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Storytelling

Storytelling

The art of inspiring with authenticity

OBJECTIVES

Storytelling is about getting a message across in the form of a story that is told. This sheet will help you to :

  • Become aware of the effectiveness of storytelling as a communication technique.
  • Learn the elements of an inspiring story.
  • Identify moments in your role as a manager when storytelling would be a powerful way to connect with your team.

INTRODUCTION

From our earliest years to our twilight years, we use stories to better understand the world we live in. They take us on new adventures and we learn a lot when we let our imagination run wild. Stories captivate us because they make a mark on our memory and because they are about people, their emotions, experiences and needs; they allow us to make sense of life. Stories call for collaboration and connection with the other.

The art of storytelling has evolved from its ancient beginnings into a method recognised by many influential people. Think of Barack Obama's inaugural speech and its emotional call for diversity and inclusion or, more recently, Airbnb's "Belong anywhere" ad campaign, designed to make people feel "at home" anywhere in the world. The factual rationality of a political campaign or the choice of a resort becomes secondary to the emotional connection.

For the manager in you, seeking to engage your team, storytelling allows you to inspire with authenticity.you can share more of "yourself" with your people, while sharing your vision and strategy, giving meaning and purpose to your employees' daily work.

1. The key elements of storytelling

  • A personal connection: a story in which you played a key role and which you can therefore tell first hand.
  • Pride: a story that explains why you are proud to work for your company.
  • Values: a story that showcases societal values or exemplary behaviour, demonstrating their impact.
  • Vision: a story that helps your team understand the company's vision, showing how it fits into the future - very useful in times of change.
  • Emotional language, using simple words, allowing people to identify with the emotions on display (anger, fear, joy, sadness, rejection and surprise...); the use of metaphors helps to stimulate the imagination.

2. When to use narration, storytelling

Stories can be developed to stimulate innovation, share knowledge, build and consolidate communities and teams... Here are some examples of situations where the technique is used frequently and successfully:

  • Change and transition Change and breaking with habits can create frustration and scepticism. In such situations stories can help to anchor an understanding of why the change is needed. Creating scenarios and visions to frame the announced changes helps your teams accept and recognise their place in this new vision of the future.
  • Celebration/recognition As your teams work on challenging projects, prepare stories about how the teams came together and how, together, they overcame the difficulties. For added impact, you can include stories from the team members.
  • Communication with clients and other stakeholders. The very purpose of your business and what you do every day, the ways in which you have met a challenge or dealt with a customer threatening situation, are all opportunities to develop a story. Once the emotional connection is made, the focus will shift to what happens next, as new perspectives open up. It's about what your audience will want to do after listening to your story.

3. Communication routes/channels

Once you have shaped your story, don't miss an opportunity to tell it/get it told. Remember the origins of stories - they were told orally and they have endured because they have been passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth. Use all possible channels to amplify your message.

  • Management meetings, phone calls, workshops, training and seminars ... to create that personal link.
  • Think also about online exchanges through social networks.
  • Emphasise the emotional aspect and bring your stories to life with visual and audio aids, music, videos, writing...

PUT INTO PRACTICE

Exercise 1: Recognising a story

Read the speech below by a Manager in a logistics company who shares with his team the story of how his unit managed to recover from a difficult situation.

What is working well? What would you add? What is the impact on the team?

"Today I would like to start our team meeting with something special.  Something I am personally very proud of. Two years ago our logistics department was understaffed and losing money. We were facing a delicate situation with a major customer and, remember, a crisis in the delivery systems. Many of you here today were part of that team; others, like me, are new. When I joined the team, I was afraid in my heart that we would not achieve the numbers we needed to survive. The challenges were many. We faced them with courage. I'm sure you remember that workshop two years ago to the day when we built our vision. It was an emotional day - with some fights about where we should go (people will recognise themselves!) - and joy and relief because we had decided to tackle the problems that we know were real. Our challenge was to come to see things in the same way and to build a real strategic plan.

At the same time, communiqués from headquarters announced that the budgets of the unprofitable entities would be cut significantly. For us, this was a big threat that created a lot of stress for everyone.

Our challenge was to give ourselves the means to create our vision - today we have that vision - and a roadmap to ensure that we stay on course every day to achieve it. Jean-Pierre's department has realigned sales to the target growth rate of 15% per year. Marie's department has made inroads in innovation, giving us a digital cargo tracking system. Amy and her HR team have worked hard on our employer brand. Today we are attracting new recruits with a wide range of backgrounds and profiles. We have moved our business and we have done so with energy and a desire for simplicity and rationality. It takes energy to win back lost markets, to take long-haul flights across several time zones to win back former clients, or to attend a job fair for young graduates for four weekends in a row! It takes energy to meet several specialists in the digital world and to make the right choice for our business. And it's our daily job to keep our business free of clutter, to keep it simple and streamlined.

Our business unit has moved from 5th to 3rd place in the group, and we no longer hear talk of its future. Our organisation is sharp and forward-looking, ready to meet the challenges of tomorrow. Let's continue to boost our dynamism together!”

Exercise 2 - building your story

  • What was the background to your event? What was the context and landscape? - Build the scenario in three acts: describe the situation, relate the conflict, propose a solution
  • Who is the hero of your story? What are their characteristics? Name them, bring them to life! The more details you give, the more your audience will remember. - What was the challenge?
  • What did the actors do? Be specific and describe it well!
  • Why did they do it?
  • What emotions came into play during this journey?
  • Why is this important? What are the lessons learned? What does this mean for your company/department now/future? Give an explicit, future-oriented objective of the actions to be taken in view of the "learnings" from your story.
  • Final check: does your story contain a personal element? Does it reflect pride? Are there any values highlighted? Is there a vision? Does it describe emotions?
  • Test it with people you know

Exercise 3 - building your story

As you develop your own storytelling skills, learn to identify the ingredients of the many stories you hear around you - at work, at home, at the cinema...