By Amanda Marko, an Anecdote Partner based in the USA
One way to think of a good business story is as a roadmap that points listeners toward an intended emotion or insight. But even with the best of intentions, a story can get off track or lose its way.
When it comes to driving, the best advice I can give is: go the opposite way I suggest. As a young driver without a good sense of direction and before GPS was available, I tried to go from one side of my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, to the other. A beltway loops around the city and the surrounding area, crossing into three states: Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. After passing too many exits that looked unfamiliar, a sinking feeling that something wasn’t right crept into my stomach, so I called my dad for assistance. He pulled out a paper map on the kitchen table and was desperately trying to locate where I was. Helpless to help me, he asked, “What’s the next sign you see?” The next sign that caught my eye was “Welcome to Kentucky”. I was so terribly lost that I had accidently crossed state lines!
3 tips to keep your stories on track
Clearly it would be a bad idea to take my driving advice, but when it comes to storytelling, I’ve identified these detours and traps that every good storyteller should avoid.
Avoid the story back roads
Imagine I had added details to my story such as I was driving was a full-sized red and white van, or that I was on my way home from visiting a family I had babysat for before they moved. Too many specifics that aren’t relevant to the point could be a distraction and certainly would have delayed arriving at our destination.
In business storytelling, stay on the highway. Avoid providing extended step-up and excessive details. If you take the long way, you risk losing your listeners and your point along the way.
Don’t take story detours
As tempting as it is to tell, a side story about how my dad worked for the telephone company and we had an early model car phone in a bag that could be moved between cars, would have been irrelevant.
Stories within stories, backstories, asides, and other non-relevant facts and opinions take you off course. If the storyteller starts to lose her way, just imagine what the listener who is trying to follow the twisting and windy tale is experiencing.
Watch out for the speedtrap
My story would have been too short and not as sweet if it was merely: I once accidently took the long way home by going the wrong direction on a beltway.
In business storytelling, you are under pressure to get to the point. This could lead you to rush past the details and instead make generalities and abstractions that strip out the emotion. If you hurry to the end, the story loses its edge and your point is also dulled.
A good story takes the direct route and is only as long as it needs to be to convey emotion and make a point. Just like a good road trip, part of the fun of a well-told story is the journey itself.
About Amanda Marko
Amanda Marko, President and Chief Connection Officer of Connected Strategy Group, is Anecdote’s partner in the United States. Storytelling complements her work to help leaders increase their influence through deeper connections that enhance the effectiveness of business strategy, change management, employee engagement, and corporate culture initiatives. Connect with Amanda on: