Not your average story

Not your average story



Why using storytelling as an engagement tool can keep clients from losing interest in the messages you are trying to get across.

One hundred years ago, our attention span was 20 minutes. Take a guess at what our current attention span for data is? Nine seconds. You read that right – nine seconds. This alarming statistic is shared by author Sally Hogshead, who wrote How To Fascinate. We have essentially become mean, lean scanning machines: a survival mechanism that gets us through the challenges of living with daily information tsunamis.

Interestingly, that stat applies only to data. The minute we engage with emotion, a much wider window of attention opens up. Research tells us that emotion is the fast track to the brain, and how you feel affects how you think and your performance. But as risk professionals how can we employ emotion in business to grab our clients’ attention?

Put simply, through storytelling. But not just any old fuddy-duddy, long-winded or once-upon-a-time fairytale. Instead, we need sharp, short compelling stories. That field is called business storytelling – storytelling with a purpose and for results.

So what’s an example? This is from one of my clients, Bill Arconati of Atlassian. The purpose – the message – of the story was that sometimes in technology we only need a simple and effective solution.

A few years ago a friend and I went backpacking in the pristine wilderness of Denali National Park in Alaska. We bought every piece of equipment known to man to fight off grizzly bears, like pepper spray, bells and more. Before we set off, the rangers made us watch a video in which we were instructed to simply wave our arms in the air in the unlikely event we encountered a bear. My friend and I laughed so hard at the actors in the video and made fun of the idea that something so ridiculous would scare away a bear.

The very next day we set off and had barely turned the first corner when there, right in front of us, was a giant grizzly bear. My knees started knocking and my friend shouted, “Hand me the pepper spray!” And for some reason I replied: “No, just wave your arms in the air” and we both did. To our shock, the bear ambled off. When we returned we told the ranger about our encounter and he replied, “I am so glad you did not use the pepper spray as that just makes the bears mad. Either that or you accidentally spray yourself!”

I am sharing this with you because it reminds me of our daily choices with technology. Of course we can choose the ‘bells and whistles’ version for our customers, but sometimes – just like waving your arms can scare off a fully-grown grizzly – all that is needed is the simple and effective version.

It ticks all the boxes for a great business story. It hooks us in immediately, it is engaging, purposeful and it marries the story and message beautifully.    

But you may say, ‘I work with people who only want the data – the facts. Do I just stick with facts or tell stories?’

This is a frequent statement I hear from business professionals all over the world.

Most professionals stick with data alone, often stemming from their subject matter or technical expertise.

When it comes to data versus stories, we are asking if we should appeal to people’s heads or their hearts. Much as we like to believe people are rational beings and that appealing to their heads with logic should persuade them, we know this to be far from the truth. If logic alone does the trick, life would be so easy; we could tell people the logical thing to do and they would do it! In business, for high impact, to grab our clients’ attention and foster retention of our messages, we also need to appeal to their hearts, using the power of storytelling.

So it’s time to move beyond binary. Yes, use data, but also connect, engage and inspire with business storytelling.


Yamini Naidu is the director of Yamini Naidu Consulting and is a global expert in business storytelling. Ms Naidu works with clients from Fortune 500 and ASX Top-50 companies, helping them move from spreadsheets to stories.

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