Crafting the irresistible narrative
"Marley was dead: to begin with."
Dickens' dramatic opening to A Christmas Carol immediately grabs our attention. We must read on.
In creating your own story for employees and clients, you have to grab interest in a similarly dramatic way. I started this series saying now's the time for beleaguered CEOs to reframe how they're seen and what they want -- and powerful storytelling is one of the most effective ways of accomplishing this. Here are the essentials to riveting your audience.
Excite instant attention. For maximum impact, your story has to immediately galvanize your listeners.
First, consider this powerful opener:
Yesterday, December 7, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
If, like Roosevelt, you can be bold and dramatic from the start your audience will feel the urgency of the moment. They'll feel your sense of mission to fix something that's out of balance. Don't leave this thinking to your advisors. Own your message and say what you stand for.
As part of a plan to lift company-wide performance, I recently encouraged a client to take control of the speeches he made to his worldwide leadership team. As a former division head, he knew his people better than anyone else. And when he spoke about his own values, he immediately grew in stature and authority. "My speechwriters could never have come up with anything this meaningful," he later told me.
Engage their emotions. When you pose a strong challenge at the outset, you have to stimulate everyone's emotions in a way that inspires them to action. Intellectual concepts aren't enough.
In Elie Wiesel's "Perils of Indifference" speech, he boldly evoked the senses to raise the consciousness of the world against Genocide: "Over there, behind the black gates of Auschwitz, the most tragic of all prisoners were... wrapped in their torn blankets, they would sit or lie on the ground, staring vacantly into space, unaware of who or where they were, strangers to their surroundings. They no longer felt pain, hunger, thirst. They feared nothing. They felt nothing."
These harrowing images and excruciating details immediately add real and evocative texture.
Whatever your message, evocative details create a visceral experience for your listeners -- even though they haven't moved from their seats.
Make it personal. To achieve buy in, articulate what the message really means to you.
"Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing," legendary football coach Vince Lombardi famously said. We knew exactly where he came from. Don't offer vague, generic concepts. What's your personal stake in the mission? How does it connect to your values?
By truly personalizing what you have to say, the audience feels your demand to them to feel personally about the issue as well. It challenges them to confront their own hopes and fears -- and honestly consider their individual investment in their role.
If you are serious about getting buy-in, ownership, collaboration, enhanced innovation and productivity, then you have to show up as fully engaged yourself.
Dare to inspire. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz titled his book: Pour Your Heart into It. Good advice.
That means stepping back from the grind of cash flow and targets. It's your essential principles and ethics that give work inspiration and meaning. That's what others need to know about. How do your personal qualities carry over into work?
When you're disciplined about this self-reflection, you'll find out what drives you towards greater achievement. And when you start telling stories that illustrate these "essential drivers," others start to understand who you really are. This motivates them to explore the meaning of their own contributions -- and to find their own inspiration.
Practice time. These are the core ingredients of your irresistible story. Get that pencil out again. Before your next team meeting:
• Turn the core of your message into an opening statement of a sentence or two.
• Frame it so that it compels others to follow.
• Practice ahead of time with someone you trust to find out if it's working. What's the impact? Are they intrigued?
When you've got the opening down, consider the mission: What's the challenge and how exactly do you want to inspire the audience? Tell everyone directly why what you're saying is important.
Finally, in telling your story, remember your role as Chief Investigator. Ask people how they relate to it and what they're going to do now.
When we return after the holidays, I'll tell you how to help people create their own stories and bring them all into alignment.
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