Monday 21 May 2018

Gina London: Tell your story well to help audience share your vision

Gina London
Gina London

Gina London

If I had a euro for every time someone told me, "Ireland is a nation of story-tellers," I'd be rich. And if I had a euro for every time a person in this nation shared a personal story with me, I'd be richer still.

There was the Dublin taxi driver who vividly described growing up in the rural Midlands where he and his family harvested peat from raised bogs.

There was the lady who got into a lift with me and randomly detailed the harrowing near-death experience her kitten endured after eating a poisonous petal from her poinsettia plant - all in the short time it took us to descend from the fifth floor to the ground level.

Both were interesting stories, mind you. And I appreciated them. But in a business setting, while many of you may already understand the power of storytelling, the difference between telling one that meanders without a point or telling one with an obvious takeaway for your audience is the difference between frustration and motivation.

Make sure your story has structure.

Effective business storytelling must have a well-constructed narrative. Your audience should be able to easily follow your flow. When working with clients, I generally first ask them to pick a case study from their company and just tell me about it. Of course, I record the session and we examine the result.

Too often, in their first attempt, the main takeaways of their story are sprinkled aimlessly like that barista who mindlessly shakes cocoa powder over your cappuccino and the counter and maybe even you.

Sure, brain dump initially. But then make time to review your story and rearrange your elements. Your audience shouldn't have to guess at the important messages or themes of your story.

This quote, often incorrectly attributed to Ernest Hemingway, "Write drunk - edit sober" is a good approach to remember - albeit without imbibing the requisite alcohol.

 

Gina's five points to star-studded storytelling: For my clients, I suggest crafting stories which have a five-part arc. Authors, playwrights and any other kind of professional storyteller may tell you there are a zillion different ways to construct a story - but for our business communication purposes, let's start with a basic structure. Once you get this down, you can mix it up over time.

 

1 The Setting

In journalism school, we were taught to begin with the five W's. The Who, What, Where, Why and When. These remain important and make sure you don't forget to include them. But later, when I was working as a professional journalist, we were also encouraged to 'hook' the audience. What's going to keep them reading, watching, or in your case as a business executive, keep them listening to you? The more colourfully you can set the scene for your story, the more you will hook your audience from the start. Power up your language with dynamic words to heighten interest. Consider the smells, sounds, and even temperatures that are part of your setting.

Scientists have found the more the listener relates and can almost experience the events of your story, the more parts of their brain light up. If you describe how delicious something was, their sensory cortex lights up. If you describe how fast you had to run or drive, their motor cortex gets going too. Active brains make for engaged listeners.

 

2 The Obstacle

After you have set the scene, it's time to describe the conflict. There's always some friction, some complication, a challenge, some unforeseen circumstance, or some obstacle that stands before you. What is it? What do you think about it? What are your emotions around it? What impact does it pose on you and your team? Make sure your audience appreciates the complexity and level of difficulty that this issue poses.

 

3 The Turning Point and Resolution

This describes how things turned out. What did you do to try to address the obstacle? What happened? How did you execute your plan? What was the final score or outcome? Your result may be a success, or it may be a failure. But your audience should be clinging on the edge of their seat to find out.

 

4 Your Lesson

These last two points are the most important ones. First, 'Your lesson' is where you make sure your audience realises why you told this particular story. Tell them what you learned from the experience. If it's a case study of success, emphasise all the special attributes of your service, product or team or whatever it was that resulted in your achievement. If the story's outcome was disappointing, then what did you learn from it? Share your own lesson or reflection.

 

5 Audience Lesson

This is the 'what's in it for them' portion! The Eureka moment. The "I want to buy your product or service." "I want to invest in your company." "I will work harder because I believe in what you just told me" moment.

Whatever you are motivating your audience to do, this is where you help them share your vision of it. This helps them connect to you which is the key to any persuasive argument. Explaining the takeaway for your audience is critical because you want to ensure they know how to apply the story. It takes discipline, time and practice to craft stories effectively. But that's what I'm here for, isn't it? You can do it! Your audience will thank you.

And that, my friends, is the point.

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