Adventures in storyland — 7 lessons from the road

Storytelling — timeless and uniquely human — takes on a different shape as each of us approaches it. This post is less a guide to storytelling and more about the lessons we’ve been picking up over recent weeks on how to guide people towards finding their own story.

Hope you enjoy the ideas.

1. Organising your message

Through some pub maths I reckon that about half of people can tell a good story. You know the ones — they’re a pleasure to listen to, they know how to wrap it up and leave you laughing. The other half rattle on and on, leaving you struggling to work out what they’re really telling you (and when’s right to laugh).

With that baseline, it’s no surprise that people are daunted by trying to tell their business’ story. A first step can be to organise your information into the shape of a story. Andy Goodman in his blog gives some nice advice for budding screenwriters. And while business narratives are better expressed (in our opinion) through our own StoryShaper, we find the idea of a framework helps tip people into getting started.

It won’t rock, but it won’t suck either. So what’s next?

2. Shed weight

A holiday suitcase has a capacity, after which it gets bloated and you get hit with excess charges. And sports coaches remind themselves that athletes can hold three concepts in their head and act on one at any time — no more.

In the same way, a story can only carry a certain number of messages. But we find people struggle to cut off the excess — perhaps there’s a need to be ‘on-message’ in the business. We urge people to identify the one thing they want their audience to do differently.

3. Target your audience

This is the point — to separate your desire to project from the audience’s appetite to consume. And we find ourselves coaching managers to recognise that the purpose of the whole exercise is to stir their audience.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” — George Bernard Shaw

4. Find the real story

The great stories move us to the core, because they describe a thread of the human condition: learning to cooperate, dealing with loss and rejection, accepting change, pursuing your passion — topics which help us grow up well and deal with life’s challenges.

Pixar do this brilliantly, as explained beautifully in this 5-minute clip. (Also have a look at Pixar’s “22 rules of storytelling”, as coined by their own Emma Coats).

This is where a leader’s story transcends what we think of as “communication” and becomes the inspiration for how people think, feel… and act.

6. Don’t be afraid to influence

Do you ever feel as though you’re speaking someone else’s words? You’re not alone — your audience feels it too. There’s a profound step to be made from planning and compiling a message, to occupying and owning it.

After all, we communicate in order to shift how people think (don’t we?). And with good story to tell, we’re like to succeed. So we need to be ready to dive in, make it our own. That story of why you work here? Perfect, use it. Personal stories embellish our narrative and show that we’re worth listening to. This is no longer someone else’s message — we need to be ready for some limelight.

7. Time and repetition

A story is a like an old shoe — it fits better with time and use. As we try our story out, first on ourself (in the personal story cave, yes that’s a thing) and then with audiences, we get a feel of what works, what flows well, what jars, what’s superfluous. What’s even better is that with our narrative clear in our mind, we begin to see things differently, and otherwise mundane events become new stories in our journey… But that’s for another day.

It’s been a busy few weeks out on the road — from the coffee shops of San Francisco to the steakhouses of Texas, from our cousins North of the border to our friends across the Channel — helping a number teams to discover and tell their story. So a “thank you” to everyone who has worked with us.

About the Author

Tim Janisch is a Consultant at The Observer Effect.

If this was useful, do please tap the ❤ button below ;)

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.