May 20, 2005
was apparently the date I ordered a hardcover book from Amazon (can you believe the info they have on our buying patterns?), called “The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative.” It’s right here on my bookshelf.
Author Stephen Denning described his ground-breaking work at the World Bank, where he introduced the idea of storytelling to “translate those dry and abstract numbers into compelling pictures of a leader’s goals.” Whoa, what a weird and wonderful new concept!
16 Years Later
Most of my corporate clients today consider storytelling an accepted way to help audiences better understand complex communications. It is often less about the actual stories themselves, and more about how the presenter shifts into speaking in a way that’s more personal, natural and conversational. And when the speaker shifts, the audience can as well.
So, What’s a Story?
It’s a journey in which something changes. Challenges are overcome, discoveries made, obstacles met, opinions altered. It can be an anecdote or an analogy to something already known. It can be a story of how your product or service works. No one else can tell your story quite the way you can, because it’s based on your unique perceptions and experiences.
How to Begin
Keep it simple. Every story has a beginning, middle and end. So think in 3’s. For example:
1. Set the context
2. Describe the action
3. Share the lesson
1. Clarify the problem
2. Search for the solution
3. Identify the resolution
It’s Easier Than You Think
The good news is that you are living stories every day, both personally and professionally. You just need to tune into them. Watch the movie!
Think about travel, family dynamics, pets, cooking, sports, concerts, going to the store: grocery, hardware, electronics. Look around, notice and capture anecdotes or fun scenarios as they happen. This material may help you make a business point or explain a concept one day, even if you’re not quite sure how.
Thinking of your everyday life movies, try pulling out some analogies to help describe a business challenge:
Mitigating risk is like…
Trying to partner when we have competing goals is like…
Analyzing data is like…
Or try using prompts to stimulate fresh thinking:
You know how sometimes…
I was as surprised as anyone when…
First, we had to…Then, we had to…At that point, what happened was…
Using simple, everyday language and short sentences is a great way to paint a picture. A picture is visual and familiar. Create your story scene with vibrant details. It will help your listeners to see different scenarios and imagine different strategies.
Story Changes You
When you start relating a story, a beautiful thing happens. Your voice changes. Your face changes. You become more real and relatable. You build more trust and engagement. This is how you give life and energy to dry business-speak. And who doesn’t want more life and energy these days?
Start small and give it a try. You don’t need to write a play; just unleash the inner storyteller within you. And enjoy the results.
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