Storytelling isn’t just for the office gossip anymore. It has real leadership advantages.
Managers can more effectively sway people with stories than with logic. A well-delivered tale can win hearts and minds.
Here are the keys to effective storytelling:
1) Keep It Real
Use specific people and events. Avoid generalizations or abstract ideas and leave out technical jargon and data.
People connect with reality, not technicalities and numbers.
For instance, at Ritz-Carlton, employees widely share stories about specific doormen, cleaning and maintenance staff who’ve done exceptional things.
2) Plan Around the Takeaway
Think about what you want people to learn from your story and how it will benefit them.
Build the story based on the ending.
3) Start with the Conflict
The most effective stories are about a challenge or conflict.
Start with your star and his or her challenge. Intensify interest by adding descriptions of:
- time: a bright morning; a rainy Monday
- place: her rusted ‘76 Pinto; the foreman’s grease-stained office
- people: Hank, a curmudgeon if there ever was one; Louise, our petite secretary with bouffant hair, and
- emotions: as excited as a kid on his first Big Wheel; fear that paralyzed me enough to cancel a presentation.
4) Keep It Short
When you tell a story, keep it less than five minutes. When you write it, no more than 750 words. Use short sentences and small words in the active voice.
5) Create a Storyboard
The most effective stories are built with intention, not on a whim.
Create yours on a storyboard. Include ups and downs to pull people along.
For instance, resolve one small conflict early in the story – Despite Hank’s surly personality, he took me under his wing and put me in a speaking class to get over my fear.
Then introduce more intrigue – Still, that couldn’t have prepared me for what would come.
6) Tap into Emotions
You can intensify a story and generate appropriate feelings with vivid language (and intonation, if speaking). Avoid vague descriptions such as very, really and especially. Be specific: Kate Upton-pretty: 10-feet tall; an IQ of 160.
Single, descriptive words bring a scene to life. He meandered to the meeting is more vivid than He walked slowly.
7) Make It Relevant
Storytelling at work isn’t just for entertainment. It needs to be relevant to an issue that’s occurring at work now. Something about the story needs to affect or benefit your people immediately.
8) Stick the Ending
Withhold a key piece of information for the end of the story to keep people interested and create the “a-ha moment” – perhaps the reason someone had to overcome the challenge.
Tell your story in front of a friendly audience for feedback on your pace, word use and intonation. Adjust until the story comes naturally.