Let me Tell you a Story

The ancient art of storytelling

Throughout history, cultures have told stories to engage and enlighten, to teach or to seek help. Stories establish a rapport between the teller and the audience, the elder and the younger ones, the profet and his disciples, the artist and his followers. In such a way, stories have always created bonds between he or she who presents and those who listen.

Now that we are living in a more digital age, storytelling becomes even more important to pass on a message and engage your audience better. Storytelling will certainly amplify the value of your virtual and hybrid networking events. As long as you do not forget to use the same rules and structure as in meeting face to face.

Stories enable us to engage and inspire our audiences to consider our offerings. Ideally we should position our audience as the hero of the story, and we must think about his or her needs, interests and drivers as we develop the story.

No better way to start than from the beginning. How often have you not experienced a slow start of a Zoom or Teams call? People are squandering about too often from the start. This is a perfect moment to start a conversation and let the audience think and work. Best way to do this is by asking a question for the audience to imagine a story from their past and related to the topic of the call. Much better than loosing the interest from your crowd or having small talk between people who know each other and leaving out newcomers who immediately feel excluded.

Stories are a natural tool for destination and event marketeers, because what we do inherently involves interesting people, destinations, and offerings to those who, like a heroe in a story, meet challenges to achieve their business goals. The more lively you make the story, the more attention you will get. And these stories will not only let connect the audience with the organiser of the call but with each other as well. A perfect way for peer to peer inspiration because people will recognize themselves in the stories of others and discover new solutions they may not have thought about themselves. This way, the engagement begins from the start. When we exchange authentic stories we inspire others, have others intrigued and delighted or feel more confident of the solutions they plan to take. Stories connect people better.

So, how do we build up our story? Let’s find out in the next chapter.

The Lone Ranger

There are many ways to describe which elements a story should have. In his book ‘Story for Leaders’, David Pearl describes 3 elements which he calls the four F’s: fear, fantasy and formula. I have often used 3 other principles: Truth, Empathy and Vulnerability.

There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place. – J.K. Rowling

Truth for having the courage to discuss what’s on everybody’s mind. It sounds novel to talk about telling the truth in a work context, but really, how often is a lack of facts and truth in your organisation causing problems in your efforts for change? Stop and think about what’s missing from the conversation! People often lack information, which creates fear and a sense of not having control. By disclosing more information and showing a willingness to be honest and open, people will trust you more.

How many times have you heard that management makes empty promises or when there is a big change coming, the spin is ‘this will be good for you’, despite legitimate concerns raised by front line staff. Empathy is showing that you care and you really understand what your community thinks and feels.

The third principle is the hardest one for us to master because leadership were often trained to ‘be the boss’, yet you want to be in control. For that reason vulnerability earns you street credibility with your staff or audience. Acknowledging that you are not perfect, you cannot have all the answers and you should not be afraid to say so. It is a sign of self-confidence. Vulnerability invites your audience to lean in and discover they share something in common with you. They will be far more willing and patient with the bumps in the road ahead if they feel you are just as invested and with as much to lose. In storytelling terms, you are setting them up to continue onto the next chapter and to journey with you, since there is something that still needs to be figured out together.

It is your job to tell a story that others can believe in. This requires more that slick words or lofty promises. It’s your responsibility to articulate a larger cause or reason for being. Show and demonstrate leadership’s commitment to the new goal and to provide the culture architecture that can make it happen.

The power of storytelling is exactly this: to bridge the gaps where everything else has crumbled. – Paulo Coelho

Emotion is key in decision making

Compelling stories evoke emotion in an audience, and emotion is key in decision making. Compeling stories engage us by making us care about the people in the story. Storytelling is the key to change. Nobody likes a change story, people crave for continuity in a storyline. As a storyteller you need to create the stepping stones in your story so that the people in your audience can locate and identify themselves in that new story and see for themselves the reason that what you are proposing is a natural evolution and not a sudden radical change happening. It’s normal that people become attached to the ‘old story’ because it is what they know and have come to expect. It’s the reason for resistance. But by using empathy and transporting themselves in the story they finally make the new story real, their own, as long as it is a tangible, palpable experience that people can point to and say: ‘Look, that future already exists!”. In effect, you are socializing your new story into reality by showing it is already here and how it makes everyones life and job better or easier. In essence you are moving from an old to a new story. This way you avoid as well suspicion and distrust that makes creating a new culture difficult.

Since the future of our business hangs in the balance, it’s important to understand and embrace the power of purposeful storytelling in the workplace. Compelling stories make us want to know what comes next, how the story ends, what happens in the end to the people involved. Compelling stories ignite the imagination of and elicit emotion in the audience. When audiences can picture themselves in your story, they start to picture your solution as the right one for their organization.

The cat sat on the mat is not a story. The cat sat on the dog’s mat is.

– John le Carré

The classical build up of a story consists of 3 elements: the beginning, the middle and the end. In the beginning we meet, the protagonist, our ‘hero’. A character that we know our audience will be able to relate to. In the middle of the story our heroe experiences problems and challenges and you describe how your hero has worked to overcome them. In the end, your hero emerges victorious and changed for the better. Loose ends are tied up into a resolution. So in real life, the story describes first what currently is, then moves over to roadblocks and challenges and how our protagonist is handling those. In the end, there is only bliss, where the hero has overcome the problems and now enjoys the benefits of resolving them.

Published by hugoslimbrouck

I am a destination marketer with a specialisation in meetings, events, conferences and incentives. Destination marketing, training and consulting as well as business networking are the things I'm good at. For the past 14 years I worked for the MCI Group and managed our global portfolio of strategic partners for the Ovation Global DMC brand. I'm also a past president of SITE and JMIC. During my career, I travelled an average of 120 days which allowed me to build a global network of buyers, prospects and influencers. Please check me out under my LinkedIn profile as well, either under my name or my alias hugosmartypants. I'm a father of 4 and grandfather of 6. Hiking out on the countryside is one of my favourite hobbies.

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