Storytelling Hero

Stephen Pierce

Deputy Managing Director and Chief Human Resources Officer, Hitachi Europe

I first met Steve back in 2014 when he was preparing a 20 minute talk for an HR conference. My job was to listen to his story, pull out any jargon and help him present that presentation brilliantly.

It soon became clear that this hour’s coaching session was much more than that for Steve. Can you remember a time in your education when your teachers/lecturers said, ‘Hey students, we are going to stop learning maths/history/medicine/computer science and for a whole week are going to learn how to communicate with our voices and bodies. We are going to learn story-telling.’ No.

Yet when you reach the heights of a global corporation you are having to tell stories all the time to make an impact on your boss (the CEO, board or shareholders) or on your teams. Facts don’t matter in the meeting as well as how you tell them – he/she who tells the best story wins.

When I met Steve I was really impressed that he had taken an hour out of his schedule to meet a complete stranger, to help him learn to present really well for an HR conference. I asked him what he wanted out of it and he said that he was an experienced presenter but he wanted to learn how to become a great speaker and to raise the profile of Hitachi. He knew that emails wouldn’t do enough, so he leapt and said ‘Yes’ to this HR conference. Now it was about getting his 20-minute presentation really, really good.

When you think about HR, I doubt you think, ‘Oh, exciting stories – let’s bring the popcorn.’ You might think: numbers, necessary figures, people in not-very-exciting offices. There is nothing human about those thoughts on Human Resources. Steve has been in HR for most of his career and suffered from the HR jargon problem – facts before story, three-letter acronyms before metaphors, abstract before detail. He knew that his story could be much more because the human story is SO interesting.

He presented what he wanted to say and I started by asking him to paint a picture of Hitachi. It started with Hi-Fis, now it’s high-speed trains. Once we had written it, then it was time to deliver it. Line by line, with a kind brutality I corrected his breathing, got his voice loud and impactful and introduced a few eye-raising warm-up exercises – things you don’t see in the board room. He was relentless with his learning because Steve is a voracious learner. This is what he had to say about it:

We often use the term ‘lifelong learning’ and some learning really can last a lifetime if it is relevant and impactful for our performance. Working with Stewart took me out of my comfort zone and gave me tools and techniques that I still always use for major presentations. It was hard work and challenging but has made a real difference and presenting has become more enjoyable too!

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