Mastering the three "I's" of storytelling
This article continues the series begun last Thursday with "From CEO to chief story teller: Part one, the challenge."
You're on the road to becoming your company's Chief Story Teller. Let's begin with the good news: You're already better than you might think. Here, we'll explore three capabilities that will help you become a pro.
I'm so confident about your abilities for one reason: you tell stories every day. When you come home, how often do you start with something like: "You won't believe what happened today...?"
As you begin even a simple conversation with a spouse or a friend, you hook your listener's imagination with a colorful detail while monitoring his or her response. With every step, your body becomes more expressive. Instinctively telling your story and observing the reaction you're having, you search for maximum impact.
Remember the "Three R's" of your early education: reading, writing, and 'rithmetic? Now consider the "three I's" of storytelling: invitation, imagination, and impact. Here's how you can master them.
Invitation. Remember Steve Jobs' famous invitation to Pepsi's then-CEO John Sculley when he lured him to Apple with: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?" Engage your listeners by stimulating their curiosity and asking them to share in something exciting with you.
Imagination. Enlivening people's imaginations is easy. What happens before you visit the doctor? Or when you're waiting for the board's reaction to your latest strategic plan? Your imagination puts on quite a show. Who needs PowerPoint or technological wizardry?
In 1961, JFK recognized the need for a new U.S. narrative to galvanize the space race. Before a joint session of Congress, he boldly announced that by the end of the decade the country would be dedicated to "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth." Despite widespread doubts, and the fact that NASA had not yet even sent a man into orbit around the Earth, he electrified the collective imagination of the country.
Imagination is the direct access point to our creativity. Simply ask "imagine this..." and people's creative juices start flowing. They're transported to a different and vivid new reality without leaving their seats.
Impact. We crave impact. We want to be seen and know that what we do has meaning. In baseball terms, it's called "looking the ball to the bat." As a storyteller, that means watching your audience closely to see how your content is affecting them.
In 1995, Nelson Mandela knew he had to shore up his government's tenuous hold on post-apartheid unity. Adopting the strategy of "Don't address their brains, address their hearts," Mandela convinced the Springboks rugby team, until then the country's symbol of white supremacy, to join him. At the commencement of rugby's World Cup final then being held in South Africa, Mandela and the team symbolically broke all barriers by singing Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, the anthem of the black resistance movement, to a still-divided nation and a worldwide television audience. The Springboks won the World Cup and South Africa moved toward reconciliation.
Brilliant ideas without brilliant human connection usually die fast. That connection builds trust and cultivates relationships. When you see how you move others and are moved by them, you grow in stature and authority.
Now, keep this in mind: What you're saying isn't for you. It's for your team.
Now, grab that pencil and paper again. Write down the impact you're hungry for. Who are you trying to reach? With what message?
Try these techniques at your next team meeting and note what happens:
• Be an "investigator" - not a content dumper. Ask, don't tell.
• Watch carefully for the impact of what you're saying on your team.
• Don't rush on to the next point until you see them absorb the previous one. Don't assume everyone's with you. Ask questions like "Are you with me?" "How do you relate to this?"
At your next client meeting:
• Slow down. Don't race your narrative simply to get to the end. If you are a racer, considering practicing on someone first and ask them to tell you when you're speeding through your story.
• Create images to get the client engaged in your story: "Imagine this...", "Picture that..."
• Stop occasionally and observe your effect on everyone in the room, moment by moment. You'll be happily surprised.
Remember, your team and your clients are your creative partners -- so use them. Katherine Hepburn said: "If you give audiences half a chance, they'll do half your acting for you."
In next Thursday's post, I'll show you how to structure powerful stories for maximum impact.
December 10, 2009; 5:55 AM ET
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