A number of storytelling experts say you should never begin a story in a business context by saying “Now I’m going to tell you a story,” or “I’d like to tell you a story about…” 

They say it puts people off and can trigger negative associations about the word “story” — that stories are a waste of time, for example.

I disagree. I don’t think it’s the kiss of death. I’ve seen a room full of post-lunch, device-distracted IT conference attendees instantly lean back in their chairs, put their phones down and give the speaker their full attention when he said these words. It was magic.

As a matter of style, however, it’s awkward. It’s like a comedian coming to the mic and saying, “I’m going to tell you a joke now.” 

There’s a smoother way to do it, and that’s just to start the story in the way that stories naturally begin.

So how does a story begin?

It starts with a time, a place, and a person.  For instance:

  • “An interesting thing happened last week when I was getting my coffee near Wynyard Station."
  • “Last May I was in Thredbo for the jazz festival when…"
  • “In 1959 my mother was working as a nurse in a city hospital in Atlanta."

Start your story this way, and it will automatically trigger attention. That's because we are wired to pay attention to stories, and our brains instantly recognise this pattern as the beginning of a story. The audience will be engaged before they’re even aware of it — no clunky machinery on show to distract them.

And that’s smooth. Like good chocolate.