Telling stories

Keith January 17th, 2007

The original title at the top of this blog was: “It’d take a lot of it to make a man laugh.”  Why?  Of course, there is a story behind it… 

I heard it from my father many years ago, when I was a child, living on a sheep station near the town of Birregurra in western Victoria.  He relayed this story from his boss – Charlie, the property owner - who was a participant.

It was 15 August 1945.  Everyone in the town was celebrating V-J day – victory over Japan, and the end of World War II.  People were driving up and down the main street, making lots of noise.  Most likely a fair amount of alcohol was also being consumed! A man named Mark Ward, in the transport business, was riding on the bonnet of one of his own trucks.  The driver stopped suddenly, catapulting his passenger forward.  As he slid forward, one leg caught on the front bumper of the car, resulting in a very nasty compound fracture.

When visiting him in hospital later, Charlie commented to Mark, “God, it must have hurt!”  Mark replied, “Well, it would take a bloody lot of it to make a man laugh!”  

This has always seemed to me to be a quintessential example of Australian humour.  Our traditional humour is black, self-deprecating and sarcastic.  Maybe this has been shaped by the harshness of our environment or by the convict origin of European Australia just over 200 years ago.  It is a strong part of our culture.  This is a country where our most holy national holiday (ANZAC Day) is a celebration of a famous military defeat (at Gallipoli).

Stories can convey so much information, often in a few words.  In this example, a brief narrative can say so much more about culture than reams of written analysis.

In recent times, we have tended to see our society as so sophisticated that our communication must be very structured and analytical.  It may contain a lot of meaning, but how easy is it to retain a head-full of facts?

It hasn’t always been this way.  Many years ago, most communication was in the form of stories – or even in songs.  Many cultures – including indigenous Australia – still place great importance on story.  Think about the last time you heard a really inspiring speaker.  What can you remember about what was said?  Chances are that what you remember was something that was told as a story. 

Story telling doesn’t seem to fit in with modern business communications, yet recent research is discovering that the human brain is actually better suited to taking in information in a story form. 

My job is all about making it easy for our business sales people to access the knowledge they need to sell our products, services and solutions.  We have placed very little value on story in the process, but in reality story is usually a large part of the Sales process.  Our Account Executives tell stories of their own experiences with customers and how they have seen organisations become more effective.  I have seen this first-hand, and when writing on this topic at Telstra recently, I have received feedback supporting this: “It comes across more powerfully than throwing a heap of facts and figures about our great networks.  Customers are able to pick up the “vibe” (to use The Castle term) and can verify with the emotion and passion the AE has for that subject.”

Does your organisation tell stories?

5 Responses to “Telling stories”

  1. Frank Connollyon 18 Jan 2007 at 12:56 pm

    Our Improvement Network runs between 40 – 50 seminars and workshops each year.

    In terms of participant feedback from each, we routinelty find that the speakers/facilitators that have proved most popular, and who messages resonate best, are those who tell stories. Presenters also feel that the stages at which they connected best with their audience was during and upon conclusion of a story.

    As an example, let me tell you about the time …..

  2. Yigalon 26 Jan 2007 at 10:45 pm

    I am researching the topic of Storytelling in Organizations, towards my PhD – mainly a story about executives’ use of stories in one big corporation in Israel for communicating Knowledge Management.
    Many organization ‘use’ storytelling, i.e. tell stories, in a natural and unconscious manner as a routine form of communication, yet executives seems to not see themselves as storytellers. This is somehow challenging to understand why stories are being related so ambiguously in the business scene. Mainly, this is the center of my research.

  3. Keithon 29 Mar 2007 at 5:54 pm

    Thanks for the comments, Frank and Yigal! I feel that we tend to accept story as part of a presentation – but may not express it in those words – yet baulk at it in other areas of business. There are other ways to describe it, of course. Like everything else we do, we need to deliver business benefits.

  4. [...] How often have you got to the end of the month and felt like you have been incredibly busy but could not describe what you were actually doing? Taking ten minutes a couple of times a week to jot down what you have been up to can provide you with a couple of benefits. Firstly, you have a record of work that you have been doing that you can refer back to, and secondly you have a record of your work that your colleagues, staff or clients can refer back to. In this post CPA Congress presenter Keith De La Rue talks about the importance of capturing stories. Capturing and publishing stories of work, challenges, problems and solutions may open doors for collaboration that may have otherwise gone unopened. [...]

  5. [...] How often have you got to the end of the month and felt like you have been incredibly busy but could not describe what you were actually doing? Taking ten minutes a couple of times a week to jot down what you have been up to can provide you with a couple of benefits. Firstly, you have a record of work that you have been doing that you can refer back to, and secondly you have a record of your work that your colleagues, staff or clients can refer back to. In this post Melbourne KM’er Keith De La Rue talks about the importance of capturing stories. Capturing and publishing stories of work, challenges, problems and solutions may open doors for collaboration that may have otherwise gone unopened. [...]

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