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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Mahfuz

E109. When Should You Tell Personal Stories vs Business Stories?



Below is an AI-generated transcript and therefore it may contain errors.


Francisco Mahfuz 0:00

Welcome to The Storypowers Podcast, the show about the power of stories that people who tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, keynote speaker and storytelling coach Francisco Mahfuz. Now normally, this show is an interview show, I have guests typically storytelling experts in we talk about their work, their their approach to storytelling, and everything else in that come ups that comes up in that type of, of conversation. And if you've heard any of the previous episodes, you know that a lot of strange things come up. But sometimes, I don't have guests and I do solo episodes. And this is one of them. Now, the reason I don't have a guest, again, is because last week, I was giving a talk to a group of sales leaders. And at the q&a at the very end, one of them asked me a question that I get all the time, which is, what what do I think about using personal stories, versus using professional stories or business stories? And I've gotten this question so many times from, from people at my talks from people in training from people that I teach when I'm teaching at the, at the NBA that I that I teach here in Barcelona. And I thought that it made absolute sense to just tackle that one in a solo episode, which I can do in I guess, 15 minutes or so. And there was absolutely no need to subject you to a whole hour of me talking to someone else, to have that question answered somewhere that they are in the middle. Now, don't get me wrong. I think I am a delightful host. I think I am fun. I am engaging. I think the conversations I have are insightful, and they are tremendous fun. But I also have a tiny bit of self awareness. And I realise that an hour of me every week or so might be too much. Now, I think most people would absolutely love an hour of me every single week. But my family and some of my friends keep telling me otherwise. So why push it right? Alright, enough of this preamble? Here we go. All right. So I could simply tell you when to use personal stories and when to use business stories. If there was an easy answer, there isn't. I mean, there's a lot of overlap of when personal stories work better when business stories work better. So what I thought I was going, what I would do that would work is I'm going to do a very quick breakdown of keynote, that is one of the keynotes that I deliver more most often. And one that if you want, you can actually watch. So this was the beginning of December last year, I delivered this keynote in, in Berlin, Germany. And it is called Story power change, gain support, overcome resistance and create lasting impact. And this was at a a agile management conference by management 3.0. And it was tremendous fun. So what I'm going to do is on the show in the show notes, I'm going to put down a link for the whole keynote, if you want you can watch there is the all the way from the introduction from the host to the q&a and the end of the keynote. It's just about an hour. Okay? Now you don't have to watch it. This episode is going to make sense anyway, even if you're not watching. But what I'm going to do is I'm going to tell you which stories I told in the keynote, and why I told those stories there. And you know, could I have told other stories. So the keynote starts the keynotes about change, as the title suggests. So what I did is I start with a personal story about my my four year my daughter who when she was four years old, started trying to ride a bicycle. And she couldn't she she, she learned how to paddle the wrong way, with the feet going back and forth instead of going round. And after she had gotten used to that it was really, really difficult for her to change back from it. And so it's just a very simple story, very easy to relate to, kind of amusing at times, and maybe takes two minutes for me to tell it. And I just wanted one to start with a story which I always do have make myself a bit relatable, but also introduced this problem of change and how difficult changes in in a way that wasn't a business way because there's going to be plenty of time to talk about it in a business way. So I used a personal story And then I follow that up with a story about. Then I followed that up with the story about destin Sandlin, which is a American engineer and science communicator. And he did some experiments about how difficult it was trying to ride a backwards bike. And you know, it took him a very long time to change the way his brain was wired to do certain things. So now, I'm just I'm using, it's not really a business story, right. But it's someone else's story has a bit more of a science angle to it. And I'm using it to make my first point, which is that change is hard. And that's the whole theme of the whole talk, and why, and why the way we communicate is making change harder. Did I need the second story in there? Probably not. But it again, it's an amusing story, it illustrates the point really well. And within four minutes or so I've told both of those stories, and I'm well into the talk, and I've made it hopefully entertaining enough, then I go a while without actually telling a story. And the next story I tell is.


The next story I tell is about some research. So I'm trying to make the point that when we speak in a complicated or abstract way, that doesn't work, you know, people don't think we're more intelligent, our arguments don't become more powerful. And I could have just shared the data that came out of this research from Princeton in 2005. But that's boring. And if you just share data, it doesn't work because people don't have context for it, they're going to wonder about how you got the data. So I just did a tiny bit of data storytelling. And I shared the research, I said, you know, in 2005, they did this, this is what they found out, they were looking for this evidence, this is how they ran the experiments. And it again, I can just share data. And at times in the talk, I just share data. And if it's a Gallup poll about engagement, I don't need context for that. But if I'm giving them a finding that they might doubt, I'm going to share the story of the data and not a personal story, I think we would count that one as a as a science story. And I think it's useful whenever you're going to give people data that they might question or not understand, sharing the story of the data becomes very useful. The next story I share is about my wife, and when she left one job and was treated very badly. And the whole point of sharing that story is because and I actually do this in the keynote, I give people a statistic about something that happens to 1000s of people, I very clearly say to them, you know, I'm going to ruin your day, you're going to be sad, you're going to be angry, you're gonna want to go on social media and shout about it. And then I give them the statistic. And obviously, no one feels that way. Because no one gets that worked up about a single statistic without context without a personal story attached to it. So then I said, Let's try something different. And then I tell them the story about my wife and how she got not only treated badly, but also how by essentially, she got cheated out of a whole bunch of the money that she deserved when she left the company. In the way the story unfolds, I typically either ask people how they feel, or I can, you know, it's pretty obvious by the way they look when when I finish telling the story. And I'm using that to make the point that they care more about what happens to one person once, then what happens to 1000s of people every year. So here I'm using a personal story to make a very clear point about storytelling itself, which is the story of one person that we can relate to, can make us feel something and inspire us to action a lot more than then statistics can. So could they have used someone now? I mean, I am using someone else's story. It's not gonna happen to me, it happened to my wife. Could I have used a business story for this point? I probably could. But it would be harder to find a business story that made that exact same point. I mean, maybe our founder story, which is the thing that gave someone purpose about about fixing a problem in the world that could have worked, but the story of a real person suffering from something is is what I needed. And luckily for me unlucky for my wife that happened to her, so I can use that story. And then I get into the more sort of pragmatic part of my of my keynote, where I'm giving people ideas about how to use this in business. I use this little acronym called Team, which stands for training, evaluations, announcement and meetings. And here's when I started to using business stories a lot more than personal stories, because because what I'm trying to do at this point is say, this is how you can use it in business. Let me show you someone else, some other company that has used it in business. So the first story I share is about Nike and how they found out about the power of telling their own company stories in training to their new employees. I also mentioned briefly how SAP uses stories inside their company. Then, the second story I'm using, I'm telling is about when I was a manager for the very first time in, I thought that the numbers would tell me everything you needed to know about my team, and how that completely blew up in my face. So that is a personal story. But it's a personal story that happened in business and is about the exact point I'm trying to make. Then the third story I tell is about Steve Jobs and how he announced the iCloud, which is kind of a story in itself. And then the fourth story, I tell him that changes sometimes, but the one I told in this particular case was there was a bit of story about science, about the purpose, and how purpose can be effective in business. So I told the story of that science. And then I told a story from Danny Meyer, who is a restaurant owner of many different restaurants and about something he witnessed in his one of his restaurants 11 Madison Park, and how he uses that story in his business. And then I quote, I mentioned a couple of examples from the Apple Store and Wynn Resorts which do something similar. So with all of these stories, there's only one personal story in there. But it's a personal story, I tend to call this a professional story, which is a personal story that happens in at work. But all the other ones are what most people call a business story. Why do they choose to tell their stories that way. And this is where I think should become pretty obvious when you choose one over the other. And it's that if you're trying to prove a point to do with business, a personal story is only gonna get you that far. Because what I'm trying to do at this part of the keynote is I'm trying to show people in and again, you can think of your own presentations, if you're trying to show people that other companies do that things, I'm telling them about storytelling, other companies use storytelling, then you need to tell stories of other companies using storytelling. Because if every single story I tell is about me using storytelling or me not using storytelling, or you know, friends of mine, or my wife or whatever, people are going to have that question in the back of their minds is okay, but do Do other people do this? Do other professionals do this? Do other companies do this? So you have to answer that question. And the way to answer that question is by sharing business stories, okay, so they're going to do a different job than the personal story is going to do. The second of those four or five stories that I just mentioned, is a personal one, just because it's, I think it changes it up a little. It's a very entertaining story where I get to imitate a gorilla. Literally, you can you can check that out, that is probably going to be around somewhere around guess 3540 minutes of the video. And it does it does the exact job I wanted to do could I have picked a different business story to make that same point? Sure, I could have just found a story about another company that trusted the numbers too much or trusted questionnaires or surveys. And he would have made the same point I'm trying to make. But if I have a personal story that I can tell, in the middle of a whole bunch of other business stories, then I think that's fine. Because if I look at the whole talk, I tell a story about something that happened to my daughter, I tell a story about something that happened to my wife, I tell a story about something that happened to me in one of my first jobs and then later I come back to to another personal story that also involves my daughter. My daughter's seem to be a big part of a lot of my storytelling. Okay. So, the idea behind the choice of the stories is, in a way, in a summarised way is this When I'm trying to prove that other companies do it that other businesses do it, I tell a business story. Now, if you're someone who works with individuals, then when you want to prove to your potential clients, that other people use your services, you're going to tell what I normally call a help story. So the story of you helping someone else, some people call this a success stories or a value story. If you want you don't need, they need to be stories of your own clients, he can be other individuals using the type of service that you offer, you can tell that as well. Actually, in my social media posts, I often tell stories of co founders, like people from the bubble founded Airbnb or founded Spanx, and how they use storytelling to get to move their business forward. So I'm still making the points that you can use storytelling to make your business to grow your business. But I'm not always telling stories of my own clients, I can tell stories of other people, not their businesses.


And, and for that, you need a story of something that happened to someone else, if you can be a story where you're involved, because you're the one helping them that that's fantastic. But you don't need that. And you don't, it doesn't really work. If every single story, every single story I told was, so I went into this company, and I did this, I think it would get a little repetitive, okay, it's nice to have those in there. But I don't need to use those to make my point. And I want variation. Anyway. Finally, the very last story I tell on this keynote, and actually, it's a story I've told on social media before I use it. In training, I used it in many different occasions, is a story that's going to try and do something very different. Because in this keynote, it was about change. So a story that talks about how I recognise that change is hard. But it's important. And when we really, when we really care about making that change happen, then we need to stick with it, that this story is perfect for that. And there's a story about my my oldest daughter, and how she was getting into fights with her younger sister all the time, occasionally hurting her. And she wasn't listening to us. And I realised that the way I was talking to her didn't work. So I looked for a day I changed, I looked for a different way to talk to her. And that worked or at least worked better. So in this particular keynote, it it fits perfectly the theme of the keynote, but I have also used in other keynotes. And then the way he introduced that is by saying, I know that change is hard. I know that it's very difficult to talk in a way that is that is not the way you used to because I'm telling them to learn storytelling and talk in a way that they're not used to. So I tell a story about when I realised that something was something was so important to me that I needed to change. Okay, so it still fits any other Keynote or training I'm doing about storytelling, because the major message is the same. So I tell that now, could I have told I could have told a business story here. I could, but I want them to really, really relate to it and care. And they don't need to relate to it. Because they have children. They don't need to have children to relate to that story. Because I think that my feelings as a father, feeling super upset about how I'm failing. As a parent, those are relatable. Even if you don't have children, I think people can, they can feel what I'm feeling, they can understand what I'm feeling. And that's what I want, I want to I want to end at somewhat of an emotional note, although the story is still amusing in many ways. So I want them to have a bit of fun, I want them to care about me and about the message, I want to leave them in the sort of like high emotional point. And for that, I think a personal story tends to work better. And because I had started with a story about my kid, in this particular keynote, it also is there's a nice there's a nice end to it that I'm ending with a story about my kid too. It sort of comes full circle. So you know how what is the short, sweet and short version of when you use personal stories and use business stories. If you're trying to make people relate and care about anything, then a personal story is likely to be a better choice, even if it's a personal story in business, right? So a professional story as I called it earlier. Also if you want them to understand something better through an analogy, okay, so this is like that. There's a popular story of told a number of times about IKEA about how you know my wife wanted me to spend 200 euros more when we bought some IKEA stuff and have somebody just assemble old furniture, I thought she was silly. I thought I could do it myself. And it took me hours and hours and hours, and I almost killed myself trying to put together a massive wardrobe. And that's how I learned that just because I can do something doesn't mean I should. And that's a very easy point to connect to businesses, where people sometimes tried to do too much and things that they they're not qualified to do, or that they are to quote they're overqualified to do. So I can use personal stories to make you see something in a different way. Okay, and they worked very, very well for that. But when what you're trying to do is show them other businesses do this, or other businesses didn't do it, and get in trouble for it. And this is, for example, in the last episode, which was also solo episode, I told the story of both Blockbuster and Netflix and also blackberry and the iPhone. So you're trying to show them, other businesses have done it or not done it. And that's why you should think about it, then a business story is going to be more appropriate. Can you do that with a personal story? You can, but you're always going to have to be, you know, taking that risk of people thinking, okay, that makes sense. But is this relevant in business? Is this relevant in my business? So even if you tell a business story, ideally, you want to tell stories about their industry as well, our companies in the industry, their competitors, because otherwise they can always say, okay, works in your personal life. But does it work in business, okay, it works in business, but does it work in my industry, so you want to get it as close to them as possible, because then it makes it more likely that is relatable and they will think is relevant. So that's it, there's a lot of overlap in those things. But I think variation is the key here. It's almost impossible to go wrong with a relevant business story. But it's not always going to do all the things you want the story to do. So I think you need to have the personal stories in there as well, in the personal stories are a lot easier to find. I've done tonnes of episodes on how to find stories. There's one episode I believe it's called How to find all the stories you ever need. You know, it's somewhere, I'm not going to be bothered looking for the number of that episode in there. Okay, actually, I'm going to be bothered, because it would be very poor of me to suggest an episode and not tell you which one it is. So where is that absence? Well, as I'm talking to you, I am scrolling on. I'm scrolling on Spotify, and trying to find out their stories on social media and others on how to find your origin story. Nope, not that one. Where is that one? All right, found it. It's episode 84. And it's called How to find all the stories you ever need. So check that out. It'll have all the tips and tricks and tools that I use to find stories. And I think that's about it. Okay, check out a few. If you can find in your heart that you want an hour of me on video, which which again, let's be honest, it's a different experience. If you used to listen to this podcast, there was a chance you've never actually seen me speak. And, you know, maybe maybe I completely suck. And that will be kind of embarrassing. But because I don't believe that's the case. And most people tell me it's not, then it might be an interesting experience to check that out. And I'll again, I'll put the link in the show notes. And I promise that I am working on my logistics we have been which have been a bit lapse recently. And soon I will be back to having episodes with guests and some other stuff that I'm working on. And until then, thanks for tuning in. Take care of yourselves and until next time.


I hope you enjoyed the show. And if you did, I'd love for you to subscribe and leave us a review or rating on the Apple podcasts app. It's very easy. You open the app and find the show. Then scroll down a little and when you see the stars tap, I'd really appreciate it and it does help other people find us. And if you'd like to get in touch or find out more about what I do, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website storypowers.com



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