A man by the name of Carl W. Buehner once said something along the lines of: “People will forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel”. I’m paraphrasing here, of course, but the main message is evident.
When we communicate with each other, there are many different ways to convey what we mean. Specifically here, I’m thinking about how we communicate information, ideas or instructions at work, at conferences, in Meetings, in Memos, in Standups, when creating User Stories and Epics, Decision Papers and Concepts.
We can turn often “sterile” and unemotional professional information into something that engages people, increases their perception of credibility, and moves them to action.
The art of storytelling is the art of helping to connect to the people we are communicating with. The persons who are listening can actually sync themselves with us: the result is not just that they hear and comprehend, rather we get them to feel and act.
We have to be aware of the emotional footprint of our words
Something to think about: everyone you have ever known in your life (except your immediate family) was first a stranger to you. Until you heard their story.
And when you hear a really great story, it can open up your world to new ideas. Maybe it can even help you to take another look at your current world-view, and to re-evaluate your assumptions. And a truly great story can also be motivating, inspiring and help you to move your boundaries a little further.
Business often takes a very analytical, numerical approach towards its customers.
In a past job, we churned out tons of Powerpoints and Word-Documents over the many years I was there. The big focus we had was on making sure all the facts were covered, all the numbers were correct, all the sentences were incontestable… Don’t get me wrong – this was 100% the right thing to do, and I still do it today – especially in this day and age where fact-checking is so important. But in that past job, we sometimes forgot about asking how people should feel at the end of consuming our documents.
Our customers are more than the empirical data we can collect about them.
Think about this: is your customer’s main motivation to explicitly get things from you, or is their motivation centered more around what they buy for themselves? Now think again about the narrative you are conveying to them…
In this context it is very important that we understand that how we say what we say can make all the difference between success and failure. We need to be able to tell stories in a way which is understandable, engaging, and which can compel others to do what is needed.
So hang on a bit – and hopefully you’ll find something here that can help turn your next presentation, your next keynote, even your next decision-making paper into something compelling, entertaining, and just down right good. I mean, you want people to stick around till then end right? Ok, then step this way, and let’s get you started…
How to Craft a Great Story
The Life of Pi, The Big Lebowski, Moby Dick, Breaking Bad, Forest Gump, The Color Purple – and yes, even Star Wars. All of these stories have some things in common. Well, some of the ones listed above involve someone actually telling us a story. But I have picked out a couple of things that successful storytellers tend to blend into the mix of those lovely cocktails which are their stories. This is by no means the definitive end all, be all compilation of ways to engage your audience. But these have been proven to work wonders…
- Kentucky Fried Donuts: Know Your Audience
Ok – this has nothing to do with fast food, other than it’s quick and easy to remember the three letters KFD 😉 Before you start crafting your story, ask yourself this essential question:
At the end of your story, what should your audience Know, Feel and possibly Do? Being clear about these three things is a good start to crafting a great story. You can always come back and ask yourself if you’re narrative is still in line, and then correct accordingly.
- Don’t Go There!
So you’ve decided to watch this series everyone’s been raving about for years. You switch on the TV, head over to your favorite streaming service, get the popcorn out the microwave, and off you go. The show starts with a dude in his tidy-whities, wearing a gas mask in the middle of a desert… And the first thing you ask yourself is “what the… “. And now you’re hooked, and need to know how we ended up at this moment.
So try something different than “in the beginning…”. Just don’t go there – start somewhere else. Get people to really sit up and thirst for the reveal.
- Make People Care
Whether we want to or not, we automatically identify with certain things: be it character types, music, flavours, colours, styles. Know what these things are for your audience, and offer them something that makes them care about what you’re telling them. You can also engage your audience by putting them in the middle of the narrative. Simple things like conveying “you know the feeling”, or “we’ve all been here before” can work wonders.
- Wake ‘em Up and Shake It Up
Many stories have been told many times in many different ways. Find a way to shake it up. Use the morphological method where you place your overall theme or message in a completely different setting. I’m thinking of books like “The Deadline” by Tom De Marco, or “Who Stole My Cheese” by Dr. Spencer Johnson. Or the really great example of how to convey what World Poverty actually looks like from Roy Beck. Want to get a community to listen to your talk about a beloved Operating System? Then shock them with the title, like Bryan Lunduke’s “Linux Sucks” – and see if people don’t break down the door to get a front-row seat just to hear why…
- Style and Tone
It was one of those typical conference/networking/get-togethers. All the usual suspects where there and all the usual topics were presented by the speakers using the usual beamer/powerpoint combination. And then… Two guys come up on stage, they sit down, crack open a huge book, and… they start reading us a fairy tale. At a business conference. And I’ll be darned, if they didn’t manage to capture our attention, take us on a little journey, and convey their overall message in the process.
And in closing:
Remember how we said we want our Audience to stick around until the end? We want the most important messages to stick as well. You ever watch a movie or read a book which was so shallow and poorly written – cheesey even? But you invested so much time into it, that you say : “what the hey – I’m only still on this ride because I want to know how it ends”. Well we will be good authors and won’t do that to our audience, Right?
So remember, if you want to engage with customers, visitors to a conference, your students, your colleagues in a meeting or workshop… and you want to do this emotionally and intellectually – then stories are among the most effective ways of doing so. So, run Forest… I mean, go forth and tell good stories 🙂
— The End —
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