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Six Things You Need

in Order to Leverage the Power of Storytelling in Your Organization

Storytelling, used well and judiciously, can improve every aspect of communication in your organization, including (partial list):

  • Winning employees over to your vision and values;
  • Making clear how values are to be put into action;
  • Rewarding the behaviors you wish to promote;
  • Hiring employees who have the passion and abilities you seek;
  • Increasing organizational continuity across transitions;
  • Conveying your organizational culture efficiently to new hires;
  • Supervising, training, and coaching.
  • Persuading colleagues, direct reports, suppliers, vendors, and more.
  • Sales and marketing.

To leverage these powers of storytelling dependably in your organization, you need to provide six things:

1. A demonstration of the power of a great story.

No one is going to get excited about using storytelling until they've experienced its transformative power. You need someone who can "wow" your folks, or they won't want to learn more.

Who should be this imnpressive storyteller? At the start, it can be an outside consultant. But eventually you need to train master tellers within your ranks, who can provide an ongoing experience of effective storytelling.

2. An explanation of storytelling that makes sense to your people.

Business communication has emphasized precision, brevity and clarity. Your people have been taught to think and talk conceptually, to use logic and facts with no "mushy stuff" and no unnecessary details. By these standards, you can't beat "Blind. No pension. Please give." (See the story Doug tells in his video "Why Storytelling in Organizations?", which you can view on this page.)

For people trained in bullet-point thinking, storytelling will be difficult to relate to at first - even when they've experienced its power directly - unless they can be presented a linear, analytic framework for understanding storytelling, which is, at its heart, a non-linear phenomenon.

Among other things, you need to make clear that storytelling is not meant to simply replace conceptual communication; rather, it complements it in certain, well-chosen situations. Knowing when NOT to tell a story is as important as knowing WHEN to tell one.

3. A way to teach your people how to tell stories well.

As we all know, it's one thing to be able to do something and a separate skill to be able to teach it.

Too often, people teaching communication repeat instructions like "practice in front of a mirror" or "look six inches above the heads of your listeners." Such instructions usually lead to weakened connection between teller and listener; at best, they produce cosmetic improvements, often at the expense of power.

You need someone who is experienced enough teaching storytelling to understand which instructions produce stilted results and which ones produce the transformative results you are seeking.

4. Help for your people when they hit roadblocks.

Any complex skill needs follow-up. No matter how excellent the initial teaching of storytelling, people will, in time, run into problems of presentation (old, bad habits, for example), story-shaping (it's hard to see the gold among the straw), and emotional presence.

So you need someone who is skilled at coaching people, who can notice their achievements and struggles and then offer individualized assistance.

Without a good coach, your people won't fully master the powerful "persuasive technology" that is storytelling.

5. The skill of shaping stories to produce specific results.

It's one thing to tell a story well. It's another to craft a story so that it communicates the meaning you want to communicate.

As it turns out, getting your listeners to come to your intended conclusion is more difficult and subtle than it first appears.

Suppose you are in charge of enforcing standards in a good-sized corporation. One day, I say to you, "You want to meet my friend. She does the same work as you."

Depending on your state of mind, you might very well think to yourself, "I'll be the one to decide who I want to meet. I'm very busy!"

But suppose I say instead, "I have a friend who is in charge of enforcing standards in ABC corporation. She says that they found that their enforcement officers were being given incomplete information, because when people saw one coming, they pretended things were going perfectly. But she discovered she could cut that problem in half by training her enforcement officers to always do four things on the job site."

Your silent response is more likely to be, "I'd like to meet her!"

So the art of shaping a story is about offering your listeners the narrative that will cause them to come to the conclusion you have in mind. And the path that leads from what you want to convey to what you actually say is often an indirect one!

As a result, you need someone to help your people learn how to choose and shape stories that will actually achieve your business goals.

6. A way to systematically mine your organizational experience for stories.

This last "need" is optional, but can have an enormous effect on your ability to achieve your organizational goals.

It's one thing to learn to tell masterfully. But if you don't have the right stories to tell, you won't be able to achieve your business objectives.

Are You Interested?

If one or more of these six needs seems like what you're looking for and you think you might want my help in providing them for your organization, I'd be happy to talk to you.

This would not be a sales call; it would be a conversation to figure out whether it makes sense to work together. I'm as interested as you are in only forming a working relationship if it will be beneficial for both of us.

This will be a 15-minute call at our mutual convenience. There will be no charge, as this is an exploratory call for both of us.

To start the ball rolling, please click below and fill out the form:

Click this button to set up a free fifteen-minute call...

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This page was last updated on December 27, 2008
Copyright©2003 Doug Lipman