Stories Aren’t Professional, She Said

Posted on 16 June 2017

“Stories aren’t professional.”

That’s what one of the participants said during the “Storytelling for Business Success” workshop that I taught recently for some staff at a bank.

At the beginning of the three-hour workshop, I asked the participants what they thought about the idea of using stories (true stories) in their work, and nobody expressed any concerns or skepticism.

So I proceeded to share lots of information – and yes, stories – about the elements of memorable, satisfying, shareworthy stories, and how companies use stories effectively for both internal and external communication. We also explored how to find the stories in the numbers, people’s daily work, the company’s history and mission and values, its products and services, and its clients’ experiences and results. I explained that ethical business storytelling is not about telling lies, and that storytelling is not just about entertainment.

It wasn’t until about two hours into the workshop, when the participants were doing an exercise to craft a story related to their work, that someone dropped the bombshell. “Stories aren’t professional,” she said.

Here’s how I wish I’d responded:

  1. People do business with people, not intangible entities called companies.
  2. People prefer to do business with people they know, like and trust. Stories build the know-like-trust factor.
  3. People make decisions emotionally, then justify them with logic.
  4. Data reach the logical brain; stories reach the right brain, the heart and the gut, and inspire people to take action.
  5. Even if you don’t work in the sales or marketing or PR department, you’re always selling – you want people to buy your product or service, buy into your idea, support your cause, feel something, change their thinking and behaviour…
  6. Lots of research proves that emotion-laden stories are an effective technology for influencing people’s thoughts, emotions and behaviour. Neurologically and biochemically, we’re wired for story – it’s how we make sense of the world.
  7. Therefore stories are professional.
  8. So if you want to succeed in your career, and if you want your company to succeed, use stories, because they work!

campfire storytelling

For lots of evidence, search for books, articles, videos and podcasts about storytelling in business. Just a few of my favourite writers and speakers about how and why to use storytelling in business are: Kathy Klotz-Guest, Bernadette Jiwa, Michael Margolis, Shawn Callahan, Ann Handley, Jude Treder-Wolff, Lisa Bloom, Lisa Cron, Kendall Haven, Raf Stevens, Carmine Gallo, Paul Smith and Stephen Denning.

People don’t really buy a product, solution, or idea,
they buy the story that’s attached to it.

~ Michael Margolis of Get Storied (@getstoried on Twitter)

Do you believe that stories aren’t professional? Please leave a comment. Or if you’re already a convert to the power of storytelling in business, please share a story about how you’ve used stories successfully in your business or career.

Image via “Storytelling by Theodor Liebmann and Stefan Krieger” from Michele Pistone


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