Storytelling is a big deal in business these days. But suppose you don’t consider yourself a natural storyteller. Let’s say you get tongue-tied behind the podium or feel that you are less than impressive when you attempt to present an idea during an important meeting. Do you just give up and shut up, letting others do the talking or, worse, getting the credit for an idea you came up with?
Harrison Monarth, executive coach and leadership consultant, knows what to do. His recent article, “Four Storytelling Techniques to Convey Complex Ideas Simply and Persuasively” lists four ways to make sure that you tell the right story the right way. This is a great article, and I recommend you read it if only for Mr. Monarth’s retelling of a jury trial summation by the legendary trial lawyer Moe Levine.
But first, the three principles of storytelling
Not surprisingly, you must engage people’s emotions when you tell a story. Your story must be “easy to follow and stripped of unnecessary detail.” You also need to get to the point quickly. As Mr. Monarth notes, “ … focus is a scarce resource in the brain and attention spans are dwindling … “
Now, the techniques
- Make it personal. Talk about the things that people know but no one has thought about or (in my opinion) wants to acknowledge. “ … let the audience’s imagination deliver the biggest punch.”
- Keep it short. Take a lesson from TED Talks. Why are they so popular? Probably because they present interesting ideas but don’t go on and on. Mr. Monarth recommends writing versions of different lengths. See how long the longest one takes and then begin removing detail. Of course, you’ll want to do this with an audience of friends or peers, because they can tell you if your story still makes sense and has impact. Keep refining and cutting. “You’ll be surprised how often even very short versions still accomplish the job.”
- Pick a theme. “A clever theme frames a story in just the way you want it perceived.” Mr. Monarth cites “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” as the perfect example. I myself like “With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.” A great theme crystallizes the point you want your audience to take away.
- Use drama to make it stick. Here, Mr. Monarth talks about the value of focusing on mistakes and bad decisions as a way to make a story more effective. In his example, he mentions firefighters who learned more and developed better judgment from “mistake-ridden training scenarios” than those who received conventional “how-to” training.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I initially thought of storytelling as yet another business fad. But when I thought about it, I realized that there is nothing really new under the sun and that storytelling has been around a long time, helping capture an audience’s attention and influencing its behavior.