Hijacked or Precious? 

May 2, 2017

I introduced myself at a recent event as a business storyteller, which is what I am. There was a time when no one understood what the word meant. Not so today. The person next to me then introduced himself: ‘I am a storyteller too and tell stories with numbers.’ Everyone just looked confused. We later found out that he was an accountant!

One part of me celebrated. The word storyteller is now so sexy that it’s being hijacked. But another part of me was unconvinced.

Stefan Semester, of the design firm, Sagmeister & Walsh, doesn’t mince his words when he calls this bluff: I think all the storytellers are not storytellers. Recently I read an interview with someone who designs roller coasters and he referred to himself as a ‘storyteller.’ No @%$#head, you are not a storyteller, you’re a roller coaster designer! And that’s fantastic and more power to you, but why would you want to be a storyteller if you design roller coasters?”

Until I read his work, I thought I was being precious about labels.
It turns out we all can and should story tell—it makes what we do engaging, interesting and relevant. But using storytelling as a tool versus being a storyteller are two totally different things.

It’s not (just) that my nose is out of joint (really!). I worry that it reflects a deeper problem. If you describe yourself as a storyteller when you are an accountant, then the very first story you are sharing is spin. Not cool.

I totally get that in a fluid agile work environment, the work we do cannot always be distilled into one or two words. Right till the 1980s the census job question only asked what is your title? Today the census features a 2-part question: What is your title? What do you do? Because titles like ‘Chief Fun Officer’ beg for more information.

So whether you are filling a census form or describing what you do to someone my advice is the same. Celebrate what you do! And find a sexy way to describe it (without hijacking the word storyteller). Unless, of course, you really are a professional business storyteller.

How would you describe what you do?

Please share, I love hearing from you.

Hooked

Dry facts and data fade from memory over time, but an engaging story is difficult to forget. In Hooked, communication and business storytelling experts Gabrielle Dolan and Yamini Naidu use real-world examples and proven, effective techniques to teach the skill of great business storytelling. They explain what good storytelling is, why business leaders need to learn it, how to create effective stories, and how to practice for perfection.



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