A funny thing happened on the way to work; principals of storytelling
I was taking public transport to work recently and sat next to a rather large guy who looked a little intimidating. I pulled out my iPad and headphones with the intention of surfing the newspaper and internet when this person randomly informed me a recent study found that personal devices like iPads were bad for people especially with ADHD and could worsen the problem.
The problem was I couldn’t properly make out what he was saying. He was speaking at speed, occasionally stuttering and staring directly at me. I wasn’t quite sure how to react, if this person was looking for conflict or just wanted to someone to talk to.
I gave him the benefit of the doubt and politely responded which resulted in the stranger talking to me non-stop for about 10 minutes, occasionally asking me a question. Then he suddenly asked me if he was difficult to understand and I told him a little but I got the hang of the way he speaks. He then told me that he is bipolar and that sometimes if he didn’t have enough medication it affected his speech. We talked about that and then asked where I was going and what I did for a living. Then suddenly he thanked me, got up and shook my hand and got off the bus.
As I reflected, I found his story quite fascinating and it reinforced some key story principles:
1. Stories are the way we communicate. This stranger wanted to share his story with me and also wanted to get my story. The way we were able to relate to each other meant that we were able to connect if only for a short space of time.
2. Stories are like life, they have both good and bad. This stranger wasn’t trying to impress or intimidate me – as I had originally feared. He just wanted to share his story with me and once he felt safe enough he confessed to his medical condition.
3. Authentic stories engage emotionally and effect real change. This persons openness and authenticity moved me. It not only made me change my plans for my morning trip, but caused me to reflect on our conversation and share it.
I also find these three principles critical for business. Firstly, businesses that don’t use story to communicate often fail to connect with their audiences in any meaningful way. They tend to rely on facts and figures that people generally don’t retain.
The other trap companies often fall into is that they only tell a positive story. Think about the impact of that. What happens when you meet a person and all they talk about is how successful they are. What do you think of them?
Yet a company that is authentic in how they tell there story, that highlights the challenges and the successes, is able to connect with audiences because people are able to relate. This leads to understanding and connection and is often a business you want to engage with.
So while I didn’t get use my Ipad on the way to work that morning, what I did get was a great insight into the power of story and the ability to connect with a stranger who, like all of us, had a story to tell.