Taking Your Stage Blog  
  Helping you improve the communication skills of the leaders and teams in your organization.  

3 items categorized "Business Storytelling"


Use this Communication Technique to Change the Dynamic of Your Weekly Meetings

It was a rainy Sunday night at home.  I was mentally walking through my priorities and schedule for the next day and was excited about a workshop I was developing.  Then I opened my Outlook calendar and cringed.  I had forgotten that Monday morning was our weekly staff meeting. That's when I knew we had a problem: I didn't even want to attend my own staff meeting.

Dull, Uninspiring

Our staff meetings had become dull.  We had gotten into the rut of discussing priorities and agendas and news and policies and problems for the week.  My first thought was do we even need this meeting?  Yes, we did.  It is the one required meeting and important information is conveyed back and forth.  Certainly necessary, but not exactly an inspiring experience.


A Change Needed

I thought about what we could change and it didn't take long before the answer jumped out at me.  It was a technique that we teach in our events and workshops and that we had already employed in our sales meetings: telling stories!  For some reason we had accepted the notion of what a weekly staff meeting was "supposed to be" - dull, boring, and necessary - and had not adopted our own preaching to communicate with each other more effectively.

What Types of Stories?

In our sales meetings with prospective clients (partners), we love to tell stories to convey the impact and transformation on individual people that we see in our actor-based training workshops.  It's powerful because they are personal stories and we are passionate about them.  The question became: how could I incorporate stories effectively in our weekly staff meeting?

I came up with four different messages I would want to convey in a meeting and four different types of stories to deliver those messages:

    1. Inspire them to achieve our vision and big audacious goal.

I'll tell stories of other teams or organizations that achieved something like our team wants to achieve.

    2. Convey a different future

I'll tell stories that describe a different future (such as how the customer experience would be in this new future).

    3. Learn from what has happened this past week

I'll tell stories of something that happened this week (such as to a team member or a customer).

    4. Ingrain the values I want to have on the team.

I'll tell stories of past teams that exemplify the values that I want or do not want this team to exemplify.

Get Their Help

The beauty is that you don't need to tell all the stories yourself.  Ask your team members to be prepared to share stories instead of simply conveying facts and figures. For example, ask them to tell stories of what happened with a customer that past week; or a story about another team or organization that they discovered; or ask them to tell stories of past teams with which they have been involved that demonstrated positive (and negative) values important to them.

Story Elements

Whatever story you (or they) tell, be sure to keep it short and and include the following four elements to make it compelling:

  • Include a character (tell it from the perspective of an individual person)
  • That experienced a series of obstacles
  • Building up to a climax (they changed and broke through the obstacles)
  • Which results in a different outcome

Your Action Steps

1.  Come up with a short, concise story.

2.  Open up your next weekly staff meeting with the story.

3.  Share with me what you learned.

It may not feel right the first time.  Ask for feedback on your storytelling skill, refine your delivery, and keep trying until you get the results you want.  No communication skill is perfect the first time we use it.

I can tell the difference in the meeting dynamic right away.  Let's stop cringing when we see we have a staff meeting the next day and turn it into something that everyone looks forward to as a compelling, relevant, and practical meeting.

And to really develop this skill (whether for meetings or sales or implementing change or whatever scenario), check out our upcoming storytelling workshop!




The Power of a Personal Story

IStock_000035105200_webAfter conducting a great actor-based training session on Motivating through Storytelling for Business last week, I learned something from an unexpected source: my eleven year old son.

One of his classmates shared how she is experiencing a difficult time because her parents are divorcing.  The class was discussing what it's like to go through a difficult time in your life.  This prompted my son to share a personal story about how we had to evacuate our home in California a few years back because of a wildfire that was coming towards our neighborhood.  We could literally see the flames from our window, though the fire was at a far enough distance that our house was not in imminent danger.  He shared how that was tough for him, and how fearful he became of fire over the next few years.

That had a positive impact on his classmate, to the point that she went home and told her Dad, and her Dad mentioned it to the teacher a few days later (who in turn mentioned it to us).

I found it fascinating because it is hard for me to equate a kid going through divorce with an evacuation.  After all, we got to go back home and all was well.  And yet it did have an impact.

I believe it was because:

  • He was authentic and sincere.
  • It was a personal story - not an anecdote or someone else's story.
  • He was willing to share it in a vulnerable setting.

In a business setting, do we need to be wise about telling personal stories?  Sure.  But personal stories can be a powerful way to come alongside a team member, motivate a team, build trust, and have a positive impact on the lives of those around you.  Too often we separate our personal "selves" from our work "selves", but when we are vulnerable and sincere, we become better leaders and influencers.

"But I can't think of any personal stories!"  That is a statement I often told myself, but in reality we have many stories we could tell if we would stop coming up with excuses as to why we shouldn't tell them.  Our stories do not have to be unique or compelling or even emotional - just personal to us.  That's the power.  Here are some ideas to help you prime the pump:

  • What happened to you today?  This week?  This month?  Last year?  In the past?
  • What happened to you at home?  At work?  Someplace else?
  • What is something on which you worked (i.e. a project)?
  • What is something a team experienced on which you worked?
  • What is an adventure you took (i.e. vacation, team building, hobby, fun event)?
  • What is an event or story that really gripped you?

Perhaps we could learn something from a pair of eleven-year olds.  I know I did.




Having Trouble Engaging People? Use Storytelling

IStock_000003405900_webbHave you ever thought about how to really engage and motivate people with your business communication?  I sure have.  The problem is that everyone has heard all of the cliches and motivation-speak before: "we have a great opportunity if we work hard", or "we need to be more creative", or "we need to pull together and work nights and weekends to get this product out the door."  They sound great but have diminishing returns when trying to motivate and engage others.

Here's a suggestion: start telling stories!  Did you know that Kimberly-Clark, 3M, and Proctor & Gamble teach their executives how to effectively use storytelling?  They do, according to an article by Dan Schawbel at Forbes.  Think back for a minute on a great speaker that you have heard recently.  I'll bet they peppered their presentation with stories.  Stories engage and draw people in, unlike motivation-speak and Powerpoint bullets.

If you are like me, that sounds like a great idea but I need some concrete ideas to actually do it.  Here are some ideas on how to tell stories, and develop your storytelling skills (as derived from theatre and business experience):

  • Describe two opposing forces (such as people, relationships, ideas, or possibilities).
  • Add an event in the story that disrupts the current balance of things.
  • Add obstacles to restoring the balance.
  • Tell how balance is restored.
  • Include a surprise.
  • Bring it to a resolution.
  • Be concise - this is a business setting not a 3 hour play.

You can use a story that has happened to you, a story that has happened to someone you know, a story from a book, or a story based on where you want to take the team.  If you have a situation where you need to get buy-in on an important topic, or want to take your team someplace, try storytelling, and see if there is a different level of engagement and discussion from your "audience."