Hari Patience-Davies shares why we shouldn’t lie when telling stories at work, but how that doesn’t mean we can never use fiction…
When I teach our the first module of our Storytelling for business course I often advise attendees that while they can edit or re-shape the personal stories they share in the office, it’s a bad idea to just make things up. I try and get people to identify moments from their own lives to share as these are often incredibly useful anecdotes.
These useful anecdotes – the sharable snippets of life experience – fall into two categories – the personal and the impersonal. Personal stories are something that happened to you. Impersonal stories are something that didn’t happen to you. An impersonal story might be a story you heard from a friend of yours, or a story you read about on social media or heard on the news. An impersonal story might actually not have a person as the main character at all, as impersonal stories can also be the stories of brands or historic events.
It’s perfectly fine to use someone else’s story so long as you credit the story correctly. So long as you are not trying to present that you yourself won a Gold medal at the Olympics then it’s fine to tell about a story about someone else who did, so long as you make it clear that the story in question is that person’s and not yours.
The only real difference between a personal and impersonal story is the pronoun – a personal story is usually told in the first person using the pronoun “I”. An impersonal story is the story of “he,” “she,” or “they” – or even in the case of some businesses or products “it.”
Being sure to credit your stories (“I read about this online last week…” “My sister told me that…”) adds a level of authenticity to them – people are reassured that you haven’t just made something up.
It’s a bad idea to make things up – especially if you’re presenting it as something you personally experienced. If you’re found out it can damage your credibility. People don’t like being lied to, so even a little white lie can impact your relationships and professional reputation.
But that’s not to say you can’t use fiction at all.
We can definitely use our imaginations to create tales of speculation and fantasy and we can even use them in our business meetings and presentation.
We just have to change one thing.
If you want to create a piece of imaginative fiction to sell your audience on the idea of what could be, you want to use the pronoun “you” and tell it in the second person.
This creates a link between the audience and the speaker, and rather than the storyteller saying something like:
“When John walked into his office on the first working day of the year in 2030 he saw several upgraded systems.”
You say something like:
“Imagine it’s the first work day of 2030 and you’re going into the office. What do you think is the first thing you see?”
The word “imagine” and the pronoun “you” help place the audience member into an imagined scenario. It can make it much more real for them to ponder what they would notice in that situation than some random character they have no connection with.
So if you want to weave a fictional world, remember to use phrases such as “What if” and “Imagine if” as well as shifting the focus of the story onto the audience themselves by using the pronoun “you.”
None of it is made any truer, but because you’re allowing the audience to take their own journey into imagination and speculative fiction they’ll be more engaged and potentially even more open to the ideas you suggest.