Tell an undeniable story to win support for your impossible idea (review of Story 10x).

I had no clue what the consultants were talking about.

Early in my career, I was on a team that was tasked with carrying out a re-engineering project.

Consultants were brought in to crunch numbers, run reports and help get employees onboard for big sweeping changes in who and how work got done.

The consultants were big believers in burning platforms.

Some employees will resist change and stick with the status quo until the bitter end, said the consultants. By burning down the platform, they’ll be forced to jump. The pain of staying in their comfort zone will be greater than the fear of making a change.

Even though the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster wouldn’t happen for another 15 years, this seemed like a horrible analogy and a lousy strategy to pull off a major change.

Burning the platform wound up stoking more anger than fear. Employees saw through the smoke and didn’t jump. In the end, the only ones tossed overboard were the consultants and our project team.

Michael Margolis is not a fan of burning platforms.

Story10x_hardcover-mock-angle3a“As an innovator and change agent, you’re programmed to confront and challenge the status quo,” says Margolis, the author of Story 10X and founder of a strategic messaging firm. “To show people how things are wrong, bad or broken. And what is required to fix it. While you have truth on your side, who likes to be told they are wrong, bad or stupid?

“In fairness, this is just conditioned behavior. We all want to be right, yet, when you learn to tell your story in a manner that goes beyond right / wrong, you can truly move the needle, bend the curve and transform the world.”

If you want us to embrace whatever change you’re selling, make us feel good about going along for the ride. “Feeling good is contagious. You’re more likely to pique curiosity, leaving them intrigued and hungry for more. Yes begets more yes. They’ll see you as an ally around shared interests or needs and they’ll be open to your message rather than closed to it.”

Instead of burning platforms, tell us an undeniable story that’ll inspire us to join you in turning the impossible into the inevitable. “An undeniable story is a strategic narrative that transports your audience into the future – leading them on a journey beyond the world they know to the promised land of possibility. It conveys a new vision, strategy and roadmap so convincingly and compellingly that your audience can’t help but see it, feel it and believe it. They want what you’re selling. Because your idea is a self-evident truth that people can relate to.”

motivation-4330453_1920Margolis says narrative intelligence is as important as cognitive and emotional intelligence. Great leaders are great storytellers. “Business is built on persuasion and persuasion is rooted in story. The very best leaders are well versed in the art and science of story. They make magical things happen with their words.”

The best leaders make their stories personal and show vulnerability. They put their heart at the heart their stories.“If your message is personal to you, you have a much better chance of making it personal to your audience. If you’re emotionally invested in your ideas, your audience will equate that to motivation, resilience and long-term achievement. Let your vulnerabilities be seen and you’re far more likely to engender trust and rapport.”

So if you’re looking to change the world in 2020, Margolis can show you how to share an undeniable story that’ll give us faith in disrupting and innovating our way to a better future.

By day, I’m the communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science. Hamilton is home and I’ve reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Five ways to tell better stories that win hearts, change minds & get results

storytellingThis review first ran in the April 14th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results

By Rob Biesenbach

Eastlawn Media

$22.75

A father and son are on vacation.

They’re walking on the beach when they find hundreds of stranded starfish baking in the sun.

The boy picks up a starfish and puts it back in the ocean.

The dad tells his son there are too many starfish to save. “We’ll be here forever,” says the dad.

“Relax dad,” says the boy. “I’m just saving one starfish so CEOs and motivational speakers can repeat this story over and over again whenever they need to drive home the point about how one person can make a difference. Now let’s go have breakfast.”

We all know that telling stories is better than inflicting death by PowerPoint on an audience. We’re hardwired for storytelling.

But don’t be lazy and recycle whatever comes up when you Google search “stories to inspire an audience.”

Skip the often-told starfish story and instead follow Rob Biesenbach’s advice for telling more compelling tales.

“A story is a character in pursuit of a goal in the face of some challenge or obstacle,” says Biesenbach.

To tell a great story that sticks with your audience, ask yourself five questions:

Is the character in your story real and relatable? We don’t care about processes and programs, says Biesenbach. We care about people. “Your character is the heart of the story. Bring your stories down to the human level. If a problem exists it must surely affect actual people.” Tell us about someone like us who’s in a similar situation and facing the same kind of challenge. Share a personal story or introduce us to one of your customers, clients, patients or students.

Is there sufficient conflict? If there’s no conflict, there’s no drama driving the narrative of your story. “Conflict arises from the tension between the character’s goal and the challenge facing her.”

Are the stakes high enough? Go big with the challenge. “For a story to work, there has to be something important at stake – a serious problem that cries out for action.”

Is there clear cause and effect? Tightly link the chain of events in your story. “Causality is more meaningful to us than mere coincidence.”

And is there an emotional core at the heart of your story? “Emotion fuels stories,” says Biesenbach. “When your audience feels something, they are more likely to do something.”

Once you’ve checked off these boxes, structure your story in three parts.

In the beginning, introduce us to your character.

In the middle of your story, set out your character’s challenge.

At the end of your story, bring things to a resolution.

“Think of your story as a Hollywood blockbuster. In the end, the enemy is vanquished, the boy gets the girl, justice is served. There’s a reason these movies are so popular: they give audiences what they want – a satisfactory conclusion.

“Your story should not be in the style of indie or art house cinema, where the characters don’t really change and problems go unresolved. The indie film may be truer to everyday life, but it’s not particularly satisfying for general audiences.”

Biesenbach’s written a practical guide to help anyone become a better, more focused storyteller. The stronger your stories, the better your odds of winning hearts, changing minds and getting results.

“Our stories help define who we are and what we stand for. They set us apart in a noisy, competitive world. And they help ensure we’re remembered. Don’t be intimated. Storytelling isn’t reserved for artists and poets and folksy cowboys huddled around the campfire.”

@jayrobb tells stories as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins by Annette Simmons

best storyThis review was first published in the July 6 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact (2nd edition)

By Annette Simmons

AMACOM

$34.50

I didn’t actually write the best speech I ever wrote.

I merely transcribed a conversation with an interim president who was in a reflective mood. He needed help in writing a convocation speech for 5,000 graduating students and their families.

The president could’ve played it safe with a disposable speech. He could’ve strung together some well-worn quotes (cue Margaret Mead and Dr. Suess). He could’ve served up the usual commandments for freshly minted grads (thou shalt work hard and go forth to change thy world). And he could’ve offered up reassurances that Baby Boomers will at some point retire and leave lots of jobs to be filled.

The president instead chose to be bold and make it personal. He wanted to talk about the morning he dropped out of high school and his dad gave him a week to get a job or get out of the house.  He talked about starting out in a mailroom and getting a little too comfortable in the job until a company executive challenged him to aim higher.

It was a personal story that made for a powerful speech delivered in under 10 minutes. In sharing his story, the president connected with his audience at an emotional level and won them over with his humility. Grads walked across the stage and thanked the president for his sharing his story.

All of us are hungry and hardwired for good stories. Our world really doesn’t need another PowerPoint presentation or a report stuffed with facts, stats and charts that most of us will never read.

“The science is in,” says Annette Simmons, author of Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins and president of a consulting firm that helps organizations tell stories. “The brain thinks in stories. Technology dumps so much information on us; we now need a conscious process to translate that information back into the human brain’s inborn format for understanding the world: into story.”

The best stories put emotional and personal connections front and centre, says Simmons. “Unless you bring a beating heart to your message, it is dead. But when you tell your own heartfelt stories about what is meaningful in your life and work, you get the hang of finding stories that frame life and work in emotionally meaningful ways for your audience.”

Simmons identifies six kinds of stories that can connect you with your audience and influence what they think and do:

  • Who I am stories that reveal who you are as a person. This is the most important story you’ll ever tell, says Simmons. “Your ability to influence people is directly related to what others know or believe about who you are.”
  • Why I am here stories that talk about your purpose beyond a paycheque. Your audience wants to know what’s in it for you ahead of what’s in it for them.  “Only a strong connection to your positive intent can keep suspicion from clouding your message or discrediting your data.”
  • Teaching stories, with lessons learned from personal experience. Talk about the times you shined and fell short. “You can tell someone to be patient, but it’s rarely helpful. It is better to tell a story that creates a shared experience of patience along with the rewards of patience. A three-minute story about patience may be short and punchy, but it will change behavior much better than advice.”
  • Vision stories that explain why the future will be worth the headaches and hassles we’re going through today. “A good vision story makes your promise for future payoffs tangible enough to feel realistic,” says Simmons. “Overwhelming obstacles shrink to bearable frustrations that are achievable and worth the effort.”
  • Value in action stories that illustrate what a value means behaviorally. You can tell staff that respect is a core value in your organization. Or you can tell stories about staff who treat others with respect. If it’s a real value and not just words on a poster, these stories will be easy to find.

Still not sold on sharing a personal story? Consider this. “Facts are no match for emotions,” says Simmons. “When you realize that experiences and emotions trump abstractions such as statistics and data, you realize that you are never not telling a story.”

Simmons shows how to tell better stories, whether you’re speaking to a graduating class, rolling out a new business model at work or preparing for a billion dollar investment in light rail transit.

“Stories are very powerful tools. When you activate new stories, you transport people to new points of view and change meaning and behavior, and in that way, you change the future.”