Can You Learn Good Storytelling?

This is the first question that every trainer of storytelling techniques in business has to answer. And they are all going to tell you, with a big smile: Yes! Of course! That’s not something reserved only for the gifted and talented ones.

And I will, more or less, agree with them. But the process of learning is in my opinion much more complex and lasts longer than one or two training sessions.

When I delivered my first storytelling training a few months ago to a group of HR professionals, most of them gave me feedback that they feel that this session should be just a start of some kind of a long term process. And I completely agree with them.

From my experience so far, many top level executives from different industries are not good in storytelling. Even when they are well prepared by their communication advisers. Either they don’t use it at all, or they use it in a way that is far below their other skills. And many of them are superior businessmen/businesswomen with good track records of results. Of course, I have to say that media guys that I worked with have much higher scores in average, but that’s in a way logical. Most of them were journalist before.

Why is it that someone who is a world class business executive can’t stand in front of 5, 50 or 500 people and tell a good story?

Instead of giving advice, I will tell you what I have done to learn to be a good storyteller (people say I am – sorry if this sounds arrogant J )

When I was a kid, my grandfather used to tell me a story every night. I lived with my grandparents and my grandfather was a Serbian language and literature professor. He was good in telling stories.  Later, when I was a bit older, he used to read the papers of his students to me and we would analyze it together. And give marks.


Then, when I learned to read I started devouring books. I still remember one summer, I was around 9 or 10, when I went to my grandmother who lived in a village and spent 10 days there reading all the time. I read everything by Hemingway that was translated to Serbian.

In order to be accepted to my University I spent a year in Kinoteka (amazing place in Belgrade that screens old movies every day) watching 3 movies per day. Mostly movies from best directors and storytellers in the world.

My best friends from high school were more than capable of discussing stories with me. My friend Jelena is a person who read nearly each and every book in the world, Nenad became a movie director, Djordje became a cinematographer, another Jelena – a world-class journalist…

During studies… Do I have to explain drama and script writing studies?

What I want to say is that even if we take as given the fact that I have some talent that I was born with, it’s also very much about constant learning and non-stop practicing. As I already explained in my previous post – storytelling can be used everywhere. From a simple e-mail to your colleague to an important presentation for the board members. Or simply writing your personal blog or diary (if you are a bit more old-fashioned).

The trouble with some successful business people is that very often they become focused only on their business. They read about their business, they discuss their business with friends, they eat and breathe their business. If they studied business administration or economy before – then they have spent too many years without listening or reading too many good stories.

I can give you techniques, tricks and methodology to build a story and tell it in a solid way, but my first advice would be: take some time to listen/watch/discuss good stories. Take your team to the theater instead of taking them to a team building in a pub. And then the next day, discuss with them about nothing else   than the story from the play. Have you ever read Poetics by Aristotle? It lasts less than an average useless PowerPoint presentation and you can open so many good questions and start learning about the art of storytelling.

There is definitely an increasing trend of good storytelling in business. Not because that’s something new. Telling stories and listening to them is one of the oldest human needs. Modern living and technology offer so many tools and different stories are all around us: in pictures, words, motion pictures, sounds… Can you afford not to be able to tell a good story about your product or your start-up? Can you afford to stand in front of your team and not be able to motivate them with a story well told?

To conclude – do you need talent for storytelling? It would be nice to have some. But it’s not a must.

Do you need time to learn it? Yes. Quite some. Because it’s not like learning Excel.

Do you need help? Well, it’s like with getting a perfect body for the beach. You can do it by yourself, but it can be faster with a good coach or a gym buddy.

Cheers to joy of learning good storytelling! Believe me – it’s one of the best things that you can do for yourself.

Movie recommendation for this weekend is Stagecoach (1939) by John Ford. Lazy summer weekend is perfect time for watching one of the best westerns of all time. I will also refer to this movie in one of my posts next week. Not that I’m giving you homework, but… 🙂 Recommended drink: whiskey and Perrier.

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