Add Story Telling to your Communication’s Toolkit

Art of Story Telling – One most influential communication tool

IMG_0064Many years ago I sat in the audience and listened to a great speaker capture our attention with his presentation. As I looked around the room I realized I was not the only one completely captivated by his speech. All 100 plus individuals were spell bound by this person. Why? Well it was the way he spoke. It was my first real exposure to a master story teller. I remember quite vividly that I wanted to learn the art and science of story telling.

Up to that point my advisory and coaching practice had done well but as I sat there I wondered where could it be if I knew how to weave my messages throughout stories.

Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information, more powerful and enduring than any other art form, Nancy Duarte points out in “Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences”

Duarte explains, “People love stories because life is full of adventure and we’re hardwired to learn lessons from observing change in others. Life is messy, so we empathize with characters that have real-life challenges similar to the ones we face. When we listen to a story, the chemicals in our body change and our mind becomes transfixed. We are riveted when a character encounters a situation that involves risks, and elated when he or she averts danger and is rewarded.”

Later on when the speaker I had listened was finished I asked him why he used stories as much as he did in his presentation. His answer back was surprising at first but the more I thought of it the more it made sense. He explained that his initial world was primarily in sports psychology and sports coaching. In sport “image was the language of performance”. According to Dr. Peter Jensen a world renowned sports psychologist, executive business coach, and international speaker, when you can get an athlete to imagine their performance they paint a mental picture of the performance that is repeatable because they have an image imprinted in their mind.

In the world of business and/ or life story telling has the similar effect.

By weaving our messages, facts, truths, and lessons learned throughout our stories we can capture the attention of our audience. Rather then the boring message of straight facts and messages stories capture our imagination. People tend to retain the messages within stories much longer.

I still remember stories from 15 years ago as fresh as the day they were told.

Story telling is not easy and it takes practice. My first attempt was when I was asked by a group of two hundred accountants for a local professional accounting chapter to speak about change and it’s impact.

To be effective one has to be able to match a story with the audience. I knew from experience as a general rule most accountants were not sure how to grasp the concept of constant change in their world. After all accounting was about rules and a set of tried and tested guidelines that had stood the test of time. Change did come but it was methodical and always after much consideration. Plus many felt they dealt with the past as in telling the history by accounting for events that had already taken place.

I opened my speech with a question to the audience. “How many of you here today have experience as accountants working for a public company?” There was a good showing of hands, roughly half the group.

“If I were to ask you potentially the most important document in a public companies audited published annual report what would you say?”

There were a few suggestions, then an elderly lady quietly raised her hand. Her answer, “why the annual notes referencing items on the financial statements, itemizing changes in accounting procedures, and things outstanding to be dealt with in the future.”

“Correct!” I said. I had their attention. They were more then history tellers, I went on to say in addition to painting an accurate picture of the past, they spoke of the present, and they most certainly spoke of the future. They were in fact forecasting the future, they were “change agents!” I had their attention. Now I told a story of a client of mine who was a Chief Financial Officer who taught me the value of the financial notes when considering the future value of an organization I was interested in buying shares in.

I now use stories to;

Speak to why we do what we do?

How why do things?

The value in doing things right the first time.

To reinforce the power of values, ethics, and virtues like patience, tolerance, and in taking the high road!

To speak to controversial often emotionally charged issues, thoughts, and positions.

To model many of my coaching lessons and techniques.

If I have a contrasting view the use of stories can be an effective way to get message across about being open to another way?

To be effectives stories must have a format, a process, and must get to the point early.

All stories have three parts, a beginning that captures our attention early. The middle part then expands on the initial opening message with examples and brief explanations.      And finally, and ending which not only summarizes bask to the basic message but then aligns with the audience to make it compelling and increase the retention.

High impact stories are careful not to weave too many messages into the story. the best stories weave 1-to-2 messages.

Formal presentations like the one that first caught my attention regarding story telling was a half day session with three separate themes and corresponding stories carefully separated by breaks in the session.

You will need to develop a library of stories to match the message. You will also need to consider have 2-to-3 different stories to use on the same message. Over time you may find you end up with 25 plus stories!

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