The power of storytelling at work

Storytelling? At work? Reeeeeaally? Not in our setting. Wouldn’t work.

But actually, what you’ll find if you look around, is that people are already telling stories everywhere you look. They’re telling stories to inspire, motivate, change behaviour, sell products, warn people, or to explain what the organisation’s culture, policies and practices are (see the diagram below for just some of the great things that stories help us to do).

Stories are everywhere. And they’re everywhere from a really young age. A study of children at play discovered that, as young as 3 or 4, kids can construct stories with clear beginnings, middles and ends, with goodies and baddies, and they get that stories are about change: the goodie goes bad; the baddie becomes good. The thought that we are so hardwired to tell stories, to love stories, to react and respond to stories, sends a happy little shiver down my spine.

So what about if, rather than just noticing the vast amount of stories around us, you made an effort to tell them? You thought about when to use them, and how, and how to make them really great? And in doing so, you improved your confidence, your presentation skills and your organisational effectiveness. Yes please!

But there is something a teeny bit, well, awkward, about trying to tell a story. What if it goes wrong? Worse than being someone who doesn’t tell stories is being someone who tells long, boring, rambling stories. Or stories that don’t quite hit the right note. Or stories that really don’t fit the context.

The good news is, that if you have the right tools and techniques, you can become the owner and teller of some really great stories. The first lesson to remember is that stories need to have a Context, an Action and a Resolution. Or, to help you remember it, C-A-R. You need to set the scene, make something happen, and show how things changed because of it. If you have that, you have a basic story.

Then there are all kinds of ways you can make your story better, more engaging, more suited to the purpose. You could look at using repetition. That’s the technique that so many of the great fairytales make use of. You know, the way that Goldlilocks tries two bowls or porridge that aren’t good (too hot! too cold!) before she arrives at the one that is just right. Or you can rope your audience into getting involved. Can they guess the ending? (And can you surprise them by making the ending different to what they were expecting?) Or can you lose some of that detail and shave your story down to a few, really powerful sentences?

And finally, you can think about how to actually tell your story. If it’s in person, is this a lean forward across the table, whispering, you’re never going to believe this type of a story? Or is this a blog post or a video, or something to be celebrated, loudly, in a presentation setting? How can you tweak your story to fit the medium you’re going to deliver it in?

Storytelling at work can be so effective if it’s done right. The hints and tips above are hopefully just enough to show you that, yes, they can have a real impact. If you’re interested in finding out more, I’d love to talk to you about the storytelling workshops that I run. Contact me if you’d like to know more.


Did you find this post interesting? For more content like this, sign-up to my newsletter, ‘Dear Katie’, where I help solve real-life messy leadership problems.

Have a leadership problem of your own? Submit it via email – – and I will answer it anonymously in a future issue.