I’ll never forget the speech that Bunmi Oni, then managing director of Cadbury Schweppes, gave at Harvard Business School in February 2004.
He had me utterly transfixed, mesmerised with the vivid picture he created of an Africa different from the one I’d grown up in. Democracy had replaced military rule. The combination of stable economies and increased interest from foreign direct investors had created an Africa rich with opportunities.
I immediately quit my plum role with a US beverages conglomerate and returned home to Ghana. With a single speech, he’d made me see that the new African dream was more exciting than the American dream. And he set me on my own adventure navigating Africa and its opportunities.
His speech told a story. Neuroscientists now understand that there’s a reason why stories have this magical effect on people.
Researchers have found that when we listen to stories, powerful hormones are released in our bloodstream, making us far more malleable and open to ideas. They make us empathetic, growing a connection between the speaker and the person on the receiving end. These emotional connections are vital in business where, as we know, investors bet on the jockey and not the horse.
You don’t need to be into neuroscience to understand the power of story. The magical effect is visible whenever you see someone listening to a story – be it over coffee during a conference, at a dinner party, in a meeting, or in a big speech.
People stop looking at their phones. Their eyes light up and they become alert. It’s like they open their minds for you to pour in whatever you like. I now tell stories all the time. Whether I’m in meetings, chatting on the phone, or giving speeches.
Tell your story
Corporate life can be boring and we can get caught up in realms of data, analysis, spreadsheets, etc. But what binds everyone in corporate life together – whether they are customers, suppliers, shareholders and potential investors – is our shared humanity.
And nothing brings that out more than our own stories. Stories from our lives, our work, our families. Stories that provide insight into our souls and feed the souls of other people.
This is particularly true here in Africa where we have such a rich tradition in storytelling and so many great stories to tell: stories that explain our motivations and values, our dreams and desires. Don’t keep them to yourself. Share them. People will be grateful to you. And in return they will give you all the support you are asking for.