Posts Tagged ‘stories’

What Storytelling Is

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

A recent blog post by a professed storytelling consultant reminded me that, while there’s consensus on the power of story, there still is no agreement on on the essential elements of a narrative to qualify it as a story–and there’s no agreed-upon definition for storytelling, either. It’s important to call attention to the need for a generally understood definition for both words, not only for clarity and accuracy, but also because the English language has no other word but story to denote any message–and many messages clearly are not stories!

When I was under contract to the International Storytelling Center several years ago, a colleague and I created a signature organizational story training program, faculty guides and other support materials. In collaboration with the founder of the ISC, Jimmy Neil Smith, over a period of several weeks we deliberately chose each of the following words before reaching agreement on the following definition:

“Storytelling is a process of purposeful communication that effectively uses stories to successfully engage the receiver.”

I have since developed the 7 Secrets of Story, a central element of my Corporate Storytelling workshop that’s a valuable segment of the training. To learn what those secrets are, schedule a workshop for your organization or work team.  You’ll also learn how and why stories work; how to power up your own communications by identifying stories for specific purposes; and how to use tools for structuring your stories.

Writing Essays and Stories Requires Strategic Thought

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Jeff Bezos

“When Jeff holds meetings at Amazon, he asks people not to use PowerPoints but to write an essay about their product or program or what the meeting is to be about,” says Don Graham, chief executive of The Washington Post Co., who recently sold The Washington Post newspaper and two sister publications to Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.

 In an interview in the Post by writer Ezra Klein, Graham continues that, after people at Amazon take time to read their essays, the meeting begins. Bezos’ point in requiring written essays is, as Graham explalins, “if you write at length, you have to think first, and…the quality of thought…to write at length is greater than the quality of thought to put a PowerPoint together.” I totally agree that you can’t write a cogent essay or a compelling story without giving it a lot of thought first–and throughout the process of completing the piece.

Bezos’ view reminds me of a meeting I had years ago with Jay Rockey, the revered “father of public relations” in Seattle and national leader in the profession. He said my work demonstrated that my top talents were writing and promotion.  After thanking him, I said I’d hoped he would comment on the strategic thinking that went into my work, which to me was a key differentiator.

Jay said, “Good writing requires strategic thinking.” That made sense to me–and I’ve never forgotten the lesson. Likewise, Bezos’ understanding of the writing process makes me eager to see what he’ll do with the The Washington Post–and what other newspaper leaders will learn from him as they search for ways to adapt and ensure their survival.

Virtual Storytelling Works Well for Introductory Presentation

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013
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If your organization needs storytelling training but would rather dip a toe in the water instead of diving straight in, an introductory presentation that’s delivered virtually may be the answer. After speaking to several groups “live” via web-based video chat technology, I’ve concluded that it works–and works very well.I had my doubts about being able to form a strong connection and interact naturally with people in a room at the other end of the country, and I was pleasantly surprised. The bond that starts to form when people tell stories occurs even when they’re separated by thousands of miles. This was true whether I was in my own office using a simple web cam or on-site in front of a corporate audience with their colleagues in another state linked via the corporate video system.

The accompanying photo shows the video screen set up in a board room when I delivered a 90-minute keynote-style presentation from my office. The session included time for the viewers to share stories with one another and also allowed  for audience interaction through a Q&A segment. I was able to discern each of the 12 people seated around the table, and as you can see, my image was bigger than life!

We followed up the introductory program with one-on-one telephone consultations to help each board member develop a story illustrating his/her special connection to the organization. Stories that relate a meaningful personal experience are especially powerful. They develop connections with the audience at a deep level and naturally win support for an idea or a mission.

If you’d like to explore how a virtual session would work for you, give me a call at 1-425-827-3998. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how easy and how effective it is.

How to Win Employee Support for Your Core Values

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

As part of a storytelling initiative, I’ve been conducting interviews with a representative sample of the client’s managers and employees at all levels and all locations spanning two states. The purpose of the interviews is to establish a benchmark for 1) employees’ familiarity with the core values, 2) their support of those core values as evidenced by their behavior as well as their expressed support, 3) their ability to tell the organization’s “umbrella” story, and 4) their ability to identify and tell stories that exemplify the company’s values. The findings will guide the storytelling training that will follow, with particular focus on identifying, crafting and telling values-based stories that will engage key audiences and stick in their minds.

I’ve been struck by the unusually high degree of consistency of their responses. The consistency is is particularly impressive when I ask them to name the top 3 or 4 values that drive day-to-day decisions. Most of the interviewees named the company’s four core values as those that drive daily decision-making.

Would you get the same result if you were to conduct a survey of your employees? In my experience most organizations wouldn’t. One strategy this company uses to ingrain the values into everyone’s minds could easily be adapted in any organization. The strategy is this: One of the four core values is the theme for one quarter each year. Meetings and other activities focus on the meaning of the value and how it should guide employees’ actions. In addition, budgets allow for managers’ discretion in planning special rewards, such as catered meals or field trips, for their teams or branch offices.

If you’re inspired to implement a similar program, let us know how it goes.


Brain Study Confirms Stories Are Powerful

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

A recent neurological study confirms what writers have long known from experience: The human brain makes little distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life. So, for example, when a person reads sensory descriptions, such as the smell of lavender or cinnamon, the words generate a reaction in the sensory cortex, generating a nearly identical reaction as the experience described. In other words, stories are powerful!

In an article in The New York Times, Author Annie Murphy Paul says that “The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.”

Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Dr. Oatley says that fiction “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky…. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”

Storytelling practitioners would make a case (from their own experiences of audience reactions) that hearing well-told stories produces a similar reaction. How about you? What’s your experience with storytelling? Does your organization generate good experiences with descriptive stories?