a cool $1 billion in 2006, Mark turned him down.  Semel was shocked, stating later in an interview:  I’d never met anyone – forget his age, 22 then or 26 now – I’d never met anyone who would walk away from $1 billion. I couldn’t believe it.  Today Facebook is now worth 26 times what Semel offered to pay.

I am sharing this with you to illustrate how a statement a of  fact or a metaphor inform people but may not necessarily shift behaviour.  As both are based on logic and logic informs but doesn’ t always persuade us to change.  If logic did that then no one would smoke, non one would speed, we would all eat right and exercise everyday.  But with a purposeful authentic story you can influence behaviour…just like Sean Parker did.

Authenticity in business storytelling


I’m a great fan of the Gruen transfer, a show we have here in Australia.  In one of the episodes they talked about marketing spin and  said in marketing spin you take one truth and spin everything around it.  I was immediately struck by how business storytelling is the complete opposite of that.  Because for your storytelling to be successful, everything about it needs to be authentic.

So in this video let’s explore authenticity in organisational storytelling.  One of the first things to consider and this comes to us from Steve Denning, is your stories need to be both factually true as well as authentically true.

To illustrate this, Denning shares this example….’On the Titanic’s maiden voyage 700 people arrived in New York’.  This is factually true  but it leaves out the detail that the ship sank and 1500 people died.

So your story needs to be both factually true and authentically true.

The other thing to consider with authenticity in business, is that you as the storyteller need to believe in your story and its purpose – your intent needs to be authentic.

A few years ago we did some work with a leadership team that was outsourcing some of their work overseas and they were looking for stories to accompany  this.  When no stories emerged we asked them ‘can you honestly put your hand on your heart and say you believe this is the best thing for your company?’…..and they couldn’t.  So unless you believe in the purpose you are not going to have an authentic story.

The other point we want to draw from that example is not everything needs a story.  So use stories only if it is authentic to do so otherwise just go with the data….which is what that leadership team did.  They just went with the data about outsourcing their operations.

The last point to make about authenticity is congruence.  There needs to be a connection, there needs to be a congruence between your words and your actions.  When Cameron Clyne, (current CEO of National Australia Bank) became CEO, one of his early promises was to be open and approachable.  When Cameron Clyne was fairly new he attended one of the NAB’s internal events and took a seat down the back.  A lady who worked in IT approached him and said ‘Excuse me you are sitting in my seat’.   He immediately apologised and vacated her seat.  As soon as Cameron left some of the lady’s colleagues said ‘Do you know who that was?  The new CEO!’.  She said ‘You are kidding, no way why would he sit up in the back?’.    That story became one of the stories that started circulating in the bank and it showed people the congruence between Cameron’s words and his actions.

So just to recap …authenticity in storytelling is everything.  All your stories need to be authentic and when we are talking about authenticity we are asking you to consider these things.

Your stories need to be both factually true and authentically true.

You as a storyteller need to believe in the purpose of your story.

Use stories only if it is authentic to do so, otherwise just go with the data.

And finally for authentic storytelling you need congruence between your words and your actions.

We would love you to make a comment of when you have seen leaders who have been authentic or not with their storytelling.

Struggling with launching into your stories? Easy story segues for business storytelling


We are often asked ‘How do I launch into a story in the middle of a meeting or in a presentation?’.  In this video Yamini provides some practical advice on smoothly launching into your story and what segues to avoid…like the plague.

Business storytelling and ‘White Noise’


Business StorytellingOur first floor office is on the corner of a busy CBD intersection, in the heart of Melbourne. One of the things we love about our office is the sounds of the city, the ding of passing trams, the hum of traffic and the general buzz of a city going about its business.  The one sound that cuts through all this, is the siren of emergency vehicles.

I was interested to learn that emergency sirens are designed using the concept of white noise – to cut through everything and grab our attention.  I was first introduced to the concept of white noise when Sydney had the Olympics in 2000.  Flight paths were extended over new housing estates much to the residents’ chagrin.  The council invited architects into the discussion and the architects placed simple water features in the courtyards of the houses.  The gentle soothing sound of the water became a focal point, desensitizing residents to the aircraft noise overhead.  Innovative use of white noise.

As business communicators in an information overloaded world, our challenge is, how can we create white noise instead of just noise around our messages?  I absolutely think (no surprises here!) that storytelling when done well creates ‘white noise’ focusing attention on your messages.

Tim Reid shared this wonderful example in a recent interview .  The head of  Tooheys was handing over the Melbourne Cup and everyone was bracing themselves for a boring corporate speech (lots of noise).  Instead all he said was ‘At Tooheys we are here to make the world more social’.  Wonderful use of white noise that grabbed everyone’s attention.  Needless to say everyone cheered. And the  story becomes one worth repeating and has entered Melbourne’s urban mythology, possibly forever.  So the next time you are communicating think about whether you are adding to the noise or standing out using ‘white noise’?

Business Storytelling – The Myth of the Natural Born Storyteller


In the work we do with business leaders on organsiational storytelling, we are often asked about ‘natural’ storytellers.  Granted some people are better at it than others, just like some people are better at tennis or singing than others……but everyone can get better at it with preparation and practice.

In this our first video blog, Yamini Naidu explodes the myth of the natural born storyteller. ..and shares their success secrets with you.

Business Storytelling for Leaders – What do you stand for?


Business StorytellingRecently we facilitated a storytelling workshop for Accenture in Melbourne when Ann Burns shared this story. The story gave us an insight into some of  her values.  Sharing a story like this (Annette Simmons story expert calls these ‘Who am I Stories’ ) lets people know what you stand for.

Very powerful in leadership, where people crave to know who you are and what you stand for.   Here is Anne’s story…..

“I grew up in England with two brothers.  One of my brothers was learning to ride a bicycle and every Saturday my father would take him up to a nearby hill and he would pedal down,  while all us kids watched and cheered.  He used to do this with a bike that had training wheels and after many Saturdays of this my father took the training wheels off. 

I was determined to repeat his feat and persuaded my father to let me ride down the hill too, on my bike with no training wheels.  My father very very reluctantly agreed.  I was very excited when we walked to the top of the hill.  I could see my brothers and friends at the bottom of the hill looking on.  I got on to my bike and shot off down the hill and to my shock the bike started hurtling down  the hill faster and faster, almost out of control – I could see the stunned faces of the children waiting below and before the bike hit the ground I hurled myself off onto the grass and rolled down laughing, much to everyone’s shock! 

On that day I learnt two important life lessons.  If someone can do something so can I , and no matter what you are trying in life always have an exit plan.”

Invite your audience in


Business StorytellingWalking past the building site for the new Royal Children’s Hospital.  Love the way they invite us to do what we always want to do when we pass a building site – peep in .  Notice the two peep holes – one at a child’s level?

They are already making their target audience, parents and children feel included in the new project and welcome.  Lessons for us in business and leadership…

No matter what you do we can all find ways to invite our customers or our audience in.  I was intrigued to learn how the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) does that.  When you visit a gallery you possibly spend some time reading the printed text on the gallery wall that tells you more about the art work.  Conventionally this would be put together by the curator or an expert.

The NGV has trialled projects that look at how this can be done differently for a modern audience.  In addition to the curator’s words, the wall texts initially quoted poets and other writers. When this was well received, the NGV extended a project into Victorian schools, asking children to write labels in response to the paintings.  These labels written by children were fixed to the wall alongside the conventional texts.  Imagine the delight of a child reading a wall label  written by another child, just for them.

How do I know my story worked? What does success look like in business storytelling?


As soon as you tell a story, the first thing you want to know is ‘did it work?’.  We crave that immediate feedback and sometimes, someone will tell us right away or maybe later….if we are lucky.

This would have to be the number one question leaders ask when they use a story.  “Did it work? How do I know it worked?’  We all want to know what success looks like with storytelling.

I love the elegance and simplicity of Noel Turnbull’s measure of success with storytelling. ‘Success looks likes two things – when other people start to repeat the stories and when people smile sincerely.   That’s why you tell a story’.

Of course people won’t repeat every story you tell – only the memorable sticky ones get this extended lease of life.  That is in storytelling the gold standard! So it still comes to you in a room with your audience wondering…did it bomb?  In that common scenario building on what Noel says trust your intuition.  Look  around the  room when you are narrating your story.  You can always sense the level of engagement in the room.  One of our leaders described it as ‘It felt like there was a spotlight suddenly shinning on me and and for that minute I had every one’s rapt attention’.

But this is harder said than done – we are often our own harshest critics.  Another option is to ask someone you trust.  Prep them for it and say ‘I am going to be using a couple of stories can you please look around the room and help me gauge the response to see if they worked’.  This person might also pick up the informal chatter after when people talk about your stories and give you the feedback you crave.  They can also help to validate your expereince or provide another perspective or some fresh insights.

Good stories also have a long tail. We have some clients who thought their stories didn’t work and 6 months later someone told them very casually “I still remember the story you told us about customer service ‘.  Or they get a repeat request out of the blue when someone says “John I really think you should share that story on innovation you told us in last year’s forum!”  And poor John had been wondering all that time if his story had worked.

Of course if you were hoping we would give you some hard measures of success and are disappointed please feel free to check out our Ericsson success story, which does just that.

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