Storytelling has enormous value for professionals and leaders in business presentations.
‘Never be boring again’, written by Doug Stevenson is a valuable guide to storytelling.
It sets out in a very compelling way the most effective means of constructing stories to connect with your audience.
Many speakers have heard the term, ‘The Hero’s Journey’; a phrase coined by the American writer Joseph Campbell.
The Hero’s Journey offers a robust structure of storytelling constructed through 17 stages.
Since the 1950’s, Joseph Campbell’s model of the Hero’s Journey has been adapted and modified many times.
Doug Stevenson presents it in 9 simple steps
These steps have had an enormous impact on storytelling today.
1. Set the scene
2. Introduce the characters (although not necessarily Step 2)
3. Begin the journey
4. Encounter the obstacle
5. Overcome the obstacle
6. Resolve the story
7. Make the point
8. Ask ‘The Question’
9. Repeat the point
We all have a diverse repertoire of stories
These stories range from:
– Childhood experiences where we learned an important lesson
– Customer conversations and experiences
– Challenges at airports or travelling
– Lessons learned in previous jobs or projects
– Relationships challenges, personal and professional
– Significant problems we have endured and overcome
– Unexpected successes
– Something a child, parent or mentor said to us
The list of stories we all have is as long as it is helpful in many situations
Our job as presenters is to find the relevant and powerful ones
The key to successful storytelling is finding the stories which demonstrate a point in a colourful and compelling way.
Understanding theory is one thing but applying those steps in a functional and useful way is another.
Here is an outline of one I often use when presenting and speaking on leading change.
Please replace the content with your own.
Step 1 Set the scene
A number of years ago I was leading a team of 300 people in a brand new operation in the North West of England.
It was one of 7 regional offices in the UK and was one of the best performing in the country across every key measure.
250 miles away in the South East of England, was an identical regional business. It was twice the size, yet had the poorest performance across many of the same measures.
Step 2 Introduce the characters (although not necessarily Step 2)
One day I received a call from the Vice Chairman of the business; a rather somber man with an excruciatingly demanding intellect and manner.
Congratulating me on my performance in the North West, he asked me to relocate to the South East.
He explained to me that this business was failing miserably across many measures. The call felt more like an instruction than a request.
The Southern business faced closure if they were unable to secure a swift and radical improvement.
Given our success in the North West, the Vice Chairman shared his hope that I may be able to do something to save it.
Step 3 Begin the journey
The next thing I knew I was in the South East leading a 600 strong team, pacing incessantly through every department.
Full of energy, enthusiasm and ideas I was on a mission.
I needed to quickly find out exactly what we needed to do to save the operation.
Thankfully, the answers seemed fairly obvious.
Step 4 Encounter the obstacle
The answer may have been obvious but the journey was far from easy.
It became immediately apparent that the business had developed what I called its very own, ‘Yes But’ culture.
Whenever I or anyone else proposed a solution, idea or opportunity, someone else killed it stone dead in an instant.
They killed the idea with the fatal words ‘Yes But’
‘We’ve tried that and it didn’t work.’
‘That would never work here.’
‘That may work in the North but you’re in the South now’.
‘If we do that…’
‘You don’t understand’
‘That would never work becuase…’
My job was to save the business
I was failing miserably, all because of two words, ‘Yes But’.
Step 5 Overcome the obstacle
I was left with no choice, I had to disrupt the status quo and I had to do it quickly.
All 600 staff were invited to the local theatre.
They were presented with a compelling vision and strategy for the business, whilst making our current position perfectly clear.
I explained how the ‘Yes But’ culture was crippling the business
Each member of staff was given a white rubber stress ball ,with the words ‘Yes But’ printed on one side of it.
Those two words, ‘Yes But’ had a striking red cross through the middle of them.
On the other side of the ball were the words ‘Yes And’
Everyone was asked to take their balls back to work with them.
I requested that they each became highly vigilant, listening out for those words in our business.
Whenever they overheard anyone use those deadly words, ‘Yes But’, I asked the team to throw it at the offending ‘Yes Butter’.
Step 6 Resolve the story
For 3 months there were balls flying everywhere.
Ironically, there was even a moment in a management meeting in my very own office where I incredibly, ‘Yes Butted’ an idea from our human resources manager.
Needless to say, I deservedly became the victim of 7 high velocity stress balls from my own management team.
Even I had been sucked into the debilitating ‘Yes But’ culture myself and had to pay the price.
I knew I would never make the same mistake again
After 3 months, the ‘missiles’ gradually began to subside.
Within 12 months we saw a complete turnaround in performance.
Step 7 Make the point
As the new leader I thought my job would be relatively easy.
After all, I simply had to focus on the solutions, find them and implement them.
I was wrong
The solutions were already there; everybody knew them and they had always been there.
What the business needed wasn’t more solutions but a serious pattern interrupt.
It needed something that would visibly challenge the status quo and unleash the potential in the business that had been stifled for so long.
Those two simple words had paralysed a business of highly intelligent, talented and responsible professionals.
Step 8 Ask “The Question”
Has anything like this ever happened to you?
Have you ever been caught up in the status quo?
Are there two words or a habitual sentence holding you back?
Is there a pattern that needs to be interrupted or something in your culture that needs to change?
Step 9 Repeat the point
As leaders, we are focused heavily on results and solutions.
Sometimes, we also need to focus on the unhelpful patterns, words or behaviours in the business.
We then need the creativity and courage to help our team to break and change that pattern.
We all have stories to tell
Storytelling can help us to connect with our audience.
They can help us inspire and lead change.
Stories are everywhere
We can use them through these 9 steps to illustrate a point about:
……………..You fill in the blank
If you are presenting soon and need a little help with storytelling:
– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.
– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.
– Get yourself some excellent presentation training
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