Newsletter #440 – Different Perspectives on Story Telling

Narrative therapy and different types of story telling appear to be hot topics at present. An outstanding contribution to the discussion is Stephen Denning’s new revision of The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative. The book extends far beyond business and argues that communicating and leading with stories often is more successful than trying to move others with facts, charts, documents and bullet points. Using stories (not surprising), and drawing on research, Denning shows how well-told stories can be used to:

  • motivate others to action
  • build trust
  • transmit values
  • get others working together
  • build your brand (especially using stories and social media)
  • share knowledge
  • tame rumors
  • create and share a vision, and
  • stimulate innovation.

The author describes how different kinds of stories are needed for reaching each of the above goals. He shows how storytelling has become a central component of leadership, teaching and people-helping. The book ties story telling to the ways in which social media are transforming how we impact others and are enabled make a difference.

Clearly I like this book and think it’s practical, useful and worth recommending. It includes good stories and could have value for your work and communication. But should I recommend that you read it? Busy people have limited time to read books, especially long books. And for every volume we read many others must be passed over. In an age of information tsunamis how do we keep up without being swamped?

In choosing what to read, I look at reviews and sometimes meander in a bookstore to see what is new. I respond to recommendations from my friends and I often ask myself if or how reading some book could be beneficial. At times I pray about my reading, asking God to guide. Then I make my decisions.

Here’s are three questions. How do you use stories to impact others? How do you select what you read? If you’ve read Denning’s book what did you think? Please click on Write comment to share your observations or your story.


  1. I remember being in a bookstore and asking the Lord to lead me to a book. In so doing, I bought your first book on Christian coaching which led me to a new career as a coach and a coach trainer!


  2. I agree, Gary, stories are a powerful way to communicate ideas and truths, much like Jesus did. This is something I want to get better at. I have found that usually the best way for me to consider buying a book is one that comes highly recommended by someone who is respected, credible and shares a lot of the same values I do. Thanks for your recommendation of this book!


    1. If you get this book I hope you will find it to be helpful. I underlined a lot and have a bunch of notes to myself in the back. Like almost all books Denning drags at times but overall I think this is an excellent guide (with examples and summaries) to the different kinds of story telling. If you read the book please drop me a note and let me know what you thought. .


  3. Trained in cognitive teaching methods, which produces alliterative outlines and lengthy grocery lists, I know the value and power of story but struggle to develop that skill. I hope our seminaries are incorporating storytelling in their homiletic and education classes …


    1. Phil, I hope so too but I am not optimistic – even though Jesus used stories so effectively. I thought of seminaries and ministry (including preaching) at several times as I read. When I leave church I tend to remember the stories much more than the bullet points and cognitive conclusions. These are important at times but stories captivate and often set listeners up to remember the more cognitive conclusions. For a guy like you maybe it is the congregation that needs to be educated (and is more open to this kind of change) than the seminary professors. Many of them are good at connecting with contemporary listeners, of course, but others seem entrenched in the old ways.You are in a position to help lead the change.

      As a postscript, I find my biggest challenge in using stories and images with academic audiences, including those overseas, who love to have notes to write down (and then forget!)


  4. Storytelling is very common in the cultural context where I serve. Just yesterday I used a story about Maxine, our silver Schnauzer and at the end of the conference (5 hours) every person that approached me with comments or questions had something to say about Maxine. I have also noticed that storytelling works much better in rural areas in Guatemala where I serve, especially with people that do not have much education because their train of thought is not a lineal as ours.


    1. What a humbling story. You prepare a lot, give a five hour seminar, and they going away impressed with your dog. It happens to me all the time and I don’t even have a dog. But they probably will remember what you taught about Maxine more than they will remember your bullet points.

      Interesting comment about the rural areas. I agree, but I am learning more and more that stories are very effective with business people, professionals and others. That is part of the thrust of the Denning book. Stories can reach all audiences. You just need to tell a different kind of story in a corporate boardroom or seminary classroom than you would tell in a rural church.


  5. Stories are amazingly powerful: they are often the part of a message that is most memorable; they connect a speaker to his or her audience; they reveal something of the speaker’s own values; they can pierce the heart as well as the mind; they are a winsome way of speaking sharp truth. Thanks for this recommendation, Gary.


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