At Narativ our approach to communication centers around personal storytelling.
Personal storytelling is the ideal type of storytelling when your goal is to forge a stronger connection between listeners and teller. Some storytelling aims to explain strategy or dramatize a journey from challenge to success. Personal storytelling can be used for those same aims. It’s added strength comes from its subjectivity.
A subtle belief persists in our culture about a necessary separation of personal and business spheres, of emotion and reason, of subjectivity and objectivity. You might then ask, “why?” Why do we not instead call upon the archetypes of storytelling to dramatize the messages a business seeks to communicate: the hero, rags to riches, the quest, defeating the monster, and so forth? We argue that while powerful, those classic figures of storytelling are not as relatable and immediate as is a subjective story. Subjectivity is the lens through which we see the world, and a subjectively-told story allows others to see through that lens in a way that a myth or tale does not.
In the case of business communications, this relatability is a key component. Whether between leadership and team or salesperson and client, the stories being told are often about experiences—of clients, of stakeholders, of employees. While personal stories do draw some of their relatability from existing understanding around a topic, product, or movement—from context in other words—they also do not require additional analogy or metaphor to be of great value. Rather, they need to be boiled down and told in the most immediate and simple terms. Do we need a greater protagonist than Rebecca from Sales who speaks about overcoming her client’s fear of a breathing apparatus? Is there a greater emotional turning point than the moment he said, “Yes”?
How best to tell a personal story is the focus of our method, but the goal is to tell it for maximum connection.
Our entire method could be summarized by the notion of the optimal exchange between listener and teller. We want listeners to hear, see, taste, touch, and smell the experiences of the tellers—to be there. This personalizes the story material for them as well, and from there, listeners make their own inferences and conclusions. In our method, this is how we put the science of storytelling—mirror neurons, empathic ability, and so forth—to work.
Using subjective stories brings a flavor of universality to bear on the storytelling, while the personal content—the degree of personal revelation—is entirely up to the teller. You can talk about drinking a hot chocolate; or drinking a hot chocolate in your mother’s kitchen; or drinking a hot chocolate in your mother’s kitchen when she found out you were pregnant at 15. The storyteller has complete control to dial in the appropriate amount of emotion based on the facts they choose to reveal, while they can be assured all along that subjectivity is keeping their audience tuned in.
In fact, there is little reason not to use personal storytelling in business. But you have to have a plan and a method. In our language, you formulate the plan by responding to the question, Why story? Why now? And you execute the method by telling only what happened, according to the five senses.
Sasha is the Chief Operating Officer of Narativ. Previously he ran a creative communication agency with his wife, Tatjana Krizmanic. He is one of the Vice Presidents of Mangala Shri Bhuti. His story begins with the line, “I don’t anything about storytelling.” Since working at Narativ, his appreciation for storytelling has grown quite a lot. He points to the value of using only sensory detail in communication as one of the things he’s learned.