Students at U of Iowa Business School develop storytelling skills


As students at the University of Iowa’s Tippie School of Business prepare for their careers, a new program teaches them to tell their stories and personal experiences—a communication skill that will be important during their initial job search and beyond. Story Lab was created by the Tippie Leadership Collaborative, based within the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, a resource center for organizations seeking management expertise. The semester-long program includes a workshop, peer coaching and a networking event with participants’ stories.

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The need: Nick Westergaard, Lecturer in Management and Entrepreneurship and Program Director, says storytelling helps business leaders make their case to employees or investors more effectively by creating an emotional connection. The Story Lab idea came about while he was chatting with Stephen Courtright, director of the Leadership Collaborative, about how students can have a “fundamental building block” for leadership. “Students and leaders … need to stand up and ultimately tell their story. [That] That’s how the idea of ​​Story Lab came about,” he says.

“Storytelling is a big part of my communication classes, in terms of the science of storytelling and its ability to persuade and move people,” says Westergaard. And it fits well with the University of Iowa overall, since communication is “really baked into our approach across colleges, from the Writers’ Workshop to the sciences and healthcare to business,” he adds.

Also, research has shown that people are more likely to remember statistics and facts when presented in a story.

Storytelling was one of humanity’s original communication strategies, and storytelling’s role in leadership has been linked to leadership effectiveness, according to a study published in a 2018 issue Leadership Education Magazine.

Laboratory work: The lab, launched with funding from the collaboration’s executive education program, will begin with a full-day kickoff storytelling workshop, where faculty will help students develop fast storytelling and leadership skills through immersive activities. Participants learn the basics of storytelling, receive feedback from a member of the institution’s management faculty, and receive guidance from peer mentors in developing their ideas. How to tell a storypublished by The Moth, a non-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling, serves as the textbook for the course

A presentation is planned for later in the semester at the MERGE Innovation Center in downtown Iowa City, to which members of the local business community and the general public will be invited. Under the theme of Future Tense, each student will tell a short story about a time when everything seemed set, discussing turning points, going down a path less traveled, or starting over, moving toward or away from a goal .

What the future brings: In business, leaders often try to mobilize people to work toward a common goal, Courtright says. “It’s really important for leaders to gain the credibility of those they lead. Telling stories about themselves is a way for people to gain credibility.”

Courtright launched the Tippie Collaboration in 2020 to provide tailored training for managers and employers. He says storytelling comes up a lot when talking to organizations about what skills leaders need. “We had the funding to do it, we had the capability to do it. And it’s a real strategic advantage for the students,” says Courtright.

Refine storytelling skills further

The Chicago-based Leadership Story Lab is a place where people already established in their careers can connect to develop the storytelling tools that can set anyone apart as a compelling leader. The company fosters the ability to “stand out at interviews, pack punch in presentations, make the case for new initiatives, and build your team.” Online business storytelling coaching is also offered.

Storyteller Experiences: “One thing I hear in terms of student reactions is the experience of having a new network and a group of people that they now have a deeper connection with because they’ve all shared their stories,” Courtright explains .

Drew Jouron, a junior management student, is one of 15 students initially accepted into the program. He says the course reminds him of all the experiences he can talk about and how to do it in an engaging way so people understand him better, both in business and in his personal life. Jouron believes this course will enable him to become a reliable business leader.

“I’m, at least before this experience, an individualist when it comes to just knowing what I can do,” says Jouron. “But other people don’t always understand that, so you have to teach them about yourself, and that’s part of storytelling.”

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