Newsflash: Storytelling is popular buzzword in marketing and internal communications circles. It's also a very effective technique. Sadly, when we talk about storytelling we tend to be a little light on examples. #ironic
Listen & Learn: Storytelling Podcast SeriesGenerally I prefer to read things rather than listen to podcasts, but recently I spent some time with Shawn Callahan's Putting Stories to Work series. (More accurately: I listened to the first of the 19-episode series.)
Callahan is enthusiastic about storytelling and insists it's effective. I appreciate his enthusiasm and believe it's well-founded. That said, the first episode, at least, seemed a lot like a spoken-word version of a long-form sales letter.
I'm going to assume the first episode serves as an introduction. In it, Callahan says the podcast series offers more and different stories about storytelling than are in the book, Putting Stories to Work.
Perhaps I'll return to it at some point; I like stories and stories about Storytelling would be right up my alley. In the meantime, here are some of Callahan's tips and my reactions to them:
- Don't use the S-Word? Callahan says while it's smart to start a meeting with a story, you should not say, "I want to tell you a story." Doing so makes the audience uncomfortable, reacting at least subconsciously by thinking, "what are we, children?" or "do we have time for this?" Instead, Callahan says your intro should engage naturally. "I want to tell you about something important that happened yesterday..." is an example. In fact, Callahan goes so far as to say that we should "not use the S- word." My take: I think this one needs a little testing. Some people like stories. And many audiences are very practiced audiences (sadly, meetings suck up a lot of our time). So "let me tell you a story," might be the verbal clue to your audience that says, "here's a real-world example - take notes." Also, I've heard that it's good to make an audience uncomfortable - just a little - assuming you can save your listeners from their discomfort and bring them back to a relaxed state (because if they're not relaxed, they're not receptive).
- Do use traditional storytelling conventions. Well, by all means - employee the character development, narrative and tension necessary to make your story a story!
- Don't write down your stories, just take a few notes so your telling is more spontaneous. Well, maybe for the actual delivery, that will work. But if you don't have formal training as a speaker, practicing with a script is pretty important. (And of course, PRACTICING is very important.) Speaking of speaking experience, Toastmasters is hands-down the best place to get that.
While stories can be helpful in the sales process, I find they often take more time than prospects are willing to give - with the notable exception of a new-product introduction where the product really IS new, and the super-sticky-sweet Extra gum love story of Sarah and Juan.
Stories Sell and Teach
So my advice is don't use a story just to use a story. (Duh.) Marketing is judged by results; if it doesn't sell (eventually), then it doesn't work.
One place storytelling (and even role-playing) works great is in education - in the business world, internal communications types are dropping the "S-word" liberally. And to his credit, all of Callahan's storytelling techniques (that I listened to, anyway) apply as well to internal communications and training as they do to sales/marketing situations.
The bottom line: stay tuned! Storytelling is here to stay.
Have you heard all of Callahan's storytelling podcasts? What did I miss? I'd love to hear from you! If you have something to add about storytelling and would like to see your guest blog published here (!!) please contact me.