Last week my husband and I went to see the comedian Phil Wang live.
(Cue inevitable tutting when we sat down. My husband is 6’ 5” and blocks everyone’s view.)
Phil told the story of how he first came to the UK after living in Malaysia and encountered British food.
He remembers standing in front of a buffet table at a party, heaving with all the festive staples: stale sausage rolls, dry, curling sandwich triangles and Walkers ready salted crisps.
In the middle of the table, in pride of place, was a platter of chicken. Plain, cooked chicken.
He couldn’t believe it. No spice. No seasoning. No sauce. Just a circle of pallid white slices.
He looked closer – surely they must have some kind of flavour? An invisible lemon marinade perhaps? But no. It was just the flavour vacuum that was plain cooked chicken – a war crime against his Malaysian taste buds.
Now I often come across communication that’s as bland and insipid as that chicken. I bet you do too. And you might have heard ‘experts’ shout that the solution is, of course:
‘Storytelling! Just tell stories! Here’s a 28-part framework inspired by Tolstoy, Spielberg and Justin Bieber – just implement and you’re done!’
But you and I both know that storytelling isn’t that easy.
Stories might flow naturally over a glass of Malbec when you’re talking about a funny incident from school, but what if you’re trying to talk about…
- Risk management solutions
- Recruitment software
- Legal resourcing
- Regulatory landscapes
- Executive coaching
- Change consultancy
…as my clients do. And you might have to too. They’re big, complex subjects that don’t seem to have anything in common with the stories we tell to our friends.
But stories do sell. And you can tell interesting stories, whatever field you work in.
Whether you’re a small cog in a big corporate machine, a business owner, entrepreneur or senior exec, there’s always a story to be told.
So for my next few emails to you, I’m going to break down the art of storytelling. Not into a 28-part framework you’ll never use in practice. But into little bite-sized suggestions.
Introducing…for my first tip…?The Quick Comparison ?
Less intimidating than crafting a full-blown story, you use a short anecdote to compare your work topic and something you’ve seen, done or heard about recently.
So in this email I likened bland communication (my work topic) to plain chicken (my anecdote).
It’s just enough of a story to give flavour to your point but not enough to get you bogged down.
For example, if you’re talking about:
- inefficiency in a process, could you liken it to the 10 mile queues for petrol you saw last week when you were driving to work?
- hard-to-manage projects, could you compare it to trying to herd your cats into their cat baskets for a vet visit?
- the time savings people experience after using your service, could you link it to the joy you felt when you rented a flat with a dishwasher (after years of scrubbing dishes)?
You don’t have to be Tolstoy or Spielberg (and definitely not Bieber) to tell a story. Get your inspiration from your everyday.