Tell a Story, Transform Your World

What do alien robot goats, shark tank simulations, house fires, croissants, and enterprise architecture have in common? Each of them appeared in stories that came up over the last few weeks as I worked with some of the best teams in the world. Recently, I’ve been using stories to help set the tone for workshops with my clients and spent time teaching storytelling to a client group.  Anyone who wants to be more influential, more persuasive, and get things done more easily would do well to harness the power of stories.

What’s a story?  A story is a fact, wrapped in an emotion that compels us to take an action that transforms our world.

Let’s take a look at a very simple story.  A baby holds up an empty bottle and says, just one word: “Done!” In many ways, this is the baby saying, “Look world, I did something and now I need your attention.” If baby says “done” and starts crying or fussing, it likely gets a different response from Mom or Dad than if she smiles when she says it. Either way, the baby relates a fact (I’ve finished) wrapped in an emotion (I’m happy or sad about that) that compels us (well, not me, but her caregivers) to take action and attend to the baby. Who knew babies were so savvy?  Well, we can be, too.

Ok, so that’s fine about babies, but why not just use a PowerPoint presentation? The main reason is that often in business, we want to persuade others to take a certain action in order to transform their world (or ours).  A good story, told in the right context, will almost always be more persuasive than logic alone.

If you want people to learn, do, or remember what you said when you leave the room, use a story.  Why? Our brains are hardwired to learn via stories.  Begin with the end in mind and think about how you want their world to transform.  Recently, I told a story to a technology group to illustrate the importance of a sense of urgency and being decisive during times of ambiguity.  The story I chose was a personal story about being in a fire as a young kid.  That experience created an unwavering belief that following my intuition during times of uncertainty (i.e. the house is on fire) and taking action with a sense of urgency (like, don’t panic) will always serve me well.  Once I determined what type of transformation I was hoping to create in the team, finding the story was easy.

How do you tell a good story?  Start with this simple story structure.

  1. It starts with a person (or group), in a situation with a core need or desire.
  2. At first she tries to overcome the situation.
  3. Something keeps her from achieving her desire such as rivals, circumstances.
  4. Eventually she sees another possibility of what she could do.
  5. She takes that action and achieves her desire.

Start by jogging around the block, not running a 10k. It’s funny how storytelling is a lot like running.  It’s easy when we build the muscle in stages instead of trying to run a 10K on the first jog since college.  If you’re ready to transform your world, pick a simple transformation and use the framework to make up a story.  It doesn’t have to be serious, it can be silly.  At first it’s just about letting go and trying it on.  Stretch the muscles, see what feels right. Nuance and refinement can come later.

Next time you’re tempted to create a PowerPoint presentation to get your point across, we dare you to create a story to go with it.    We’d love to hear about the stories you create and how they transform your world.

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