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The Dialogue Dilemma

I usually like to feature solutions in these comments…tools and techniques that have helped me to get a story point across to an audience with greater efficiency and understanding.  This time, however, I want to share an aspect that has me puzzled.

I’m referring to the power of dialogue, and its absence in corporate storytelling.

Writing is one of my favorite activities.  I’ve written a novel, several screenplays, I had a go at playwriting, and I’ve made some progress on a short story collection.  All of these forms have reinforced the importance of dialogue.

Through dialogue, we easily learn much about the character who is speaking.  We can tell if the words follow actions.  We can sense an affinity.  We can admire.  We can detest.  In short, dialogue offers a tremendous cue to form our opinion and understanding of a character.

Yet, dialogue serves a very minor role in corporate storytelling.  Perhaps this is by choice, because a certain amount of acting skill is needed to perform dialogue well.  Storytellers tend to focus on thoughts, descriptions, and narrative observations rather than the words that the characters are speaking.

I seem unable to bring dialogue into my storytelling, also.  Oh, there are snatches here and there, but very little of it that could be considered character defining.

Essentially, dialogue in corporate storytelling appears to occur in one of three circumstances.  It is used as a quote, as part of a joke, or to highlight an important point.

Quotes tend to be short and, as such, they don’t help much in defining a character.  They illustrate a defining moment, but they don’t tell us much about the ongoing personality.  People say some remarkable things, but none of them fully capture the whole person.

Jokes are used to entertain.  A joke can lead to a learning moment, yet they don’t reveal enough of the people involved to make them real to us.  I typically see jokes used as icebreakers rather than as elements of storytelling.

There is genuine storytelling power in dialogue that highlights important points.  Again, the problem tends to be that the exchanges are too brief.  We can appreciate the wisdom of the analytical or relationship-centered mind that produced the observation, but we have no idea if we’d enjoy having the person join us for dinner.

Now, considering that the purpose of corporate storytelling is often to make a point, maybe I’m worrying myself over nothing.  Is there value in knowing more about a character in a corporate story?

I can’t get the thought out of my mind that it is an important aspect.  If we knew more about the characters involved, we would take away stronger images that would influence our behavior long after the story was finished.  A quote holds power, but its duration is limited.  Our affinity with a character allows us to pose the question, “What would the person do in this situation?” 

We take the learning to a deeper level where its impact on us is even greater.

So, there’s no resolution this time.  I open and close still lost in my dialogue dilemma…and I would greatly appreciate your insights.

Thank you for reading.