Never before have facts been so easily accessible. For instance, enter the phrase “utility injury statistics” into Google, and you’ll immediately have access to approximately 8 million search results. Facts, however, don’t persuade people to take action, and when people’s lives are at stake, managers must use all of the tools available to them to help encourage and improve safe work practices. Storytelling is one teaching and persuasion tool getting increasing attention in the workplace, and following are four powerful ways it can assist you in your management career.
1. Storytelling connects you to your audience. The practice dates back tens of thousands of years and may perhaps be the first way human beings shared information and experiences with one another. And, in modern culture, stories are one important way that children learn about the world around them. In “Tap the Power of Storytelling” (www.forbes.com/sites/rodgerdeanduncan/2014/01/04/tap-the-power-of-storytelling/), author Rodger Dean Duncan interviews storytelling consultant and trainer Geoffrey Berwind, who points out that, as children, “we learned through being told bedtime stories, fairy tales, hearing family stories around the dinner table. … When leaders use storytelling I believe they bring their audiences back to a natural state of primal listening.” When your audience members are in their natural listening state, what you say to them is more likely to sink in.
2. Storytelling puts facts in context and appeals to people’s emotions. One of the major reasons why storytelling conveys messages so effectively is that stories incorporate facts in a way that makes them more memorable. Think about it this way: If you listen to a presenter who gets on stage and simply lists a dozen statistics about arc flash injuries, are you going to remember those statistics a month later? Probably not. However, if that same presenter tells a story about someone who was critically injured or killed during an arc flash incident, and incorporates the statistics into the story, it’s likely that you will remember the emotional impact of that story for a long while and keep it in mind the next time you are at a job site where an arc flash has the potential to occur.
3. Storytelling acknowledges problems and can encourage collaborative solutions. Have you ever met someone who is always happy and never has a bad word to say about anything or anyone? I’ve encountered a few of these people, and I always get the feeling there’s something they’re not sharing with me. This phenomenon happens in business, too. Some leaders try their best to convince employees that everything at the company is going smoothly at all times; the problem is that painting this type of picture often breeds distrust. People know nothing is perfect, and they know what problems exist if they’ve worked at a company long enough. One way of gaining employee trust is to share organizational problems and work on solutions together, and storytelling can help. Stories typically have a problem that is established early on, a struggle that takes place and then an ending in which good overcomes evil. When facing an organizational issue, lay it out to your audience when appropriate, discuss the struggle you’re facing, present possible solutions and encourage everyone to join in the story with their thoughts and solutions.
4. Storytelling makes work more fun and interesting. Work can be hard, incredibly stressful and tedious at times. So why not engage your employees with well-told stories when an opportunity arises? By nature, human beings are social creatures who want to connect with one another via the power of stories; that’s why movies, TV and literature never lose their appeal. Use stories in your meetings and other presentations to keep the crowd engaged and on the same page. And even though business is a serious matter, remember that the best stories often include audience-appropriate humor as well as personal details that listeners wouldn’t necessarily learn through a PowerPoint presentation or report.
Sidebar: Become a Better Storyteller
We know that storytelling can better connect you to your employees and be an effective teaching and persuasion tool, but all of us are not born storytellers. If you want to strengthen this skill, here are some ideas that can help.
Read books and watch movies of all kinds. Choose some literary classics and Oscar winners to study how the industry greats tell their stories, and pay attention to what draws you in. You may also want to check out Robert McKee’s website (www.mckeestory.com); McKee has spent the last 30 years educating and mentoring screenwriters, novelists, playwrights and other storytellers. Finally, it’s not a bad idea to spend a little time with some not-so-wonderful books and films to find out what doesn’t work when sharing a story.
Practice writing and telling stories. We’ve all heard it a million times – practice makes perfect. Start crafting your own stories, and find an audience to share them with that will give you honest feedback about what you do well and where you need to improve. Give some of your focus to delivering stories that are not only impactful, but short; something around five minutes long should keep most people’s attention.
Take a class, attend a festival or retain a consultant. Storytelling continues to increase in popularity, and there are a growing number of professionals who can help you improve your skills. For instance, McKee, Berwind and others offer seminars and other educational opportunities that you can attend off-site or that you may even be able to bring into your place of business. Additionally, there are a number of storytelling festivals across the country that offer a variety of ways to learn about the subject.
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