Tell them fairy tales

Albert Einstein once said:

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.”

Little Red Riding Hood, the Frog Prince, the Clever Little Tailor, …  Just a few fairy tales that we were once told by our parents and grandparents. And that most of us still remember after many years. We even retell them to our children.

Many of these (almost 200-year-old) fairy tales are indeed great exercise material for today’s corporate storytellers. They all have a good (though not always very exciting) beginning: “Once upon a time…”, they have a developing storyline, and most of them end with a clear moral statement – which today we would rather position as a Call for Action.

But… can we also reuse these stories with a business purpose?  Yes. Here are two examples of fairy tales I customized for public presentations to business audiences of over 200 persons each.

Let’s start with my new version of the Ugly Duckling, a tale by the Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875). The story of a new-born baby duckling that is so ugly that it is ridiculed and rejected by the rest of the flock, but ultimately grows up to be a beautiful swan, admired by all.

I adapted this story to present a project case study at a sales conference. A project that started under a bad premise, then went through a lot of implementation trouble, but finally ended up with a satisfied customer that was ready for more business. As most people in the room remembered the original tale from their childhood, the embedded message came through very well…

The other example is a presentation I delivered at a technology conference. I used the Emperor’s New Clothes, another popular Andersen tale, as a metaphor for putting a new and hyped technology in question.

In the rest of my talk, however, I deviated from the original storyline to come to the conclusion that the new technology actually was delivering on its promises and was really worth the investment. And as a closing moral, I used a quote by tennis player Arthur Ash, saying that “Clothes and manners do not make the man; but when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.

The storyteller and the fairy tale lived happily ever after, and … created many great business presentations!