Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How to tell powerful stories.

Post 438 - We understand and respond to the world by telling stories about it, to ourselves and to each other. These stories can be in the form of mythical tales or scientific hypotheses, theories and laws. People are hungry for stories. It’s part of our very being. Eric Chester says, “After 23-years as a full-time keynote speaker and seminar leader, I’m 100% convinced that each and every person in my audience will only allow into their brain those parts of my presentation that come riding in on the back of a finely-crafted, well-told story. My stories are the Trojan Horses that burst through the invisible walls people erect to protect themselves from the uncertainty of new ideas or the fear that they may need to make uncomfortable changes to their attitudes or behaviors.”

Stories are effective if they’re genuine, if they tell about experience, if they use self-effacing humor, and if they’re engaging. Often times when you tell a story, it makes the prospect think of a story and they'll most likely reciprocate with a story of their own. If you can get someone to tell you such a story, that’s usually a rapport builder.

Story-telling can be very effective in a sales presentation when you want to get the prospect to relate to your product or service. While facts and figures are easily forgotten, stories are remembered and retold. People buy-in to your proposition when they can imagine themselves using and benefiting from what you’re representing. Things aren’t benefits unless people know they have a need so it’s important to connect new information to what people already know. It’s also important to make your presentation memorable emotionally with examples and stories. People buy on emotion and then justify their action with facts. Give them a catchy headline first, then they’ll find it easier to listen.

Metaphors, stories and analogies bypass the conscious mind and get to the subconscious. We learn when our emotions are tapped, when we connect with others, when we hear their stories. Leaders are teachers who invest a lot of time imparting ideas, values and emotional energy to others by telling stories about their experiences. Abraham Lincoln said, “Some folks say that I tell too many stories, and maybe I do, but I don’t know of a better way to explain what I mean!”

Followers make sense of leaders with stories. Here’s an interesting exercise: Find out what stories are circulating about you where you work by asking, “What’s it like to work with me?” Who should you ask? Make a list of people who care deeply about the success of the company, who’ve demonstrated in the past that they’re candid and honest, and ask them. Tell them why you want this information and what you’re going to do with it. Such as, “I’ve lots of quantitative data but too little qualitative data. Tell me the truth and I’ll do anything in my power to change for the better based on what I hear. I plan to come back every six-months to ask this question again.” Then collect the data, gather up the themes, see the patterns in the stories. Then ask yourself if people could tell only one story about you, what would you like it to be? And act accordingly.

Aristotle’s rule is that all good stories have a distinct beginning, a middle and an end. But, according to Steven Spielberg, people today have forgotten how to be storytellers. He says, "Stories don't have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning."

Applying these ideas to change theory, there are four basic conditions that have to be satisfied before employees will change their behavior:
a) a compelling story, so employees can see the point of the change and be influenced to agree with it;
b) role modeling, so they can see senior management and colleagues they admire behaving in the new way;
c) reinforcing mechanisms, so that systems, processes and incentives are in line with the new behavior; and
d) capability building, so they have the skills required to make the desired changes.

Managers often tell stories about what’s changed and why others have to change in kind, or what they want to accomplish. However, what motivates them usually doesn’t motivate most of their employees. Research shows that people respond best to stories that address five forms of impact:
* Impact on society.
* Impact on the customer.
* Impact on the company.
* Impact on the immediate working environment.
* Impact on “me” as a person
Change leaders need to be able to tell a convincing story that covers all of these five areas of interest if they hope to motivate employees to change.

Finally, our emotions are governed by the stories we tell ourselves. So, make sure your self-talk is about being extraordinary and focuses on your highest and best use. A lot of self-talk is negative – who I want to be that I’m not, or what I want that I don’t have. Don’t go there.

“Storytelling is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities,” according to Dr. Seuss.


One Woman's Thoughts said...

I enjoyed your article.
We begin loving stories as small children and that pleasure grows as our experiences grow.
Stories teach us, remind us, inform us and nurture us.
Hail to the storyteller!

john cotter said...

Hear hear.