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Beyond Numbers: Transform Procurement with the Art of Storytelling

In 1905 the largest diamond at the time, the Cullinan Diamond, was shipped from South Africa to England as a gift to King Edward VII. The diamond was escorted to England with great security, starting with a grand procession onto a steamboat that took it on the long voyage. Armed guards ensured a safe passage across the high seas. Then once on land in England, the precious gemstone was brought to the palace.

In reality however, the diamond wasn't actually on the steamboat. It was wrapped up in a plain box and shipped via postal service. The stone on the steamboat was a decoy, and the Cullinan Diamond arrived safely in England via the daily mail. Clearly, someone was very good at getting their (unorthodox) ideas across.

And getting your ideas across is equally important in procurement as well.

Now consider this: have you ever left a meeting forgetting the data points but remembering a story that was shared during the meeting? As you're doing any sort of negotiating, sourcing, or relationship building, you have the option to use charts and graphs to make your points, or you can make your points far more memorable with a well-told story. And when you have information to present, what are the ramifications of better impressions, made memorable through storytelling?

Here's a handy nugget of information: people forget facts but remember a story, because we're actually hardwired to remember something 20 times better in story form. Twenty times better!

Leverage that fact.

And the really useful thing is that for procurement especially, stories make it easier to change opinions and behavior than do charts and tables. And (as perhaps you noticed in the opening) stories are more engaging and capture attention better.

How to Tell a Good Story

Story telling is definitely a learned skill, and can always be improved upon. Here are a few tips for helping you craft unforgettable stories:

  1. Share a personal story - nothing too personal of course. Choose something from your work life, for example, or a story from someone else's work life, but a story nonetheless. You're aiming for discussing something that helps make a connection with your audience.

  1. Write your story first - If you're planning on telling a story as part of a presentation, work on the story first so you know where and how it'll fit into your presentation.

  1. Know your audience - Are you talking to the C-suite or sales reps? Adjust the message accordingly (naturally, but this does need to be said nonetheless).

  1. Structure - Use structure in your presentation. Begin with your story, and at the end reference your story. It helps people remember what you said, ensures what you said is congruent, and it makes everything flow nicely.

  1. Practice - This also goes without saying, but practice your presentations. Even the most experienced Toastmasters, who sharpen their presentation and public speaking skills by giving 5-8 minute speeches, practice their speeches a great deal before presenting. (Here's the winning Toastmasters speech of 2023, "Have You Been There?" providing a stellar example of storytelling.)

Stories are powerful. A good story lasts in peoples' minds. Stories even have such power as to move and motivate nations. And well-told stories can help elevate and improve the many facets of procurement.

So whether you have a crazy idea, like shipping a diamond in the mail, or a more sane idea, like sourcing, negotiating, or preparing for another procurement meeting, integrate stories into your communications and presentations to make what you say more engaging, memorable, and persuasive.

There's an abundance of help in book form, online, and of course, you can learn superlative storytelling through, which I highly recommend.


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