Orality in Business

By Howard Partridge

While attending a very high level, exclusive leadership training, we were taken to the largest independent advertising agency in the U.S.

We were taken on a tour of the massive, modern office space inhabited by over 700 employees that included a gym that would rival any local health club, nap rooms, and most importantly the large, open stairwell that connected all the floors of this modern building.

The stairwell is the one and only place that all 760 team members can all be together. There is a catwalk that is prominently suspended in the middle of the open stairwell where the company news is shared. This is where potential clients are brought to be introduced, it’s where the good and the bad is shared. And, this is where stories are told.

In order to effectively tour the company, our group of about a hundred was broken into small groups of ten people. A staff member named Emily led our tour. She told story after story about their culture, why they do what they do, and why it was important. I was impressed that she was so passionate about the stories, the culture and the meaning behind everything they do.

Later on, our entire group poured into a large room to hear from the president of the company (he had previously addressed us from the stairway and introduced us to the 760, complete with a presentation of song, story and poetry from the stairwell).

The lights were dimmed, with a single spot light on a fit, passionate, 83 year old man by the name of Stan Richards, the founder and president of the company. He began to tell stories. Interestingly enough, these were the same stories I heard from 31 year old Emily earlier. These stories have obviously been handed down time and time again throughout the years.

Stories were used to define the culture and meaning of the mission, values and purpose of this company. They were all on mission together. They seemed to all live the values and hold the purpose of their work in high regard.

A strong culture and sense of community had been handed down through the many layers of this company, mainly through stories. However, this is highly unusual in the business world in the West. Most companies use endless presentations, spreadsheets, and documents to communicate.

Yet, currently 67% of American workers are disengaged. 18% are actively disengaged. That means they are actually working AGAINST the company they work for. They are working against the very people they spend most of their life with. They would rather have their direct supervisor fired in lieu of a 20% raise.

Of course there are many reasons for this, but assuming the owner of a business, a manager, or director of a company wanted to improve their culture, a promising place to look would be the Orality Movement.

Employees are overwhelmed with information (that obviously isn’t working). They don’t need more information, they need more connection. How do you do that? Through story telling. A popular motivational speaker once said “never make a point without a story, and never tell a story without a point”

This can clearly be seen during a speech. You only have to watch the audience. When the speaker begins to tell a story, you can literally see the audience lean in. When the speaker is giving facts, the audience tends to check out.

After the speech is over, the stories are most likely to be remembered.

Questions are powerful in communicating as well as they engage the participant making them feel like an important part of the process – and they are because this is the very person you’re trying to reach!

A major problem in effectively communicating today is distracting laptop computers and hand held devices.  We have become addicted to our devices, meaning our first reaction to being disengaged is to engage with our device. A computer screen in front of a person gives them the opportunity to disengage and possibly engage in something that seems more desirable than a graph on the speakers projector screen.

Utilizing oral methods of learning without technology engages people at a deep level, therefore dramatically increasing the chances of implementation. The combination of telling stories, asking questions, interaction and having participants repeat the story creates a powerfully simple and profound formula for engagement and implementation.

As I learned from my friend Jerry Wiles…

Learn a little

Practice a lot

Implement immediately

Tell the stories often

In my business coaching, I’ve experimented with oral methods to see how engagement and implementation would change. I facilitate small groups in a large room with the rule that they do not take notes, do not engage in technology at all, and stay fully engaged with what’s happening at the table.

The audience members were surprised to discover how much more they got from a session, even though they didn’t take a single note! The sessions are much more meaningful as the engagement causes each participant to feel more valued.

The use of orality methods in business training is very exciting and promising.

Howard Partridge
started his first business out of the trunk of his car over 30 years ago and built it into a multi-million dollar enterprise. He is now an international business coach with coaching members in 97 industries in 7 countries, and a best selling author of four books that reached #1 on Amazon in at least one category.  For the past two decades Howard has helped small business owners around the world dramatically improve their businesses.


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