THE COM­MU­NI­CA­TOR Tell your story well to help au­di­ence share your vi­sion

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE - 1THE 2THE 3THE 4YOUR 5AUDIENCE

IF I had a euro for ev­ery time some­one told me, “Ire­land is a na­tion of story-tellers,” I’d be rich. And if I had a euro for ev­ery time a per­son in this na­tion shared a per­sonal story with me, I’d be richer still. There was the Dublin taxi driver who vividly de­scribed grow­ing up in the ru­ral Mid­lands where he and his fam­ily har­vested peat from raised bogs.

There was the lady who got into a lift with me and ran­domly de­tailed the har­row­ing neardeath ex­pe­ri­ence her kit­ten en­dured af­ter eat­ing a poi­sonous petal from her poin­set­tia plant — all in the short time it took us to de­scend from the fifth floor to the ground level.

Both were in­ter­est­ing sto­ries, mind you. And I ap­pre­ci­ated them. But in a busi­ness set­ting, while many of you may al­ready un­der­stand the power of sto­ry­telling, the dif­fer­ence be­tween telling one that me­an­ders with­out a point or telling one with an ob­vi­ous takeaway for your au­di­ence is the dif­fer­ence be­tween frus­tra­tion and mo­ti­va­tion. Make sure your story has struc­ture. Ef­fec­tive busi­ness sto­ry­telling must have a well-con­structed nar­ra­tive. Your au­di­ence should be able to eas­ily fol­low your flow. When work­ing with clients, I gen­er­ally first ask them to pick a case study from their com­pany and just tell me about it. Of course, I record the ses­sion and we ex­am­ine the re­sult.

Too of­ten, in their first at­tempt, the main take­aways of their story are sprin­kled aim­lessly like that barista who mind­lessly shakes co­coa pow­der over your cap­puc­cino and the counter and maybe even you.

Sure, brain dump ini­tially. But then make time to re­view your story and re­ar­range your el­e­ments. Your au­di­ence shouldn’t have to guess at the im­por­tant mes­sages or themes of your story.

This quote, of­ten in­cor­rectly at­tributed to Ernest Hem­ing­way, “Write drunk — edit sober” is a good ap­proach to re­mem­ber — al­beit with­out im­bib­ing the requisite al­co­hol. GINA’S FIVE POINTS TO STAR-STUD­DED STO­RY­TELLING: For my clients, I sug­gest craft­ing sto­ries which have a five-part arc. Authors, play­wrights and any other kind of pro­fes­sional sto­ry­teller may tell you there are a zil­lion dif­fer­ent ways to con­struct a story — but for our busi­ness com­mu­ni­ca­tion pur­poses, let’s start with a ba­sic struc­ture. Once you get this down, you can mix it up over time.

SET­TING In jour­nal­ism school, we were taught to be­gin with the five W’s. The Who, What, Where, Why and When. These re­main im­por­tant and make sure you don’t for­get to in­clude them. But later, when I was work­ing as a pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ist, we were also en­cour­aged to ‘hook’ the au­di­ence. What’s go­ing to keep them read­ing, watch­ing, or in your case as a busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive, keep them lis­ten­ing to you? The more colour­fully you can set the scene for your story, the more you will hook your au­di­ence from the start. Power up your lan­guage with dy­namic words to heighten in­ter­est. Con­sider the smells, sounds, and even tem­per­a­tures that are part of your set­ting.

Sci­en­tists have found the more the lis­tener re­lates and can al­most ex­pe­ri­ence the events of your story, the more parts of their brain light up. If you de­scribe how de­li­cious some­thing was, their sen­sory cor­tex lights up. If you de­scribe how fast you had to run or drive, their mo­tor cor­tex gets go­ing too. Ac­tive brains make for en­gaged lis­ten­ers.

OB­STA­CLE Af­ter you have set the scene, it’s time to de­scribe the con­flict. There’s al­ways some fric­tion, some com­pli­ca­tion, a chal­lenge, some un­fore­seen cir­cum­stance, or some ob­sta­cle that stands be­fore you. What is it? What do you think about it? What are your emo­tions around it? What im­pact does it pose on you and your team? Make sure your au­di­ence ap­pre­ci­ates the com­plex­ity and level of dif­fi­culty that this is­sue poses.

TURN­ING POINT AND RES­O­LU­TION This de­scribes how things turned out. What did you do to try to ad­dress the ob­sta­cle? What hap­pened? How did you ex­e­cute your plan? What was the fi­nal score or out­come? Your re­sult may be a suc­cess, or it may be a fail­ure. But your au­di­ence should be cling­ing on the edge of their seat to find out.

LES­SON These last two points are the most im­por­tant ones. First, ‘Your les­son’ is where you make sure your au­di­ence re­alises why you told this par­tic­u­lar story. Tell them what you learned from the ex­pe­ri­ence. If it’s a case study of suc­cess, em­pha­sise all the spe­cial at­tributes of your ser­vice, prod­uct or team or what­ever it was that re­sulted in your achieve­ment. If the story’s out­come was dis­ap­point­ing, then what did you learn from it? Share your own les­son or re­flec­tion.

LES­SON This is the ‘what’s in it for them’ por­tion! The Eureka mo­ment. The “I want to buy your prod­uct or ser­vice.” “I want to in­vest in your com­pany.” “I will work harder be­cause I be­lieve in what you just told me” mo­ment.

What­ever you are mo­ti­vat­ing your au­di­ence to do, this is where you help them share your vi­sion of it. This helps them con­nect to you which is the key to any per­sua­sive ar­gu­ment. Ex­plain­ing the takeaway for your au­di­ence is crit­i­cal be­cause you want to en­sure they know how to ap­ply the story. It takes dis­ci­pline, time and prac­tice to craft sto­ries ef­fec­tively. But that’s what I’m here for, isn’t it? You can do it! Your au­di­ence will thank you.

And that, my friends, is the point.

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