Filed in Business storytelling
You want a persuasive story with impact, right?
So your natural response is to gather all the details you need to paint a vivid picture, add some emotion, and throw in a good twist. Then you craft your story. When you’re happy with it, you practise telling it – you practise, practise, practise.
And then you feature the story in your presentation.
Well, I’ve seen people do this and it comes off as an overly elaborate and inauthentic performance.
The last thing you want your audience to feel is that they’re simply watching a performance. What you do want them to feel is that you’re sharing an experience with them, just like what happens when people catch up informally over lunch. That’s when you hear what’s really happening.
People in the business world are rightly sceptical about performances.
How to tell a story without giving a performance
Here are 6 ways to keep your story conversational and authentic:
Read the rest of this entry »
Filed in Business storytelling
“We don’t have time to hear a story.
Just give us the facts.”
Have you heard that before?
The thing is, it’s simply untrue.
We have all heard ‘facts’ drone on for ages. Yet you can tell a powerful and memorable story in a minute and a half, or less. Check out the video below to see that in action.
Here’s the secret to having your story heard. Actually, there’s two secrets.
Never mention the ‘s’ word
First, never mention the ‘s’ word. Never start your story by saying, “I’d like to share a story with you.”
Saying you’re going to share a story, especially in business, often triggers a negative reaction. The audience thinks, this is made up, it’s not business, it’s going to take too long.
Using the ‘s’ word in business is the business storytelling rookie error. Instead, start with point of your story and then just tell it. We call this a relevance statement.
Bryan Cranston might have said something like, “A change in career can happen in a moment.” just before he told this story.
Filed in Business storytelling
Last week I had the pleasure to meet Eileen Sutton who is a financial services copywriter in New York. I was describing some of the work we’ve been doing for the National Australia Bank (known as ‘nab’ here in Australia and the largest bank in our country by asset size1) and she was amazed that a bank was so progressive. She asked me to write up some of the things we are doing for nab.
We’ve done narrative-based leadership development programs, for example for the bank’s executives at the Private Wealth Group. Click here to have a look at the case study.
nab has taken business storytelling seriously. They have even included storytelling as a core capability for senior executives in the bank’s capability framework.
Late last year we featured in a new leadership program for high potential store managers. They kicked off the program with Storytelling for Leaders.
We have also helped the financial advisors be better storytellers and worked with different parts of the IT organisation to help them better connect with the business lines.
nab has been a pleasure to work with. The people there really want to make a difference and care about being good leaders. Of course there is always room for improvement and we play our small part in an overall effort to build the capability of the bank.
1. Source: The Banker, July 2013
Filed in Business storytelling
Yesterday I presented a couple of storytelling workshops at the Science Communicators Conference in Brisbane. Great people. Excellent conference.
One of the highlights of the conference happened on Sunday at the Storytelling of Science panel discussion.
Five distinguished panelists and our host Dr Andrew Stephenson (Prof Peter Adams, Prof Tim Flannery, Prof Jenny Graves, Lynne Malcolm, Dr Jesse Shore) took ten minutes each to tell a story.
My favourite was by Professor Jenny Graves.
Filed in Business storytelling
The story I’m about to share featured in a case study we recently published about our work with Yammer. It got me thinking about something Ursula (the protagonist in the story) did that all business leaders are trying to achieve. Have a read and let’s have a look.
Ursula Llabres had just 10 minutes to communicate her message to 200 Microsoft sales reps.
In 2012, Microsoft acquired the enterprise social network, Yammer, where Llabres works as a customer success manager. Her objective: help Microsoft Office365 ‘Black Belts’ understand the value and impact of Yammer.
At the event, Llabres shared two customer stories. During a day packed with back-to-back sessions, her presentation stood out from the rest.
“It was the only talk all day where people closed their laptops and listened,” said Steve Hopkins, Director of Customer Success for Yammer’s Australia region and a colleague of Llabres’.
When Llabres finished, hands shot up with questions and Microsoft requested a follow-on impromptu Yammer 101 session for later that day. Reps approached Llabres with more questions and requests to connect on Yammer. The approach Llabres and her Yammer colleagues took to preparing and delivering their messages varied significantly from other speakers that day.
In a world full of information the scarcest resource is attention. Unlike information it’s a finite resource because only people can provide attention and there are only so many hours in the day. And with smartphones buzzing, screens blinking, colleagues popping in for a chat, there are now so many more ways for our attention to be diverted, or even diluted.
The idea of an attention economy has been with us for some time. In fact I remember the first time I heard the term back in 2002 when Tom Davenport and John Beck published their book adeptly named, The Attention Economy. But perhaps the first person to describe the concept was Nobel Prize winning social scientist Herbert A. Simon when he wrote in 19711:
“… in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it”
Ursula was able to draw the attention of her Microsoft colleagues for a couple of reasons: Read the rest of this entry »
Filed in Business storytelling
Have you ever wondered why you can remember someone’s job but not their name?
Here’s a simple experiment you can do that I learned from Joshua Foer (who wrote an excellent book on memory called Moonwalking with Einstein):
Ask someone to remember a person’s name, such as Baker.
Ask another person to remember the job of baker.
Come back to them in a week and ask for the word you gave them.
You’ll will find that people will remember the job much better than the name because it has so much more meaning. We think of the white hat, the bakery smells, the taste of baked goodies.
A name in isolation – nothing.
So, to remember a story we need to give it meaning.
A simple technique to remember an oral story
This is how I remember stories to tell.
Whenever I hear a story that’s remarkable, one that I think I would like to retell, I call up someone, usually my business partner Mark, and tell them the story.
Then I ask, “What does that story mean for you?”
He will say things like, it’s about doing the right thing, or how small things make a difference.
I then share with him what it means for me.
These phrases describing the meaning of the story become like tags to recall the story in the future.
Then I look for places to tell it.
Once I’ve told it 3 times or so I have it for keeps.
When the tag is mentioned in a conversation, I remember the story. Someone will say, “You know what, sometimes it’s the small things that make a difference.” And my story will spring to mind and I can decide to tell it.
But the funny thing is if someone says, “tell me a story about when a small thing made a difference,” I’m unlikely to remember it.
Late last year we helped Yammer’s Customer Success Managers build their story capability across their global team using our Storytelling for Leaders Program. They learned how to tell, elicit and trigger stories. And like many companies we work with our story-listening techniques are a real eye-opener for them.
Today we’re delighted we can share this case study describing what we did and the impact it had for Yammer.
To download the case study just click here.
I was the first contestant on the Millionaire Hot Seat for the night. The host, Eddie McGuire, was beaming at me just behind the monitor that was about to flash up my first question. We started off with the usual banter that begins the show and he asks me about my dad.
“Wasn’t your father in the US Marines Shawn and helped with the JFK assassination investigation?” Eddie knows I have this story ready to be told.
See here I go.
My father was a sharp shooter in the Marines in the 1960s and after Kennedy’s assassination Dad and two other military riflemen–one was an Olympic marksman–were ordered to re-enact the shooting. They set up a tower to the same height as the book depository window. A moving target was created and the three shooters used the same rifle type Lee Harvey Oswald used.
They didn’t even come close to being able to get off the same number of shots in the time period or come close to hitting the moving target. They submitted their findings to the Warren Commission feeling that the case was closed: Oswald couldn’t have been the shooter. But as we know history took a sharp right.
I was off and running. Now to answer some questions and have my shot at winning a million bucks.
We’re all rational beings, aren’t we? If I want to convince you of something, surely I just need the necessary facts or a convincing argument?
Well, behavioural science research tells us that this approach simply doesn’t work. This post describes something that scientists have known for nearly 40 years and which organisations stubbornly refuse to accept.
If the story is in their heads, it’s hard to change
Once someone has decided to believe something, they will tend to keep on believing it, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, facts and plausible arguments. Lilienfield (2002) researched a phenomenon called ‘belief perseverance’ and found that false beliefs often persist long after they are discredited. You don’t need long in a history book to discover many famous examples of this: the earth is flat; longitude cannot be solved by clocks etc. The same thing happens in organisations.
Belief perseverance helps us understand why it is so hard to change entrenched views. In organisations, this phenomenon becomes critically important when trying to implement any sort of change; changing culture, embedding values or executing a new strategy. If people in the organisation believe something that runs counter to what you are trying to achieve, traditional approaches to changing these beliefs are ineffective.
Normal approaches don’t work
The normal approach is to reach people using reason, facts and slick PowerPoint presentations. When it doesn’t work, we try even harder. We think we just need to find the right argument and we will win them over.
Not only is providing evidence to discredit a belief ineffective, it can also work against your objective by triggering the confirmation bias. Research conducted by Lord, Ross and Lepper (1979) suggests that people will not only persevere in their original beliefs but may come to believe in them even more strongly.
We often encounter this challenge when helping organisations convert their strategies into strategic stories. In every circumstance, we find what we call anti-stories, beliefs that significantly impede acceptance, and hence execution, of a new strategy.
For example, in 2009 we worked with an organisation whose strategy centred around the need to integrate three previously separate departments into a single organisation. We discovered a strongly held belief (anti-story) that integration was pointless as the organisation was bound to be split apart again in the near future. This belief stemmed from experience in the early 1990s when the three departments had been merged and then later separated again. This belief persisted despite countless assurances from leaders that it would not happen again.
Once inappropriate beliefs such as these arise, they are stubbornly resistant to change (Slusher et al 1989). Simply discrediting the evidence that caused a belief does little to change the belief itself. For example, in research by Anderson et al (1982), subjects were given fictitious research that led them to believe that either a positive or negative correlation existed between a firefighters preference for risky versus conservative choices and their success as a firefighter. Half the subjects were debriefed about the fictitious nature of the research and the other half received no such debriefing. Fascinatingly, subjects who were explicitly informed that the initial data were completely bogus held beliefs that were only slightly less extreme than the corresponding beliefs of the subjects who were never told that the data was fictitious.
Stories open their minds to new possibilities
While we don’t pretend to have a silver bullet for this challenge, we have had considerable success changing beliefs (we call it tackling anti-stories) using our storytelling, story-listening and story-triggering approaches. Our white paper on tackling anti-stories describes some approaches that can help. You can download it here http://www.anecdote.com/whitepapers/?wpname=Anti-stories
You can’t beat a story with just the facts, only with another story. Or, as philosopher Gordon Livingston more eloquently puts it, “it is difficult to remove by logic an idea not placed there by logic in the first place”.
- Anderson, C. A., Oliver, M. R., And Ross, L. (1980). Perseverance of social theories: the role of explanation in the persistence of discredited information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 1037 1049.
- Lilienfield, S. O., & Byron, R., Your Brain on Trial, Scientific American Mind January/February 2013, p47.
- Lord, G.C., Ross, L., & Lepper, M.R. (1979). Biased assimilation and attitude polarisation; The effects of prior theories on subsequently considered evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 2098-2109.
- Slusher, M. P., & Anderson, C.A., Belief Perseverance and Self-defeating behaviour, in R. Curtis (Ed), Self-defeating behaviours: clinical impressions and practical implications. New York, Plenum Press, 1989, p11.
Most professional firms, such as those centred on engineers, lawyers, doctors, accountants and information technologists, employ graduates in programs that last from 12 months to three years. The graduates are given opportunities to work in different parts of the business alongside experienced professionals. However, companies with such intake programs tend to miss the golden opportunity to develop their graduates through the practice of asking story-eliciting questions. Fortunately, this can be remedied with an afternoon of training and the implementation of a process to turn the new skills acquired into a habit.
Teaching graduates story-eliciting questions
Here’s where the opportunity lies. A habit ingrained in many graduates is to ask questions designed to help them complete the task at hand. For example, say you’re an IT graduate and you’ve just been given the task – your boss might even have used the STICC approach to task assignment – of developing a requirements document for a new, relatively simple software application. You’ve never done one before, so you start asking the experienced professionals you’re working with some questions: What does this type of document look like? Can you share some examples with me? What does a good outcome look like?
Now here’s the thing. Your experienced colleagues can, and probably will, answer your questions with their opinions and basic instructions, which only scratches the surface of what they know. They’ve done hundreds of these types of projects. They know what goes wrong, where the twists and turns are likely to appear. They have years of experience to guide them. But the depth of their responses will be guided by the questions you ask. If you get into the habit of asking story-eliciting questions, you will greatly increase the chances of valuable experience being shared with you.