Employee Benefits

What’s Your Story?

Mark Fitzgibbons
Mark Fitzgibbons
Communication Director, Employee Benefits

I recently attended our daughter’s college graduation (#payraise), where we heard two commencement speeches from the same person, but on different days. While “commencement speech” ranks just slightly above “root canal” for most of you, my inner writer nerd was excited to hear this National Book Award winning nature author. Critics have described his works as happy, rhapsodic, poetic, and passionate.

Instead, what we got was the cap-and-gown version of a grumpy older relative who’s eloquent but disorganized — and who’s delivering a eulogy. The upshot of both speeches was, “My Baby Boomer generation did nothing to address climate change, totalitarianism, species destruction, xenophobia, financial system instability, and more. Sorry. Good luck fixing it all.”

Uplifting, energizing, motivational? Not so much.

So, where did our author-speaker fail? He got lost in listing anecdotes and facts — he forgot to tell a story.

And he’s not alone. In the workplace, we’re often treated to endless slides of information from people who mistake recitations of fact for engaging storytelling. Maybe we’ve even done it ourselves. Sadly, I know I have…

Good stories connect with people on emotional levels. Our brains actually release cortisol for the tense or scary bits, oxytocin when something cute or affectionate happens, and dopamine at the happy ending. Neurologically, emotionally, and physically, stories are conceptual engines that give direction to the emotional fires that burn within us. So, if you can make your audience feel, then you can make them care. When you move people to care, you can escape commodification, increase engagement, and encourage action.

Here are my tips for telling a good business story:

  • Set the scene. State what your aim is, or what you’re asking for, at the beginning of the story. That establishes the context for everything that follows.
  • Ditch the detail. You have to state your case, and supporting information has to be available. But don’t drone through pages of facts. Your audience can check out all the background later or ask for clarification if they need it. Include only the really important details and get to the point quickly.
  • Focus on the benefits. Everyone is listening for the “What’s in it for me?” So, be clear about the good things in your presentation. Draw their attention to the positive impact this will have on the company, people, and stakeholders involved.
  • Talk about the problems. A story without difficulties is boring. We like to hear how our heroes overcome adversity. So, talk about the challenges as well, but make sure you say how they can be overcome.
  • Get to the why. Purpose, that inner drive to do something that benefits the wider world, matters. For organizations who prioritize being authentic and ethical businesses, the “why” is often around making life better in some way. In benefits and HR, including these aspects in your story is especially easy and effective. How? Think employee testimonials. An example of how someone was personally affected can accomplish more than detail-focused slides ever will.

Good storytelling can help people better understand what you’re saying, and it’s more likely to lead to a favorable response or action. Stories also reach us where facts and analysis don’t — our hearts. So, see if you can trigger the right emotional response in your audience during your next presentation.

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