‘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.

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  • Sonia

    Hi Gabrielle & Yamini,

    Great post! Following a presentation on storytelling at a conference I was asked by an audience member if employees at our company suffered from ‘story fatigue’. I think people can get sick of stories when leaders use transition phrases such as “let me tell you a story” and/or are prescriptive with the story ending, for example “..I’m telling you this because you should now do x,y,z’. However, I agree that nothing undermines the use of stories more than when they’re inauthentic. I once heard a leader start his story with “Someone told me this story so I guess it’s true” and I didn’t listen to a word that followed.

    A story doesn’t have to be your own to be authentic – I’ve often helped find stories for leaders – but you definitely need to credit a story, and make it your own by contextualising it and delivering it in your style. I think knowing your audience also helps when it comes to story authenticity – as stories which might seem authentic and inspiring for some cultures, might be seen as over-the-top and inauthentic to other cultures.

    • Yamini Naidu

      Sonia, you are spot on crediting stories is critical and also not undermining stories with faux beginnings and transition phrases, that’s like ‘story sabotage’. We highly recommend road testing stories for cultural appropriateness.

  • Reply

    Remember hearing the same story from two presenters at the same conference many years ago now. It was about a taxi driver who demonstrated that ‘adding value’ didn’t necessarily have to cost you anything.

    When passengers got into his cab he asked them which radio station they would like to listen to (he didn’t care). He asked them if they’d like to read the newspaper (he couldn’t, he was driving). And finally he offered them a piece of fruit (his wife stocked him up each day with more than he could eat).

    Both presenters told the story like they’d got in the cab that day. Needless to say the credibility of both was shot. No names mentioned, but one of them did later server a prison sentence for bribery.

    • Yamini Naidu

      Thanks Gerry for sharing this experience with us. Sadly most people nominated facilitators / presenters as the biggest culprits for passing off other people’s stories as their own. Both unethical and unnecessary. We encourage our clients to use their life experiences as the basis of their stories – so their stories are original, authentic and credible.

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