Storytelling is much more than just a colorful way to convey a message. Stories activate parts of the brain in sympathy with the events of the story in question. In other words, when we get captivated by a story about a mountain climber who is hanging on for dear life, or a star athlete who can win or lose the championship in the final seconds, our brain doesn’t know — and frankly doesn’t care — that we’re in the audience. Our brain responds as if it is really happening: not to someone else, but to us! As a result, we’re much more attentive and involved in what’s going on, and that also makes us easier to persuade. We buy into the story, and open our minds.
So, now that we know that storytelling is a potent and functional persuasion tool, here is how teams in your adaptable businesses can use this ancient art to achieve uncommon success:
1. Start with “Why?”
Forget about the long, winding arc that slowly builds up plot and develops characters. This isn’t Game of Thrones. Instead, borrow a page from Simon Sinek’s widely-shared playbook and start with why.
For example, this is going to cut through the noise of information overload and grab attention: “We’ve carefully analyzed the situation and strongly believe that our chances of finishing this project on time is virtually impossible unless we take immediate action”.
Alternatively (and unfortunately), this is likely going to trigger tune-out: “Back when we planned the project we looked at all the factors and believed the project would take nine months, which was a realistic expectation back then based on 10 factors which I will outline to you now. The first factor, or make that the first sub-factor of the first factor…”
2. Support with relevant details.
A pointed, direct opening will grab attention — but it won’t keep attention. To do that, teams need to be well prepared with relevant details that justify their position. The key word here is “relevant.” Cut out anything extraneous or distracting. If it’s part of the big picture, it can be introduced later. Right now, the goal is to fortify the “why” messaging with core content.
3. Pitch the solution.
Once the framework is set by starting with why and back-filling the relevant (there’s that word again!) details, the next step is to pitch the solution (or multiple possible solutions) in as pragmatic a manner as possible. For example: “Based on our analysis, we’re confident that adding Clarizen One in our environment will significantly simplify our work experience, while improving collaboration, accountability and visibility.”
It’s also worth pointing out that many project managers and others start with this step — i.e. they propose their solution from the outset. The reason this usually doesn’t work, is because the recipient may not understand what the problem is. Or at least, they may not appreciate the degree and extent of the problem. That’s why the first two steps in the storytelling process — starting with why and supporting with relevant details — are critical. Skip them, and the whole narrative falls apart.
4. Deliver the payoff.
If the story holds together the way that teams need it to, then the last piece of the puzzle is to clearly and convincingly explain the payoff. Use numbers and describe situations to paint a compelling, yet realistic picture. For example: “Due to visibility and communication challenges, we identified 10 instances of needless double-work that took place last month. This required 38 hours of additional labor, which cost $2,850. With Clarizen One, it’s virtually certain that this double-work would not have happened in the first place. And since there’s a fully-fledged free trial, there’s no reason we shouldn’t put it to the test.”
The critical factor here is to be prepared. The last thing that teams want is to succeed in opening their boss’s mind (and probably their budget as well), but not have a clear, focused answer to the question “OK, so how do we move forward with this and what is the next step?”
The Bottom Line
Teams that become good storytellers spend more time persuading and convincing the Powers That Be to give them what they need to succeed, and less time pleading — which usually doesn’t work, and isn’t nearly as much fun.