Storytelling Your Way to a Better Job or a Stronger Start-Up

By Alina Tugend – New York Times DEC. 12, 2014 [Full Article]


It’s been called a strategic tool with “irresistible power” by Harvard Business Review. And “the major business lesson of 2014” by Entrepreneur magazine

What exciting new 21st-century technology is this?

The age-old art of storytelling — something humans have done since they could first communicate. So why has it become this year’s buzzword? And what is its new value?

In these days of tougher-than-ever job searches, competition for crowdfunding and start-ups looking to be the next Google or Facebook, it’s not enough just to offer up the facts about you or your company to prospective employers or investors. Or even to your own workers.

You need to be compelling, unforgettable, funny and smart. Magnetic, even. You need to be able to answer the question that might be lingering in the minds of the people you’re trying to persuade: What makes you so special?

You need to have a good story.

“As human beings, we know that stories work, but when we get in a business relationship, we forget this,” said Keith Quesenberry, a lecturer at the Center for Leadership Education at Johns Hopkins University.

Learning — or relearning — how to tell stories requires some skill. And consultants are lining up to teach it — sometimes for a hefty fee.

Although the power of storytelling to attract — and even manipulate — is well known, the reason for its appeal has been unclear. But it may have something to do with oxytocin, also called the love hormone.

Paul Zak, a professor of economics, psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University, studies oxytocin, which is produced in the brain. Researchers have found it to be plentiful in lactating women and released during orgasm. It is also thought to bolster trust and empathy.

To see the impact of storytelling on oxytocin, Professor Zak conducted a now well-known experiment. Participants had their blood drawn before and again after watching videos of character-driven stories. The result? When those watching the stories had an increase in oxytocin, they tended to help more — donating money to a charity associated with the story, for example.

But not every story is well told. Most of us know a compelling tale when we hear one, but “it’s difficult for people to articulate why they like what they like,” Professor Zak said.

PowerPoints are the bane of storytellers, but here are a few bullet points to keep in mind when developing a good story:

■ Know who your audience is.

■ Have a beginning, middle and end. (That sounds obvious, but people often forget that.)

■ Use concrete details and personal experience.

■ Don’t self-censor.

■ Don’t try to memorize a story so it sounds rehearsed. It’s not about perfection. It’s about connecting.

It’s that simple. And that complicated. You can have a multimillion-dollar movie that bombs and a brilliant five-act story in 30 seconds. After all, long before Twitter, Ernest Hemingway is said to have managed to tell a complete and heart-wrenching story in six words: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

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