Stories click.  We know intuitively that we recall people, problems, and outcomes best when wrapped in a story. When I work with clients, I help them craft presentations into “story chapters” to make it easier, more memorable and more fun for their audience. It works. About a year ago I was sleuthing this “storytelling in business” thread on the internet and along the many paths it led to….Karen Dietz of Polaris Associates in CA. Wait a minute, Dietz? Are we related? I had to email her.  Naturally (being a Dietz) she was warm, smart and engaging. So let’s hear Karen’s story:

Why are so many businesses on the storytelling wagon right now? Today we are drowning in information and bombarded with media of all types. That’s a lot for our brain to process. We know that ‘professional speak’ does not engage, inspire or create meaningful dialogue with people.  We also know that the brain is hard-wired for stories. Many people in many fields recognize that it’s stories we crave and it’s stories that stick. Stories connect with employees, with the public, and with boards/investors/partners far more powerfully than data, information, or concepts

How did you literally connect your PHD in Folklore to your first business client? I didn’t!  If I would have, I’d never have gotten any work. Until recently, whenever I told people I was a folklorist, they’d say, “Oh, you’re a storyteller!  Do you tell stories to kids in the library on Saturday afternoon?” Neither statement made me happy but darned if I could correct their thinking – no matter what I said!  If I told a CEO I was a folklorist, they’d look at me funny and I could see them struggling, wondering why they had hired me instead of an MBA. So when I was working with organizations in culture change, I kept my PhD pretty quiet.  It wasn’t until businesses started to recognize the value of stories and storytelling that my background in folklore and training as a storyteller became valuable and desirable.  I was finally able to come out of the closet in 2000.

How do you help leaders determine which story to tell? There are hundreds of stories that leaders need to tell in order to be effective.  But to get started there is a core set of stories that an organization needs to tell – about their founding, people and results stories, and their vision story.  For a leader, there is a core set of stories to tell that is a blend of both their personal stories (who am I, why am I here, lessons I’ve learned, etc.) and the organization’s core stories. Once a leader can tell these stories effectively, the other stories come easily and naturally!

If I say neuroscience and storytelling, what do you say? It rocks! I use the latest research about the brain and stories all the time to show how powerfully stories connect compared to just delivering information. When I can’t get the actual brain scans to display, I create visuals demonstrating what the research shows. People in the audience always go “Ooooooh – I get it now!”  The more science we can use to tell the ‘story’ about why stories work, how to tell stories effectively, and the different business applications for stories, the more storytelling integrates into business core competence. Stories are not just a simple tool or a flash-in-the-pan fad.

Can you give an example? Well, do you know that simultaneous brain scans of someone telling a story and someone listening to a story are almost identical?  It’s like the two brains entrain. The exact same areas of the brain are activated in both the teller and the listener.  The only difference is that one other area in the listener’s brain is being activated – the area of the brain that is anticipating what is going to be said next.  Otherwise the brain activity is identical.  Now that’s connection!  And the powerful and immediate connection between people is the beauty of storytelling and why it is desirable in business.

Do you have a favorite fairytale or myth that keeps resonating? Not really.  But if there was one, it’s the tale of Bluebeard that Clarissa Pinkola Estes discusses in her book Women Who Run With the Wolves.  I love the points she makes about all the inner and outer voices that kill our dreams, and how this tale is about claiming our power to not let that happen.

Do you think anyone would believe we are not related? That depends on the story we tell!

Karen Dietz:

Thank You Karen!