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How stories shape professional success

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings’.

It’s 75 years this month since ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ premiered at New York’s Globe theatre. The movie has become something of an annual holiday tradition, with entire families gathering to watch it.

That this holiday classic continues to thrive 75 years after first being told is testament to the power of storytelling. It’s such a well-loved story we’re prepared to repeatedly revel in it.

And while it’s arguably one of the best stories told, it’s far from alone in being one we’re happy to hear over and over.

You only need look at this month’s cinema releases, The Matrix, Spiderman and West Side Story, to see that we’re not only prepared to listen to the same stories if they are well-told but also pay to do so time and again!

The simple truth is we love to immerse ourselves in stories because we’re wired for them. Long before written language, we relied on stories to make sense of the world and keep us safe.

Our history, our culture, we ourselves, are continuously shaped by stories. But just as we are shaped when hearing them, we too can shape others by telling them.

There’s an entire science behind how and why our brains are hardwired for stories (Will Storr’s book is a good one if you are interested in finding out more), but what’s key is that stories don’t just hook and hold us in our leisure time, they are equally as spellbinding when told for business.

Stories do something facts and data alone cannot: they engage our heads and our hearts, elicit both logic and emotion, provoke us to think and act. It’s why stories have a magical ability to elevate our professional impact and accelerate our business success.

You may have heard this business story, but it’s legendary because we’re still sharing it 60 years on...

Stories needn’t be long to have a lasting impact.

Many think this story is about the President or the janitor. But look beyond its protagonists and what it really tells us is that NASA is not only brimming with brilliant technical expertise but has leaders with superb storytelling abilities.

The janitor shared a story that someone else had carefully crafted and terrifically told to NASA’s colleagues. A story so powerful, it rippled through every level, moving their people to think, feel and approach their work differently.

And anyone who clearly and compellingly communicates, shifting the behaviour of others towards a desired business outcome, is going to be in great demand.

You’ll notice I speak here about the NASA storyteller’s abilities to both “carefully craft” and “terrifically tell” their story. That’s because the beauty is in the blend: Compelling content and vocal energy.

If you’re a regular listener to audiobooks, I guarantee one of the first things you’ll do is play the free audio sample. That’s because regardless of how beautifully the author has crafted the story, it’s the narrator who will make or break the experience of that story for you.

And the moral of the story? It’s never just what you say (content) but how you say it (voice) that determines your professional impact in all your business communications – especially the storytelling element.

Susan Room offers an interactive two-hour ‘Professional impact: voice and storytelling workshop’, which powerfully blends business storytelling techniques with her expertise as a professional voice and executive coach. She’s already delivered 10 of these workshops this year for one of the best storytelling organisations on the planet, Financial Times – and they’ve been telling stories since 1888! If you are interested in running this workshop within your organisation in 2022, please do get in touch.


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