“People always remember feelings more than they remember facts, and that’s what a great story does.” These are the words of Roshan Abbas, one of India’s finest storytellers and orators. People who grew up in the 1990s may remember him as a radio jockey and host of television game shows.
Business communication is not just about delivering a message and thinking the job has been done. It is about delivering a message memorably, in a manner that “sticks” with the listeners and inspires them into action. It is about narrativizing or building a story that will imprint itself on target audiences, whether these are customers, employees, or industry peers.
That is why Harappa faculty and start-up mentor Ankur Warikoo, in this video for the Wadhwani Foundation on YouTube, says that “every single good (business) founder that we look up to has, over time, perfected storytelling…internally and externally, it’s a very important trait”.
One of the most effective storytelling frameworks in Harappa’s Speaking Effectively course is called Aristotle’s Appeals. The great Greek philosopher said there are three modes of persuasion offered by the spoken word: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos.
Ethos is the credibility lent by the speaker’s own character. Words often carry greater weight when they come from someone who has “skin in the game”, so to speak.
Pathos is the appeal to the listener’s emotion—this is the mode that is most often under-deployed in formal workplace environments where any display of emotion is seen as anathema.
And then there is Logos, which appeals to the listener’s sense of reason—this is typically demonstrated by the speaker’s use of facts and figures to buttress an argument. As you can imagine, many managers prefer to take the Logos route.
Talented leaders and managers decide which of these appeals to draw on depending on the situation. Often, it is useful to draw on a combination of two or more of these to construct a narrative and galvanize the listener into introspection or action.
Let’s look at the “appeals” through some examples of business leaders who are famed for their ability to use storytelling in their communication. Ethos is inherent in all since they are coming from organization leaders.
‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’: The 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, delivered by the founder of Apple, the late Steve Jobs, is the stuff of legend. Under the glinting California sun, decked in commencement regalia, Jobs told the students a moving story of taking a calligraphy class after dropping out of Reed College.
He took it simply because he wanted to follow his curiosity. Ten years later, when he was designing the first Macintosh computer, he recalled those lessons and incorporated some of what he learned about typography in the computer’s soon-to-be iconic fonts.
Not only does this little anecdote strike a chord with graduating students about learning to trust their instincts and nurture their passions, it also says so much about the focus on detail that allowed Apple to distinguish itself as a brand. There you have it—Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, all in one anecdote.
Hamaara Bajaj: Closer home, there is Rajiv Bajaj, managing director of Bajaj Auto and an excellent raconteur. His one-liners and witticisms strike an instant chord with his employees and other audiences (For instance, ‘Products are made in the factory, but brands are made in the market’, an adaptation of something legendary brand designer Walter Landor said).
Additionally, he is unafraid to speak about his vulnerabilities and failures. At the ASCENT Conclave in 2018, he spoke about “being better” and “being different”. He says he lost 20 years of his life trying to build a “better” product. He attributes the success of Bajaj Pulsar—the first motorbike that Bajaj built without a foreign collaborator—to an approach that prized being “different”.
Since the motorbikes produced by the market leader Hero Honda were focussed on mileage, Bajaj decided to focus on power—the engine would be bigger than the typical 100cc and the design would be muscular. Launched in 2001, the Pulsar turned around Bajaj’s lagging fortunes. It allowed it to shed the skin of a scooter company and reinvent itself as a motorbike maker.
Bajaj’s engaging anecdotes about the turnaround in the company’s image have elements of both Pathos and Logos. He touches an emotional chord with the audience by speaking openly about Bajaj’s stagnation as a company and his hopes for it to become a truly “global” company. He taps into Logos when he goes on to detail the strategies that Bajaj used to develop the Pulsar and challenge Hero’s dominance in the motorcycle market.
Via Milano: In 1983, a young man walked the streets of Milan and was “enamored” by the Italian coffee bar, a “symphony of romance and community”. He brought back the idea of selling espressos and cappuccinos to the American public, but his bosses only wanted to sell coffee beans and equipment.
So he went his own way and set up a specialty coffee shop—called Il Giornale, after a Milanese newspaper. The bosses decided to sell their business to the young man.
And the rest is history.
The company is Starbucks and the young man who was enamored by Milanese coffee bars was the former chairman and CEO Howard Schultz, who never tired of repeating this origin story to inspire customers and employees.
As a Forbes article from September 2018 (“How Howard Schultz Elevated the Art of Corporate Storytelling”) put it, “Customers don’t buy a brand or a logo as much as they buy into a set of values.” And through this origin story that combined Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, Schultz communicated how committed he and his company are to authenticity and quality.
Aristotle’s Appeals are often described as “devices in rhetoric”. And rhetoric is nothing but the art of persuasion. Along with grammar and logic, it formed the trivium—central to a classical education in ancient Greece. But it is an art that has not lost its relevance in the modern corporate world. As the examples from three renowned business leaders have indicated, persuasion through compelling storytelling is integral to speaking effectively.
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