The Power of Storytelling

By John Kilchenstein • November 5, 2012

By John Kilchenstein


In today’s challenging “do-more-with-less” work environment, it’s not easy keeping your employees motivated and your members engaged.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the AMC Institute’s (AMC) annual conference at the Mohegan Sun casino resort in Connecticut. AMC is a thought leader in the area of outsourced management and administration services for associations. So, on top of the networking and educational opportunities, I figured a few days away from my parental responsibilities combined with the opportunity to enjoy great people, delicious food, blackjack, a few receptions—and some more blackjack—couldn’t hurt during this long, dreary winter in the Northeast.

  • Storytelling is a critical tool for gaining emotional buy-in from your stakeholders and your employees.
  • An effective story should be broad enough so most listeners can relate to it.
  • Good stories draw on basic human emotions and have a beginning, middle and end.
  • Good storytelling is critical for organizations today because your members and stakeholders have more ways of listening than ever—and spreading what they hear.

One of the educational sessions I eagerly anticipated was “Building a Business Through Storytelling.” The Disney Institute’s Sharon Pleggenkuhle led this session and she didn’t disappoint. According to Pleggenkuhle, the power of “story” has been an ever-present force in the nearly 100 year history of The Walt Disney Company. She said the impact of effective storytelling is felt by large and small organizations around the world, and Disney considers storytelling a critical and relevant leadership tool for gaining emotional buy-in from stakeholders and employees.

The Pink Pig

To illustrate the power of storytelling in the organizational world, Pleggenkuhle told us a story about a little girl who lost her favorite toy animal while on vacation:

A family left a Disney resort and soon realized that one of their daughters had left behind her prized possession—a stuffed pink pig. The mother quickly called their Disney hotel, but unfortunately their hotel room had already been cleaned. The hotel called Disney’s textile department and after a brief search, the pink pig was found. One of the textile cast members (all Disney employees are referred to as cast members) volunteered to return the pink pig to the hotel after her shift so it could be shipped back ASAP to the anxious little girl.

But, before the textile cast member returned the pink pig to the hotel, she stopped by a few major Disney attractions to snap some pictures of the pink pig enjoying its last day in the park. Once the pink pig made it back to the hotel, a scrapbook of his adventure was created by a group of cast members to accompany the pig on its trip back to the little girl.

After calling the little girl’s mother to assure her everything was all right, the Disney folks received a curveball. The girl’s mother wanted to make sure they were shipping back the right pink pig—the one with the black feet. Turns out they weren’t!

So the Disney hotel cast members made another call back to the textile plant and an exhaustive search took place. A few hours later, the textile department not only found the right pink pig—the one with black feet—but also six other stuffed pink pigs. After the textile cast member’s shift was over, she returned the pink pig to the hotel, taking the same route as before. Once again, she snapped a few pictures of the pink pig at famous Disney attractions and a new scrapbook was created. Once more, the Disney folks called the little girl’s mother to let he know they’d found the right pig and would be shipping it to her family ASAP.

Telling Stories to Create Better Relationships

Would your organization go to such great lengths for a customer or a member? This “Pink Pig” story captures Disney’s culture and reputation for outstanding customer service. Ever since my trip to Mohegan Sun I’ve continued to reflect on the power of storytelling. Are you using the power of storytelling to attract and retain members? Are there stories that capture your organization’s identity? Storytelling can also be an effective tool to inform and motivate employees. An effective story should be broad enough that most participants can relate. It must have a beginning, middle and end and should draw on basic human emotions. People aren’t necessarily drawn to what you do—they are drawn to why you do it and a good story shares why you do what you do in a compelling way.

So as you navigate through this challenging year, think about the meaningful impact your association’s Pink Pig stories will have on your bottom line. Why is storytelling so important? Because people will be listening, and thanks to modern technology, they have more ways than ever of listening—and spreading what they hear.

Those of you who’ve visited Naylor’s Gainesville, Fla. headquarters know there’s an old-fashioned phone booth prominently displayed in our lobby. Why? It goes back to a story whose origin dates back more than 40 years. The phone booth symbolizes the company’s sales-driven culture and the dogged determination of company founder Brent Naylor, a Canadian. Brent was famous for holing up in a phone booth with a roll of dimes and not coming out till he’d exhausted his supply of hot leads (and change). “Don’t come back home until you’ve called everyone in the Halifax phone book,” he would say to his partner and current Naylor Vice Chairman Michael Moss.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Have a great story that captures the essence of your company’s culture? Share it with us on our Facebook Page.


John Kilchenstein is a Baltimore, Maryland-based Business Development Director for Naylor, LLC.

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