From TJ Magazine: Happy Talk

Written by Henry Stewart on 8 February 2019 in Features

This month, Henry Stewart demonstrates the power of story.

Reading time: 2m 30s.

I love stories. For me, they bring ideas to life. Whether I am listening to a presentation, reading a business book or studying an article, there is one simple truth. If it has no stories, it is likely to be dull and hard to remember. If, on the other hand, they use stories to explain the key concepts, the ideas are likely to be memorable.

One of my favourite courses to teach is How to Give Great Presentations Despite Using PowerPoint. On one of these, a learner worked for a housing association. In the ‘before’ presentation he explained that he was in housing because it changed people’s lives: “If you could fit the right environment to their situation, it could be transformative,” he said.

The point is clear but listeners had only a vague idea of what he meant and certainly would not remember it a week later. We worked with him and, by the ‘after’ session, he had a different approach. 

“When I started in housing there was a tenant called Jan. She could only move around with a wheelchair but her flat was at the top of a flight of stairs. To get out, she had to get help from a passerby and so she rarely left the flat. 

Whether I am listening to a presentation, reading a business book or studying an article, there is one simple truth. If it has no stories, it is likely to be dull and hard to remember.

“I found a fully accessible bungalow for her to move to. She could leave at any time without needing help. She was so grateful that, for a while, she used to visit our office two or three times a week just to say thank you. That is why I’m in housing, because it changes people’s lives.”

Not only do I still remember that story to this day, several years on, it still makes me emotional to think about it. That is the power of stories.

They are just as important for written materials. Each month our department heads produce a one-page summary for our senior leadership team meeting. Too often it can be just a set of figures, or project details. But my colleague Sheena took a different approach, including stories like this:

This piece is from February's TJ magazine. To get all TJ's premium content, click here

“Ashad was on a zero hours contract, stacking shelves at Sports Direct before he started our web development apprenticeship. After completing, he is now fully employed and at the start of what should be a long career in coding. As he put it: ‘I wanted my two daughters to be proud of what I did; now they can be.’”

An example like this reminds us why we do what we do. We now all try to include a similar example and have renamed the process our monthly ‘Joyful’ report.

It’s simple; if you have an idea that you want to communicate, tell a story. 


About the author

Henry Stewart believes that if your people are happy, everything else will follow. Find out more and read his blog at or on Twitter @happyhenry

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