Storytelling at work: the 10 pitfalls

6 February 2019  |  Category: Blog

impact with a story“Use Business Storytelling to create impact,” you heard somewhere. “Changing, influencing, inspiring, storytelling works!”

But watch out! A lot can go wrong when you tell a story at work. Before you have that desired impact, your audience goes through a few steps. First, they have to want to hear your story at all. Second, they must be fascinated in order to continue listening. Third, they have to believe you in order to eventually pick up and embrace the message in your story. Here are the 10 biggest pitfalls that you can easily fall into.

What if they don’t want to hear a story at all?

1. Using Business Storytelling as a gimmick

Storytelling is still trendy. It’s great that you’re trying something new, but it’s more than a trick. And if you use it like that, it will be considered a trick too. You will only be taken seriously if you know why you tell that one story, and if you have a clear connection with to your message. Be aware that your listeners will understand your intention.

2. Introducing the story incorrectly

Most colleagues, supervisors and customers resent it when you announce that you are going to tell a story. “You can do that at home,” they think. Or they shout: “Make your point! I don’t have time for this.” Business Storytelling requires a different way of getting started. How? By framing them

What if they are interested, but are dropping out anyway?

3. The story is not compelling

Everyone finds a story boring if it consists only of actions: and then, and then, and then. The key to an irresistible story is curiosity. Therefore, give them a problem, an issue, a struggle. People always want to know how it is solved. How are you going to save that impossible project? Are you finally going to tell your CEO the truth? Do you dare to ask your people to work overtime again?
Don’t answer that question directly, but let the problem stay unsolved for a little while. Postpone the solution and, if possible, further enhance the problem. This technique can be found in the literature, soap operas, Donald Duck, Discovery broadcasts, just everywhere.

4. Not making sense

A story without structure is horrible. They have to be able to follow it, and the parts have to connect logically. For example, use the simple structure: setting the scene / problem / climax / outcome. Or use the Story Spine from Pixar: an easy template. Fill it in and you have a story!

5. You are telling it too businesslike

This is a big pitfall. We are serious at work, we discuss facts and figures and we work systematically. We work with our minds, follow procedures and stay within the lines. A story works differently. If you tell your story in a lively manner and with emotion, you will reach people. Just like at home or with friends. If you want to make an impact with your story, think of home and tell your story the same way. Immerse yourself, feel the emotion and show it. You will learn this in one of the Storytelling Workshops in a short period of time.

6. They can’t relate

Are you telling a story about something they don’t like at all? Cuffs! And they are gone in a flash. The audience always wants to recognize themselves in the main character (you) and his (your) feelings, or in the problematic situation you were in. They subconsciously bring in their own memories, which makes the story very personal for them. This way you make a deep connection with them and they are more likely to trust you and embrace your message.

7. It is taking too long

We are all busy. If you are going to tell a 10 minute story, they get restless. Therefore, limit your story to 3 or 4 minutes. That is really long enough to tell an appealing, recognizable and fascinating story.

What if you got all the attention, but they don’t believe you?

8. The story is not plausible

I always say: exaggerate, but don’t overdo it. You can make the problem a bit bigger than it really was, because that keeps the attention. But if you go overboard, they will no longer believe you and you will lose them all together.
It is better to include concrete details in your story here and there. So, instead of the meeting lasted too long, make it specific: the work meeting in that stuffy room 1.02 lasted no less than two and a half hours. Such details ensure that no one doubts the authenticity. But: the details must be true of course!

9. They don’t believe YOU

Maybe you are telling a story that is not congruent with who you are. Then you are acting and you are not believed. Authenticity is very important. If you mean what you say and are committed to your message, they will believe you.

What if they believe you, but don’t do anything with it?

10. Your message is not getting across

You told a compelling story, they listened carefully and were very enthusiastic about your story. But still… your message did not get through at all! They didn’t pick it up, which was the reason for using storytelling in the first place.
Conclusion: it was not the right story. There are several ways to find the perfect story for your message. Join in one of the workshops to find your best stories!

Don’t fall into these pitfalls!

I hope this helps you further if you want to use business storytelling in your business environment. Would you like to talk to me about your challenges? Call (+31 636223055) or email ( I am happy to help you.

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