Storytelling and Business? Absolutely!

I was invited to a very unusual event recently. It was a meeting about “storytelling.” It was hosted by Peter Guber. Peter is an Academy Award-winning producer of movies, including Rain Man, The Color Purple and Batman. He is the past CEO of Sony Corp. and currently chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment.

Peter is clearly passionate about the power of “story” and considers it the “secret sauce” that has enabled him to achieve his success. Consequently, he decided to create an opportunity for a diverse group of experts to come together to exchange ideas–be inspired, enlightened and enriched–but, most important, to share stories!Story Telling Summit

Peter invited about 16 people (including “yours truly”) along with individuals such as Warren Bennis–one of the world’s foremost experts on leadership; Keith Ferrazzi–author of “Never Eat Alone“; and Mark Victor Hansen–co-author of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, as well as many other “storytellers” from various businesses, backgrounds and areas of expertise.

Effective storytelling is an important part of one’s emotional intelligence. I’ve always believed in using stories to make a point but never really gave a lot of thought to some of the “hows” and “whys” of their effectiveness. There were a number of “take-aways” for me from this meeting that I would like to share with you.

Storytelling is about tapping into a passion about some topic. It is about taking the listener to a place that is visceral, visual, concrete, emotional and possibly unexpected. One of the participants, Dr. Mark Goulston, said that “a story is a portable storage unit for one’s dreams, fears, hopes, humor and sorrows that people visit–or visits people–from time to time for them to stay in contact with their humanity.” [The group really liked this definition, and so did I.]

Mark Victor Hansen said that when the authors were working on the Chicken Soup series, they were looking for stories that gave or gave people:

  • God bumps or goose bumps
  • Happy tears
  • A change in perception
  • Weakness in the knees
  • Change in your life

One of the best comments of the day came from Peter, who said, “what if” is more powerful than “how to” in a story. Very true, indeed. Getting people to think of the possible rather than simply look at the present can truly help make a great story.

After spending an entire day talking about what it takes to make a good story, I verified the fact that it is very difficult to describe to someone “how” to tell a good story. However, you sure know one when you hear it!

12 thoughts on “Storytelling and Business? Absolutely!

  1. Ivan,

    Thank you for including my quote from our storied day together and for telling the story to your readers. I would welcome input from others about how to “beef up” the value and power of story so they have a fighting chance against this all too often transactionally myopic, ROI world.

    Interestingly I just suggested to a friend whose stoic mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer today that if the family is looking for ways to fill the time that they have their mom share the story of her life with them. A close friend of mine videotaped his dad telling his story the day his dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and my friend says he is so glad he did it and finds it to be a great source of comfort and continuity for the family.

  2. When I was a young child my grandma would tell stories to me and my cousins. Her stories became dreams in the minds of young men. Those stories were so powerful that in many ways we grew up trying to live those stories.

    It’s not unusual for stories to become dreams in the minds of young men and women and, perhaps for most people, those dreams may never be realized. There may be many reasons for this. Even though they may be presented with the opportunity, it’s not unusual for people to shy away from it. People are naturally resistant to change even when they know that their lives will be improved. Many people don’t feel deserving of a better life. Perhaps most often, dreams are put on hold out of necessity while the business of raising a family and/or other obligations are given the attention they deserve. Once these obligations are fulfilled, people may not have the same interest or lack the energy and necessary resources to attain their dreams and simply give up. Unfortunately, many of these people may not realize that resources may be readily available to them if they only knew where to look or had the ability to recognize those resources when they are presented to them.

    As businessmen we can utilize our social networking skills to intervene in people’s lives to enable them to revisit their dreams and perhaps attain fulfillment. I have spent the greater part of my adult life as a clinical social worker helping people deal with the changes in their lives. I learned early on that when people have an understanding of their situation together with appropriate information and support, they will make good decisions and get on with their life, often in a more satisfying manner. I have often used stories as a mechanism for positive change.

    One of the greatest psychotherapists, Milton Erikson, commonly used stories as a means of enabling his patients to resolve their problems. Social net workers need not be psychotherapists to make a difference in the lives of people. Social Networking is all about relationships and building trust. We all have stories that we can tell to our business associates that can perhaps make a huge impact on their ability to resolve problems and fulfill their dreams.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Ivan. You have reminded us of the power of metaphors and the need to hold onto our dreams.

    Lee Parent

  3. I, too, liked Mark’s comment about portability. But each storyteller will, rightfully, put their own spin on it. Also, not everyone is gifted w/ those verbal genes. For my part the story is in the food I make. I want it to transport to exotic lands, or evoke childhood memories,or be so over the top that te taster cannot imagine anything tating better (at least w/in the category)

  4. Story telling is so important and the “what if” makes us search for what we can become. People’s stories can give us the visual aid we need to transform our lives and set course on a new adventure. To look back and know we dared to be different and had the courage to try new ideas which is True Synergy.

  5. Telling good and effetive stories can motivate the buyer and help you close the sale.A good story is just as important as product good product knowledge.Ivan,would you please xplain what is a viceral place.

  6. Building my home-based business-one story at a time. I think I have the best of both worlds. My business depends on someone sharing their story with me or me sharing mine. You guys are the best! I love that you sincerely care and share.

  7. Ivan, thanks for the wonderful input. I use stories often, in my practice (I’m a therapist). I figured if God chose to use them to educated mankind, I might take note of it and follow His example.

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