How to Use Great Storytelling To Grow Your Business

Every two months I pull together a community of innovators. We meet somewhere in New York City, usually a boardroom overlooking a park or cityscape. But last month we all found our way into an acting studio operated by The TAI Group to learn about storytelling.

The members of this group certainly already know something about the topic. They are senior executives at some of the largest corporations, partners in some the most prestigious consulting and private equity firms, and several cutting-edge entrepreneurs. But the more you know, the more you realize there is to learn, and this group wanted to learn more about how to use effective storytelling to drive change in and grow their organizations.

The experience shocked me, to be honest. I considered myself an expert and snobbishly thought there was little more to learn. How wrong I was. Here are my two key takeaways from this session. Apply them today at your next meeting or phone call and I am willing to bet you will have a better result.

1) Use lots of LOTS.

Our facilitator, Gary Lyons, senior coach at The TAI Group, told us a story and had us dissect what we remembered. Do this and you will realize your audience is often checked out, comatose, unable to hear or remember what you are saying. The key to engage them is to use to use lots of “language of the senses,” or LOTS. When telling a story, share with us what you see, smell, feel, taste, and hear. When you trigger a sense in someone, you bring them into the story with you.

2) Build on your story spine.

At McKinsey I was taught to open presentations with a standard structure: situation, complication, question, answer. TAI suggests you use a five-step structure and do so not just to open your presentation, but throughout your talk. They call it the “story spine”: reality is introduced, conflict arrives, there is a struggle, the conflict is resolved, a new reality exists.

These two tools caused a profound shift in our abilities to tell effective stories.

Not convinced? Let me try the story spine with lots of LOTS then:

Reality introduced: a dark room filled with 20 executives and entrepreneurs resting on chairs in rows facing two director chairs. The door closes, snuffing out the faint sound of New York traffic.
Conflict introduced: our facilitator, Gary, begins scratching markers on flip charts. He is there to teach us about storytelling. But all I can think about is, “This is a highly accomplished group; they know all of this already. Will we learn anything new?”

Struggle: he tells to use “language of the senses,” but someone complains, “You can’t talk like that at a board meeting,” to which Gary points out that if you talk differently than people expect you to, they are more likely to listen and remember.

Conflict resolved: Gary gently bats back every concern this Type A group lobs at him, patiently walking us through the journey. By the end he has us on the edge of our seats.

New reality: we close with a “before and after” exercise. One of our members gets up to practice a pitch — he is raising money for an energy tech venture. He starts speaking but I just can’t follow. When he finishes, I realize I have not heard a word. Gary coaches him — lots of LOTS, story spine, look us in the eye, take us in — and the speaker tries again. Now it is all waterfalls of electricity pouring down the mountain, the opportunity to create something and break through with passion. I heard every word … and yet much more.

That is the impact that two tools can have in your ability to tell stories — about the company you are building, the project you are leading, the life you live. You can enroll people more completely and emotionally in your mission. Here is how you can put it to use now:

1) Think of a presentation or pitch you will be giving in the next seven days.
2) Write out your presentation as a story, long-hand, on paper, using the story spine.
3) Brainstorm a list of LOTS (language of the senses) you want to embed into your story.

Kaihan Krippendorff is a strategist, author, consultant, and investor whose singular style of combining Eastern military philosophy with business acumen has ushered a growing number of corporations (such as Microsoft, Citigroup, and Johnson & Johnson) and entrepreneurs onto faster tracks in every aspect of their businesses. His shrewdly aggressive string of successes has taken him all over the world from Europe and Southeast Asia to Africa and Latin America. Armed with two Master’s degrees and two Bachelor’s degrees from prestigious Columbia Business School, The Wharton School of Business, and The London School of Business, plus ten years of high level experience at companies such as McKinsey & Company and his own firm, Outthinker (founded in 2004), Kaihan Krippendorff has just published his fourth and most comprehensive book to date, Outthink the Competition: How a New Generation of Strategists Sees Options Others Ignore.

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