Sure, you can employ vision, mission and values style statements that aim to get everyone aligned and pointed in the same direction. But sometimes a message takes a little more than simply pointing out that what you are trying to communicate is in line with the stated and agreed values of your setting.
In the corporate world, many large employers are now turning to a new strategy to try and keep their staff engaged and to help out in times of change, crisis or new direction – the strategy of storytelling. Storytelling is ideal in situations where you want to promote innovation and drive new ways of thinking. It gets people engaged and promotes peer to peer learning, particularly when you can manage to get some early adopters of the storytelling technique on board with you, and then utilize their new skills to permeate change throughout your workplace. Just as Steve Jobs did when he first introduced the iPhone to the world, storytelling can be used as a way of generating interest by building suspense and then carefully, and with exquisite timing, revealing the key idea.
In the brand marketing world, companies like Air B&B, Nike, Spotify, Dove, Visa and Nescafe use storytelling as part of their brand marketing approach to great effect. They engage the audience with the story, develop characters with visual and emotional appeal and weave a message and request for action through the tail end of the story, creating the illusion that they are not really selling us anything at all – or are they?
Storytelling as a communication strategy rather than simply a marketing one is a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to sharing a message. It can take a while to get used to as an approach, but when you have it working for you, it can be a powerful way of sharing an idea or new concept, or getting a group of people on board. Of course, storytelling in a workplace means something more than everyone simply gathering around a table while someone reads the latest edition of Harry Potter out loud. Storytelling in a workplace involves a carefully crafted and planned narrative, with language that suits the audience and delivered in a style which is engaging and focused.
So if you are ready to take the plunge and test out a new technique for delivering a message, here are some tips to get you started on storytelling in leadership:
· Use suspense, particularly in the early stages of your story, and carefully assess the audience to check that your suspense is working well – you should see people leaning forwards, eyes directed towards you as the speaker and nods or hand movements that suggest the audience is in agreement and focussed. And there definitely should not be anyone taking a sly glance at their phone to check a message during your story!
· Keep your story short and focused by eliminating extra sentences and phrases which distract rather than add to the message – go for around three to five minutes of speaking time if possible.
· Use metaphor in your story, but only in situations where you are confident your audience will make the link and will take on board the intent behind it – avoid using metaphor if you think your audience might be confused by what you are trying to say.
· Give your story context so that it has real world meaning to which your audience can relate – avoid stories which appear to start half way through and leave the audience struggling to work out why you are telling it.
· Engage your audience in a physical or participatory way so that they can become a part of the story you are telling – they could do this by making a response, taking a direct role in the action or suggesting a new direction the story could take.
· Use emotional appeal and carefully chosen words and phrases to get your audience on board with your message – words such as ‘we’ and ‘us’ are useful in the way that they promote a shared view of a situation or problem and suggest that solutions can be found or ideas moved forwards if teamwork and a shared vision is used.
· Use repetition if it helps focus the audience on a particular point. Many politicians use this technique to great effect, driving a point home by repeating the first phrase several times over in following sentences and only varying the last part of the sentence.
Storytelling can be challenging if you are not confident as a speaker or writer of narratives. It takes practise and time to perfect the art of telling a good story, and it takes careful consideration to decide which situations are the most appropriate for storytelling to be used. If you find you lack confidence in speaking publicly and the mere thought of delivering a story to an audience of your colleagues or employees, it could be wise to build your skills on the quiet first. Devote some professional development time to a public speaking course, or attend a few sessions with your local Toastmasters group to learn the fundamentals of speaking in public. There are also many great TED talks available online so that you can observe the voice, body language and spoken techniques used by great speakers.
So if you feel that your techniques for delivering a message at work could do with a boost or you notice that half your staffroom is full of people snoozing or catching up with their Facebook feed as you deliver another tired old series of bullet points via Powerpoint, why not give storytelling a go? You may discover that the simple act of sharing a story reaches deeper with your audience than any high tech digital presentation can ever go.