Storytelling wins: why great organisations tell stories – and yours should too

10 May 2016 -


Practical tips and a new webinar for managers looking to improving how they tell stories

Jermaine Haughton

Francesco Gallo was born in Andretta, in the peaceful hills of southern Italy. In 1942, as a 16-year-old, his life was turned upside down when he was incarcerated in a British concentration camp. He was to stay there for the next five years.

It’s an extraordinary story, one that could only have happened in the mid 20th-century. And it’s the backdrop to the life and work of Carmine, Francesco’s son.

Carmine Gallo is today a world authority on the art of storytelling, the author of The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch on and Others Don’t. And he’ll be sharing his insights into the power of storytelling to build emotional connections with people, and how this will become increasingly valued in tomorrow’s workplace, at a special CMI/Citrix on Tuesday 17 May.

Whatever your industry or speciality – digital, finance, marketing, education, sales or human resource; regardless of what field your organisation or department specialises in, storytelling is an essential soft skill that should play a central role in your day-to-day activity. In an era of automation, the ability to package ideas into a compelling story is still one of the most important skills for making a successful leader.

In his book Story, creative writing lecturer Robert McKee explained that people consume information more quickly through compelling stories because they are metaphors for our hopes and fears, our successes and failures. For agile businesses, great storytelling can build relationships between managers and workers, develop careers, promote brands, motivate teams and change company culture. Great stories draw emotional reactions from their audience. Whether the story causes someone to smile, laugh or cry, the activation of the senses builds a strong mental picture in the listeners, enabling them to recall even the smallest details of special moments.

In The Storyteller’s Secret, bestselling author Gallo analyses how global brands such as Apple and Virgin have used storytelling to propel profitability, market-leading innovation, and to attract talent and spark the imagination of the public.

Here are three simple tips for managers aiming to boost storytelling at their organisation:

Include stories in team messages

Whether it’s a memo informing employees about a new policy or an email thanking staff for their success and efforts, adding a short narrative to your communications with your team can boost engagement and the impact of the statements. A practical way of incorporating stories into company messages is to provide context. Good communicators and storytellers manage to include some background information to their discourse. Like the traditional newspaper journalist, be willing to elaborate on the ‘five W’s and one H’ (what, where, why, when, who and how) to your team to help them understand what led to you making a particular decision or action.

Include your peers as storywriters

Awards and certification events are a perfect opportunity for managers to exhibit their storytelling capabilities. These are a time to recognise publicly the achievement of high achievers.

If you’re talking about an individual, bosses should take time to speak to an employee’s peers, clients and customers. They’ll have a rich store of anecdotes, wisdom and memories that even you wouldn’t have known before. Doing this can unearth funny and warm-hearted stories and showcase your organisation’s inclusive culture.

Make sure your messages have a “moral” conclusion

Cinderella, Peter Pan, The Lion King... these classic fairy tales keep people captivated by the sense of adventure and the rollercoaster of emotions, before ending on a moral message. Managers should think about this storytelling technique.

Capturing both the positive and negative aspects of a decision in messages is important for employees because it offers meaning to actions. Managers should tailor their storytelling to ensure they answer questions such as: what were the results? How do they connect to your organisational goals and values?

Sometimes it even helps to introduce a hero and villain to the piece. Paul Smith, author of Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince and Inspire, explains that the storyteller’s audience should be engaged by being able to see themselves in the hero’s place because the hero is like them and faces a situation they’re likely to face in the future. As he has said: “Stories about you, the leader, are often the most effective. Especially if it’s a story about five years ago when you had the job that your listener has today, and you were facing the same problems. Whether you succeeded or failed, they’ll learn from your story.”

Join CMI and Citrix for a free webinar on Tuesday 17 May, hosted by best-selling author of Talk Like TED and The Storyteller's Secret, Carmine Gallo, and add storytelling to your managerial toolbelt

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