Bedtime in the Boardroom?

 

The child’s game of hopscotch is a fitting metaphor for fleeting management trends. The “experts” endlessly hop from one topic (Six Sigma, continuous improvement, Sarbanes-Oxley, cloud computing, content marketing, social media, Big Data) to the next, telling you each time that, finally, they have discovered the CEO’s all-purpose panacea.
 
The latest destination is storytelling. Think I’m joking? A Google search of storytelling in business will yield 43,900,000 items.

Here’s the premise: If you can’t get to the point, quickly, succinctly, clearly, and compellingly, tell a story — whether in a keynote or a salescall, or on a homepage.

Of course, this is nonsense — it doesn’t fix the root problem (murkiness) — and is risky: you may anger some and put others to sleep.

Newsflash: One size doesn’t fit all, and verbosity is no virtue. Ignoring this axiom will kill your brand!
 
Limited Time and Patience

In fact, your style of delivery must fit the situation and audience. When I began discussing my book on branding with prospective customers, some expressed gratitude that it doesn’t exceed 200 pages: “I don’t have time to read thick books” was a common refrain.

In the boardroom, CEOs have limited time and patience, especially during crises, and just want facts, summaries, and recommendations. Generally speaking, it’s not bedtime in the boardroom, and not the place for telling stories.
 

 
Accordingly, customers don’t have all day to read your stories. They visit your website or speak with you personally to learn quickly whether you can solve their problems.

Is it sensible, then, to tell a story at an inconvenient time and to a reluctant audience? It isn’t. Which is why you should ignore consultants who insist that storytelling will solve all branding problems.
 
When Storytelling Works

There are times when storytelling works well. First, one must be a good storyteller. Second, the audience member must meet two of three conditions:

  • Captive: sitting in front of and visible to the speaker
  • Has time to spare: attending/watching/listening/reading specifically to absorb an enlightening message, willing to give his undivided attention, with no pressure or desire to be elsewhere or do otherwise
  • Craves entertainment: wants to consume stories, to laugh, to reflect, etc.

That said, storytelling still must make a point. Otherwise, the tales will fade quickly from the memories of audience members — who then won’t take the actions the speaker desires.
 
Parting Advice to CEOs

End management hopscotch. Like everything in life, storytelling has a time and a place. It’s not an all-purpose panacea, a one-size-fits-all communications solution.

Storytelling works in certain situations, as outlined above. Otherwise, don’t use it. Putting people to sleep or putting them off, when they want quick info, is a huge faux pas.

The only approach that works anywhere, anytime: getting to the point, quickly, succinctly, clearly, compellingly, and memorably. Leave the audience wanting, and asking for, more.

 

About the Author

Marc Rudov is a branding advisor to CEOs,
producer of MarcRudovTV, and author of the book,
Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding.

 

© 2015 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.

 

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