Does business need more and better storytellers?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images
Sep 26, 2018

Knowledge@Wharton staff

Presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article published with permission from Knowledge@Wharton, the online research and business analysis journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

In his new book, “Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get From Good to Great,” Carmine Gallo explains why he doesn’t consider good communication a soft skill.

“In this age of artificial intelligence, globalization, automation — the one skill that can separate you not only from the technology that we create, but from your peers is mastering the ancient art of persuasion,” Mr. Gallo said on a recent Knowledge@Wharton radio show on SiriusXM. “Combining words and ideas to ignite people’s imagination.”

Communicating through storytelling and empathy has historically proven to be the best way brains process information. Unfortunately, an over-reliance on modern communication tools such as text, e-mail or PowerPoint loses that level of connection.

Effective communication tactics, according to Mr. Gallo, date back to Aristotle’s three-part formula for persuasion:

  1. Ethos – credibility and character in the speaker
  2. Logos – a logical structure to an argument, such as backing data
  3. Pathos – emotions

Ethos and logos are both required since persuading with only emotion doesn’t offer enough structure. But, pathos is the most critical element and often missing today. Mr. Gallo said, “Everything about human nature — from the stock market to where we invest to how we vote — is based on our emotional narratives that we tell each other as groups and within individuals.”

The book includes interviews with several top executives on the topic including a Google executive explaining how the company is transforming its culture to become better storytellers to make sure the information they communicate is understandable and memorable.

Communication skills have also become more critical for career advancement. Mr. Gallo cited a global LinkedIn survey of recruiters and hiring that showed 94 percent felt an individual with good experience and exceptional communications skills was more likely to be elevated to a position of leadership than someone with better experience and weaker verbal skills.

“Today more than ever, entrepreneurs and business leaders need to be able to excite people about a vision and bring people into that journey,” said Mr. Gallo. “That’s a skill that sets people apart.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are interpersonal communication skills more important in an increasingly technology-driven world or less? What tips do you have on how to become a more persuasive communicator?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I think emotion and the passion that comes from it is underestimated in business. However, it is something most of the great firms have in abundance. "
"...storytelling and connecting with your audience — are a powerful mechanism to paint a picture of a world worth pursuing."
"The problem is many business leaders are literally afraid of a good, engaging, emotion-grabbing story."

Join the Discussion!

13 Comments on "Does business need more and better storytellers?"


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Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest

The challenge with much of retail is their focus on “telling” customers their story. The greater opportunity today is to engage customers to tell their story. Genius lies in engaging customers to share their experience.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I think emotion and the passion that comes from it is underestimated in business. However, it is something most of the great firms have in abundance. If you look at Apple’s advertising, it is always emotional and tells a compelling story. The same is true of Nike.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Communication skills are critical – but not necessarily storytelling. You can have all three phases above, but trying to tell a story can often stretch researchers too far, especially when there is no story in the data (which may be the story). Be clear, be logical, be amusing if you can while being clear and logical. Without going into detail, a lot of the research on the value of storytelling is fundamentally flawed. Happy to explain why offline.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Retail is evolving into the theater of all that is new and relevant in our daily lives. Experiential retail has become the latest industry trend, as its all-encompassing business model connects the physical, digital, creative, and art worlds.

However, for all for that to be effective, the challenge is for retail organizations to drive the shopping evolution from a transactional journey to one where a story is told to help drive the relationships between the product and the consumer. That requires significant organizational change, redefining what a store associate is and could ultimately be. Consumers want to enjoy new experiences, a place to connect with their local community, enjoy a curated story, and escape from all the digital connectedness.

I explored this trend in greater detail in this article.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I have always lived and believed in this statement: “If I can make you feel like I feel about my company, you’re going to do business with my company.” And that always is built out of emotion. So the litmus test is to ask yourself how you feel about your company, then translate that into a statement that controls how all customer communications are structured.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Absolutely correct Chris. Retailers and brands are using technology and the Internet to “pitch” their products and services to prospective customers. The real opportunity is to connect and communicate with your customers. Listen and learn and then use technology to share their story — it’s far more interesting, engaging, and believable than yours!

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

For business leaders and executives interpersonal communication is becoming ever more important. The ongoing barrage from new forms of media, old forms of media taking new value, and the ability to sift and sort information has exceeded any human being’s ability given the sheer volume. Over 2.5 Petabytes of data per hour coming out of Walmart’s data systems. Thousands of vendors pushing their wares. The master communicators will be able to simplify and make concepts easier to understand – using all of Aristotle’s persuasion tactics. Top execs will gravitate towards ideas they understand first, in line with their feelings, and coming from authenticated sources.

Evan Snively
BrainTrust
Evan Snively
Director of Planning & Loyalty, Moosylvania
3 years 7 months ago

The golden goose in this age of evolving technology is someone who is smart enough to understand and develop the tech, but is even smarter where they are able to water it down and articulate it back out so that people who are not as close to the project or as technologically inclined can understand the crux of the matter and come out also feeling empowered and confident. These people are key for companies that have a unified vision that is technology driven.

The biggest tip I have for becoming a more persuasive communicator is to ask for feedback. Too often people think that taking this step will damage their ethos, but keeping one’s hubris (Greek is fun!) in check along the journey to persuasion will only strengthen future endeavors.

Lee Kent
Guest

Storytelling is not all about using words and certainly not about persuasion. IMHO. Storytelling and communication are a must for today’s retailers however the focus is about drawing the consumer into the experience and adding value to their journey. A good story is the experience it gives you, right? For my 2 cents.

Mohamed Amer, PhD
BrainTrust
Mohamed Amer, PhD
Independent Board Member, Investor and Startup Advisor
3 years 7 months ago
To many the entire notion of storytelling in our data-driven world may seem antiquated. This view couldn’t be further from reality. With the exception of machine-to-machine interactions, communications is crucial to any human interaction and decision-making. Storytelling is core to the human experience and stories are what ground us and provide a sense of purpose, identity, and continuity between the past, present and a future vision. Stories can take us to something bigger than we are, to tap into universal themes and issues. I also go back to Aristotle when looking at communications and storytelling. Mr. Gallo’s bringing forth of Ethos, Logos and Pathos are spot on to the overall effectiveness and believability of a speaker. However, I focus on the Pathos, or emotional dimension, through Aristotle’s formula for telling stories that focus on the audience through feelings of pity, fear and catharsis. The audience will feel pity for the character as the storyteller puts the character through some undeserved misfortune. The character gets into even more perilous situations as the emotional connection with the… Read more »
Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Business does NOT need more storytellers. After all, “storyteller” is inherently a creator of fiction. Some might call it “lying” but I don’t. Still, Malcolm Gladwell is a brilliant storyteller – but dig into the facts behind his writing and it turns out we shouldn’t rely on what he says.

Consumers know this in their guts and are quite cautious about those who tell slick stories that lack true reality. Employees also know this — having been fed an incredible range of stories promising to “fix everything” and delivering little.

What businesses need are better marketing communicators — those rare wise few who understand the entire range of communication that builds business while respecting consumers. Telling a story is only one narrow slice of communication.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest

Regardless of your business: retail, CPG, technology or whatever, you have a brand. That brand has specific values, both tangibly financial and emotional in the eyes of the customer/consumer. That emotional brand value is driven by the connection to your brand. What better way to strengthen that connection than to build the storyline that feeds the shopper journey?

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
Here’s how I see it — If storytelling was good enough for Jesus it’s good enough for me! But it’s not a matter of “underestimating” the value of a good, engaging, emotion-grabbing story. The problem is many business leaders are literally afraid of a good, engaging, emotion-grabbing story. Emotion scares them. And they have no clue as to how to tell one. Get rid of all the “fluff” one advisor told be in a review of a business plan I’d written. Supposedly if everything was in bullet points (using an instrument of destruction is an interesting way to communicate, isn’t it?) and spreadsheets, I’m sure he’d claim to be happy with it. Fear. It’s all about fear. When you’re afraid you resort to bullets. Now, admittedly, my business plans tend to start with “It was a dark and stormy night…” I asked him if the 20 page brochure describing the Maserati he just bought was filled with bullet points and detailed spreadsheets. Or was it filled with blurry pictures of the car screaming up a… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I think emotion and the passion that comes from it is underestimated in business. However, it is something most of the great firms have in abundance. "
"...storytelling and connecting with your audience — are a powerful mechanism to paint a picture of a world worth pursuing."
"The problem is many business leaders are literally afraid of a good, engaging, emotion-grabbing story."

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