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Storytelling for business

Yamini Naidu worked as an economist before following her passion for storytelling, but her appreciation for leading through story came when she was a young girl. Her teacher challenged the class to write a story of just ten words, each word having only two letters.

The answer to what seemed an impossible riddle was: “If it is to be, it is up to me.” The experience stuck with Naidu and it’s now a story she tells in discussing how she moved from lecturing in management and working as an economist and leader, to having her own storytelling consultancy.

Storytelling coming of age

Demand for her advice is growing. “I think storytelling’s come of age today because we’re moving to more authentic leadership and to high levels of transparency in business. Those things are colliding to create the perfect storm for storytelling to succeed,” she says.

Leaders are required to not only provide instruction, but to inspire. “I think we live in very complex times,” says Naidu. “Never have leaders had it harder - there is so much complex information to convey. All good leaders recognize that business and success as leaders is about two things: it’s about engaging people and it’s about delivering commercial results.”

Storytelling is a compelling way to engage and lead people. “I talk about using influence to get people to turn up and to turn on,” says Naidu. Although the storytelling of our youth may have been fictional, there’s definitely no option to embellish business storytelling. “People are demanding more from their leaders, demanding more authenticity, no more corporate spin. Also Australian audiences are the biggest BS detectors. So the minute you’re being fake, or saying something you’re not, people sense it,” advises Naidu.

Types of stories

Business storytelling has a purpose – it may be to illustrate company values, product strengths or to inspire people. Naidu identifies four types of stories: public, personal, professional and private.

Public stories can include talking about famous leaders (like Steve Jobs), or political figures. Personal stories are things that have happened to you – from a conversation with a toddler at the supermarket or an event in your childhood that shaped you. Professional stories can be about your business and customers, and private stories are those deeply emotional stories you hold close.

“I think private content is the no-go zone,” explains Naidu. “Everyone can decide what this is for them depending on their content, their audience, and their purpose. Every so often I might have a client who’s been through serious illness and wants to share that story. My first question to them will be: How does this serve your audience and how does this serve your purpose?”

Anyone can be a storyteller

People communicate through storytelling all the time, so it makes sense that Naidu has never come across a person who can’t tell a story. “Working with clients over ten years I have found it is the everyday stories that are really powerful: dropping your kids off at school or shopping,” says Naidu.

In fact, once people have a bank of stories to tell for a range of purposes, they often find themselves launching into stories in casual conversation. “They realize that it’s an everyday skill. It might be a corridor conversation, it might be a team meeting, it might be a pitch to a client, it might be in a formal presentation. I think for my clients who have succeeded - it’s business as usual in everything they’re trying to do,” says Naidu.

You can learn more about storytelling at Naidu’s session at Culture x Design in Melbourne on 20 July 2016. Book your tickets today.

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