Sioux Hans Odenthal

Hans Odenthal is department manager at Sioux Technologies.

14 June

If you want to know the importance of storytelling in your company, just imagine how the “I have a dream” speech would have come off if it was presented using Powerpoint and bullet lists.

In my previous column, I discussed the importance of slowing down and seeking more context when someone asks you a question. Particularly, if it’s a suggestive one. The opposite is also true. When you ask a question or share information, it’s important to provide sufficient context. The significance of context can’t be overstated, as it plays a critical role in fostering comprehension, empathy and mutual respect between all parties involved.

Often, our communication is limited to reciting facts. For instance, in many Powerpoint presentations, we often rely on bullet points to convey the message. Using a bullet list isn’t necessarily wrong, but neither is it the most effective way if you want to communicate the bigger picture.

Take an organizational change for example. After a short introduction about the goal of, say, “becoming more customer friendly,” too often a long slide deck is presented, containing the new organizational structure with function titles and names, and processes on how to interact. What we forget is to sketch the intended outcome of the change. We should tell stories about the expected team behavior or share a positive customer experience.

Those responsible for shaping the change have gone through a whole process of thinking, discussing the pros and cons of the alternatives and emphasizing what’s important and what isn’t. Storytelling gives the advantage of embedding this information in the story as well.

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History teaches us that storytelling endures far beyond the presentation of facts. The fairy tales we’ve heard during our childhood remain embedded in our memories, carrying not only enchanting narratives but also profound messages. And everybody knows the famous speech of Martin Luther King. Just imagine how his inspiring “I have a dream” would have sounded if it was presented using Powerpoint and bullet lists.

Closer to home, I can’t recall the bullet points in yesterday’s Powerpoint presentation, but I remember lots of anecdotes that were told even decades ago. It’s not only the stories that I remember, I also know the intended message. For me, this is enough proof that it works.

Of course, storytelling also has some drawbacks. The most significant is that it requires a lot of practice to master this skill. Transforming an organizational change into an inspiring narrative takes time and effort. Another pitfall when storytelling is the tendency to oversimplify complex topics. It may give the impression that a solution or explanation is straightforward when the topic is actually much more complicated and multifaceted. This can lead to misunderstandings, as well as an underestimation of the challenges ahead.

Language is also a crucial aspect of storytelling, and when stories are translated, nuances can be lost or misinterpreted. Wordplay, idioms and metaphors may not have equivalent expressions in other languages, which can affect the story’s intended impact. Storytellers should work closely with skilled translators to maintain the essence and meaning of the story. And don’t underestimate the impact of cultural differences. Context can be interpreted differently depending on the cultural background of the individuals involved.

Nevertheless, I strongly believe that the pros outnumber the cons. So don’t hesitate and start converting your bullet lists into inspiring stories. Whether you’re together around a campfire, reading a bedtime story to your kids or leading an organization, remember the importance of storytelling. It’s the magical bridge that connects, entertains and reminds us that life is a lot like a good joke – sometimes a little unexpected twist is all you need to make it memorable.