the Power tool of Communications

“The best way to teach people is by telling a story.” ~ Ken Blanchard

When we think of stories, we usually think of fairy tales like Goldilocks and the Three Bears or other types of fiction. We don’t usually associate stories with business. Yet the oldest tool of influence is also the most powerful: to tell a story to illustrate a point.

Stories can help frame your message when making a presentation, one on one conversation or written text. They can change the way people think, act or feel towards you and your message.

President Lincoln, for example, was famous for making a point by telling humorous stories. Poet Walt Whitman wrote: “As is well known, story-telling was often with President Lincoln a weapon which he employed with great skill.

Stories can come from your own life experiences, these are known as signature stories. Because they are personal and unique to you, they are easy to remember and tell. Instead of memorizing the story you have internalized it. That is you have a bank of personal knowledge, and to a certain extent you re-live the story and take the listener along for the experience.

Retelling someone else’s story, experience or a classic fable should only be used when you are willing to give proper attribution. This is the right thing to do and shows you are above board and professional.

As an example, my friend Dennis Mahoney, certified safety professional and author of Get Paid for Speaking and Consulting in Healthcare, recently reminded me of Tip O’Neill’s story about the importance of asking for what you want.

On election day of his first campaign, one of Tip’s (also known as Tom) neighbors stopped by and told him, “Tom, I’m going to vote for you tomorrow even though you didn’t ask me to.” This shocked Tip. “Why Mrs. O’Brien,” he said, “I’ve lived across the street from you for eighteen years. I cut your grass in the summer, I shovel your walk in the winter. I didn’t think I had to ask for your vote.”

“Tom,” she replied, “let me tell you something: people liked to be asked.” Every election day going forward he’d say, “Mrs. O’Brien, I’d like to ask for your vote.”

“Tom, I’ll give you every consideration,” she’d reply.

Complement your facts and figures by giving an example from your own experience to make a valid point. Maybe it’s a sales presentation or an opportunity to solve a problem—whatever the situation, stories not only draw a mental picture in your customer or client’s mind, they also enhance your ability to communicate and clarify your message. People remember stories long after they forget cold hard facts and figures.

Stories are all around us. Capture experiences that you have had, customers or associates may of told you that can be crafted into making your point.

Start a folder on your hard drive that you can add too and access when you need to frame or explain an idea, message or proposal.

Here are some great resources for storytelling in business. Check out:

The Story Factor by Annette Simmons

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