Harness the power of ‘Once upon a time’ in your workplace

Inez Romanos | November 28, 2019

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Once upon a time…

Now stop and think. How did those words make you feel? Relaxed, open to new ideas, and eager to listen to whatever came next?

When you need to persuade someone, you can make them feel that way and get them hanging on your every word. Just tell them a story.

Image, news anchorman talking to camera

Engage in telling a story, and you’ll engage your audience. Image by Newswatch / Pixabay licence

I’m not suggesting Goldilocks and the Three Bears. At work that would be odd.

But you can tell the right kind of story, and as soon as you begin you’ll have everyone’s undivided attention.

Give them your facts — your statistics, for example, or your budget, and projected revenue. But tell a story too. You’ll make the facts truly convincing.

Image, candied roof of a gingerbread house

Storytelling gives your topic greater appeal. Image by Snapwire / Pexels licence

We have some 15,000 years of storytelling experience

Why does the attraction of stories run so deep? We began telling stories some 15,000 years ago, when we began to transfer knowledge orally. We’ve become hardwired for stories over the millennia.

When you hear a story, you activate the language-processing parts of your brain — as you’d expect. But other parts of the brain get involved. When you’re listening to a story, chemicals flood your brain — cortisol, dopamine, and oxytocin. When you receive a message in story form, your experience of the message is deeper. Your experience and understanding will be closer to what the speaker intended.
Are you writing a report? Crafting a PowerPoint presentation? Making a business case? Tell a story that your audience will relate to.

A story about storytelling swung the deal

Now I promised you a story, so here it is.

Priya gets on her bike

Once upon a time, Priya — who worked at a small business in a city suburb — wanted a bike-stand in the office car park.
She commuted by bus, which she loathed. But she knew it was risky chaining your bike up on the street. Bikes had been stolen.

Facts failed to connect
She knew that several workmates would bike to work if there was secure bike parking. So she emailed the CEO with a comprehensive case:

… all the good, concrete, factual stuff to enable Rachel — the CEO — to make a rational, logical decision.

And Rachel said… ‘Thanks Priya, but we’ll shelve the idea for now. It’s a good idea, but other things take priority.’

Stories about staff made their feelings clear and real
Priya was gutted. How could she convince the CEO, Rachel, so she could get back on her bike?

She decided to use stories. She asked every cyclist for a picture of them with their bike. She put together another email, titled ‘Biking means so much to our team’. Then she told each person’s story.

Priya told the story of the formative experiences she’d had on her bike. She’d cycled all over Asia and Europe. She met Kiwis on the road, followed them to New Zealand, fell in love with the place, and stayed to put down roots. She misses the thrill of the road, and can only rekindle it on weekend rides. It’s not enough.

Image, woman on a pushbike on a desert road.

To get back on her bike, Priya just had to tell her story. Image by the Lazy Artist Gallery / Pexels licence

Priya told her workmates’ stories. The hard-case mountain-biker who would like to ride dirt trails on his way home. The colleague who wears chintz and tweed and rides a Dutch bike for ‘frocks on bikes’ outings. The guy who hasn’t ridden for 15 years and is back on two wheels since he bought an expensive e-bike — and wouldn’t dream of riding it to work unless there’s secure bike parking. But he’s itching to give it a go.

Personal stories triggered emotion
Rachel felt herself sharing the thrill that Priya felt when out cycling, and the frustration of the e-biker. She wanted to see how the plain-clothes cyclist would look in her dress and heels and a bike helmet. She was curious to see another side to the people in her team. And she hadn’t realised the difference that a simple bike rack would make to their day.

She told Priya to place an order pronto.

By putting faces, stories, and feelings to her factual, logical request, Priya gave Rachel the information needed to swing a positive decision.

Learn the skills of storytelling for business

Storytelling at Work — How to use stories at work to promote your ideas gives you the tools to write stories of your own. This online course demystifies storytelling, and shows you why stories are your secret weapon for persuading decision-makers. In six concise lessons, you’ll learn specific techniques for crafting stories, and using them in documents and presentations — whenever you need to persuade.

Insights, tips, and professional development opportunities.