Story time meant sitting on a carpet that smelt like dirt-encrusted shoes, staring at the half-filled lockers of my Grade 1 class, feeling the pins and needles creep up in my feet. Mrs Perkins read out aloud. I listened. All of us listened. Thirty iggly-wriggly six-year-olds hypnotised by words.
Many years later, I sit in an auditorium. The clanking of porcelain echoing from the entrance reminds me that there is a tea break. At half-time. Just like at soccer matches.
The CEO is dwarfed by the PowerPoint presentation that looms behind him. He has a red marker in his hand that he digs and jabs at the screen to make his point. Figures and graphs clutter up the slide. The marker continues to etcha-sketcha over the facts.
He gears himself up and runs through his presentation. Dry as a bone. Parched of life. Devoid of story.
He’s dressed in a suit with sharp cuffs and collars. He hangs onto the lectern, as he no doubt saw his old school principal do every Thursday morning at assembly. He leans forward into the audience.
Some have their heads slumped in their hands. Others text under the shelter of the chair in front of them. One shuffles his i-Pad from landscape to vertical and back again. Some doodle. I doodle. I doodle all over the presentation booklet given to me when I entered the auditorium.
The microphone squeals its discontent. The audience grimaces, and tut-tut turn to each other.
The CEO resumes. He talks about the plans for the future. I can see the bullet-points of his mind as he rattles them off one by one.
Increase productivity. Grow by acquisition. Expand our footprint.
He stops for water. Sipping, sipping, sipping.
I turn over the presentation booklet. Slide printouts at the top of each page with lines underneath for notes.
I write up my shopping list for this evening’s dinner. The CEO talks of progress made. I wonder whether chocolate mousse is better than lemon meringue pie. Red wine or white?
He concludes. The audience hesitates. Do we clap? No.
We file out to have tea. Do we discuss the results? No. We discuss the quality of the finger food that is swallowed in one gulp. We discuss the weekend’s big rugby game. We gossip in hushed tones about the inadequacy of the venue.
We file out to resume our busy lives. Booklets lay scattered, abandoned on the seats of the auditorium.
We are still iggly-wriggly six year olds yearning to be hypnotised by words.
We’ve just learnt to hide it better.
Corporate storytelling is not new. Business has all the elements of good storytelling - protagonists and antagonists, seemingly unreachable targets, one drama after another, and then, when all seems lost, success. It’s been used to smooth over the fallout from many mergers and acquisitions. It’s been used to demonstrate leadership, and talk strategy. And sadly, as we’ve seen recently, it’s even been used to tear apart social fabric.
Storytelling is powerful.
What’s your story?
*Originally written a while back...