"People don't want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith - faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell." -- Annette Simmon
Business stories are different because they always have a purpose. We tell them because we want to create more connection with our listeners. We tell them because the messages they convey will more likely be heard, understood and remembered. We tell them because we want something to happen.
We tell business stories in the workplace to influence people.
Here are a few of the ways your stories can influence people:
1. A story can influence the culture of your organization by, for instance, strengthening certain values. Perhaps you want to inspire your team to listen more closely to their customers. You could ask them to do that, send around an e-mail reminder, or put up a sign that says, "Listen." But wouldn't it be more effective to tell your team about a time you listened closely and really understood what your customer was saying, created something that responded precisely to their needs, and won the customer's loyalty? Or you could tell about the time you didn't listen and you lost the customer.
2. A story can convince a patient or a client to think differently or feel differently or do differently. A doctor might lecture her patient about the health risks of a certain behavior, but who wants to lecture? Or be lectured to? Alternatively, the doctor might tell a story about someone similar to the patient who changed that behavior and is now living a healthier life. A coach might tell a story that helps their client see things from a different perspective.
3. A story can demonstrate the benefits of your product or services to a potential client or customer. If you are engaged in a marketing conversation, it might not advance the ball much to say, "This is what I can do for you" or "Oh yes, I can definitely solve your problem." (Your competitors are probably saying the same thing!) But sharing a story about how you've worked with other people (perhaps just like them), what you've done for them, or how you've solved their problems will more effectively convey your unique approach and value.
4. A story can bring data to life. Sometimes we share what we know in glorious detail, all the numbers and facts, replete with charts, graphs, and PowerPoint. But your listeners haven't spent nearly as much time examining and analyzing that data as you have -- that's why they're looking to you as the expert. Even carefully-organized detail may fly by too quickly for them to appreciate its significance. On the other hand, a story -- which may or may not include the same detail -- can convey the significance of that data, make the complex clear, and leave the listener with a memorable takeaway.
5. A story can make the difference in high-stakes situations.
Imagine a judge who is listening to two attorneys, each trying to persuade him to rule in their client's favor. One attorney describes the facts precisely and explains brilliantly why the legal precedents require a ruling in his client's favor. The other attorney does a similarly good job explaining the facts and the law, but also weaves those facts into a compelling story that explains why a ruling in her client's favor is the fair and just result. Which way is the judge more likely to rule?
We all have business stories to tell, stories with a purpose. I hope that one of these examples reminded you of stories you can tell -- to create more connection with others and to get your message across more powerfully.