by Alex Palmer | August 08, 2011
A comedian gives an awkward toast at Robert De Niro’s birthday party. A stuttering child finds comfort talking to animals. These are the kinds of stories told at the Moth, a nonprofit organization that holds storytelling events across the country, with everyone from Ethan Hawke to a voodoo priestess spinning funny, tragic, or bizarre tales for an audience. But since the group began MothSHOP Corporate, a training and teambuilding extension, the storytellers now include an executive discussing why a new product has personal meaning to her or a salesperson telling how he pulled off a particularly tough sale.

The Moth has helped companies like Google, Nike, Kraft, and Kroger boost their business performance and motivate their employees through personal storytelling workshops. Whether encouraging employees to discuss their work in a more personal way, or helping executives develop a more compelling explanation of a new product, MothSHOP aims to get businesspeople to drop their corporate jargon and speak from the heart. 

“We get so used to conveying information in one way and transmitting information in one way,” says Kate Tellers, a Moth producer and MothSHOP corporate trainer. “But when we think in terms of the efficiency of storytelling and what details we need to include to really magnify the most important elements, it helps people re-see information they have probably been looking at the same way every day.”

MothSHOP training usually starts with an introductory session to break down some of the principles of storytelling (“show, don’t tell,” for example), and from there attendees work on developing their individual stories. Sessions with 30 attendees at most run anywhere from 150 minutes to one-and-a-half days. 

“As a result of the Moth workshop, people think differently,” says Freda King, director of human assets and operations for Design Continuum, which has used MothSHOP. “The sessions serve as a tool for people who don’t present or have a fear of presenting. It gives them a format to help pull their thoughts together.”

Just as a story told over and over gets refined, the story of the company’s mission or sales goals can be tweaked as it is retold, dropping unneeded details and emphasizing other aspects. This storytelling can even influence the work employees are doing by putting a focus on their roles in the company, the elements of their work that they could be doing better, and what should be delegated or “edited out” of their daily tasks.  

MothSHOP Corporate also organizes customized corporate events, where speakers from the organization itself or outside celebrities or speakers can be brought in to tell personal stories based around a theme that entertains but also touches on issues relevant to the company or industry. 

“Storytelling makes people vulnerable in a way that nothing else does,” says Tellers. “Maybe not everyone jumps in at the start, but I’m always surprised how open people are. It speaks to the power of storytelling.”