Think You Tell a Compelling Story? Think Again. 5 Tips to Becoming an Expert Storyteller.

on July 25, 2019

While I don’t believe I have to all the answers on all things business and leadership related, I am certain about one thing: having a compelling strategy story does not mean you are good at sharing it.

One of the most important jobs leaders have is to inspire people to embrace change. Often time, the creation and deployment of a change strategy goes a little like this. Leaders work together to craft the change strategy and develop an execution plan. They believe strongly in what they want to achieve and are passionate about how they are going to get there. The energy among the C-Suite is practically palpable. They’re ready to share their news with their people. And out comes a PowerPoint.

Queue the shock and horror groans.

Using a traditional PowerPoint deck is a big mistake. When we use PowerPoint—which, don’t get me wrong, can be a very effective medium—we construct our stories and share out strategies via numbers   and bullet points … and numbers and three word bullet points are void of emotion, narrative, and meaning. To put things bluntly, most presentations are quite good at making compelling content extraordinarily dull.

Stop Turning Your Story from Compelling to Dull

Most businesses have incredibly interesting stories, full of drama and interesting plot lines. That holds true for most industries, as just about all are going through rapid change driven by technology and a new set of nontraditional competitors, and evolving customer expectations are the norm.

Let’s assume you now have a great vision statement and a compelling strategy story supporting it. The gap between leaders thinking they are effective at telling the story and what the rest of the organization thinks is pretty stunning. After leaders give a presentation, we often witness human resources or communications folks high-fiving about how well the message was delivered. When we then ask people within the organization how they felt about what was shared and what stuck, we get an entirely different story.

Addressing this gap provides tremendous opportunity for better engagement of your people and effective activation of your strategic ambition. Shared meaning ensures your story goes beyond common words but has a much deeper sense of shared understanding, alignment, and ultimately meaning to people.

Doing this effectively is the difference between people partially understanding your story and not getting in the way of it and you owning your story and being an advocate for it.

5 Tips to Engaging Storytelling

So, how do you make sure you’re telling a compelling story? Well, first of all, leaders need to realize that it is their responsibility to craft a storyline that creates the connections as well as the intellectual and emotional buy-in for people to want to go on your journey. It becomes the responsibility of the leader to make sure your employees want to watch the movie that is your strategy. You have to have the mindset that it is your job to have them want to internalize your story, rather than have their job be to listen to it and figure out where the excitement is.

Here are the give story creation essentials to help you ditch your PowerPoint and begin truly connecting your people to your strategy. Each and every time you create an effective story, you must:

  1. Know Your Primary Audience. It is absolutely critical to have clarity on who you primary audience is. What is this group’s mindset and knowledge base on the content? Do you want the people in the group to feel excited? Curious? Fearful? Charged up? To tell a compelling story begins with being clear on whom you’re talking with, what you need to convey, and how you want them to feel when they walk away.
  2. Focus on the Overall Message. Just about every great story has an overarching message, moral, or key takeaway. If being risk averse is a core concern within your organization, you might want to focus on how taking risks and embracing failure is essential for long-term success as the major guiding thought. If the key concern is speed and adapting to a rapidly changing competitive environment, the ability to collaborate, transcend silos, and work differently might be your guiding thought.
  3. Identify the Core Drama. To tell a compelling story, you need to be clear on the drama that will capture the attention of your audience—and make it a critical component of your narrative. This could be a nontraditional competitive threat, the inability to work together within the organization, or a dramatic shift in customer experience. No matter the situation, you will want to build out that core drama element and channel most energy toward overcoming that issue.
  4. Make It Personal. Every story gains credibility and authenticity when it feels real and personal. So if you think changes in customer expectations are a real threat to how you can compete, share personal experiences that friends, family, or even you personally experienced when purchasing your product or service. This might create unexpected “aha” moments.
  5. Practice, Practice, Practice! When we ask leaders how often they practice giving a keynote speech or key presentation to their board, they respond by saying, “Always.” When we then ask how often they practice telling their strategy story to their people, their answer is, “Rarely.” Don’t make this mistake. It’s such an easy error to correct. The ability to practice how you tell your story, where to emphasize certain points, where to pause for reflection, and how to really engage with your audience simply takes time and practice.

Becoming a master storyteller isn’t insurmountable. Just think about your story, make sure it is compelling, clear, and understandable and be sure that success is defined when you see the energy and passion you have for the subject in the faces of your people.

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