An old tool for a new way to communicate – story

campfireI’m at sales leadership seminar in San Francisco with teams from Salesforce.com, Oracle and other leading Bay Area high tech firms.  We are learning to hone our skills using a high tech communication tool that’s recently become the darling of researchers, marketers and startups seeking VC.  Not only does this tool enhance recall by over 80% when used effectively, it’s been shown, in MRI’s, to actually engage our emotional centers and motivate change.  I’ll say that again – motivate change.

Sound too good to be true?  Read on.

The tool is storytelling and the seminar was put on by storyleaders.  Storytelling is so effective because we are physically wired to run on stories.  Humans have been communicating with stories for 50,000 years.  It works.  During that time, it’s been to used to communicate what we’ve learned, who we are and how we should act.  It also automatically breaks down barriers that go up when we try to hit prospects with “logical” reasons.

Don’t believe me?  Try to recall the bullet points from a presentation you saw in the last two weeks.  Now try to recall the story of Paul Revere that you learned in school years ago.

As a society, we’ve been experimenting with bullet points and PowerPoints for the last 15 years.  It’s time to admit that this effort hasn’t worked out. There is a growing consensus all these slide decks are simply not working – not for salespeople who want to engage and be authentic and certainly not for prospects who could use our services but have to sit through our bullets points.

I had an opportunity to try this all out this week.  Someone started to criticize a decision I made during a conference call.  Initially, it got my heat up.  I was going to refute it with bullets.  But I took a few deep breaths and launched into a story that Ben Franklin used over two hundred years ago, starting with, “what you said reminds me of a story in a book I’ve been reading this summer…”

A father and son had to go into town. The son walked and the father rode the donkey. Along the way they met a group of townsfolk who thought it inappropriate of a healthy man to force his son to walk as he rode. “Why are you forcing the boy to walk?” the townsperson asked.

The father got off the donkey and allowed the son to ride. They were both doing fine  when they met another group. “Young man, what are you thinking of?” the group demanded to know. “Here you are a strapping young man riding upon the beast, and your poor, aged father must walk. Is that any way to show respect?”

The only way to please everyone, they decided, was for both of them to ride. So they did, and for awhile enjoyed each other’s company and pleasant conversation. They felt comfortable when they came upon another group of townspeople.  But this group had a whole different perspective from the first two. “How can you place such a burden upon this poor animal? Your combined weight is too much for the animal. Why not walk and give the beast a rest?”

So the father and son both walked and led the donkey. “Surely no one can criticize us now,” they thought. But when the another group said, “How foolish of you men to have a perfectly healthy donkey and not use it. Donkeys are made for work. One of you should be riding him,” they threw the poor donkey off a bridge.

Without ever addressing the criticism, the point was made.  We moved on to other business.

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Categories: Story

Author:Tom Molyneux

A business process strategist with a focus on real-time event management.

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