Help Your Message Be Heard In The Crowded Business Environment
By: John Regan
The wind was lightly blowing the trees as the leaves started to change. The crispness of an early September fall day was creeping in and challenging summer for control of the St. Louis region – a battle that would swing back and forth over the next month or two before summer was finally driven out of 2020. I was sitting on the back deck at the house, experiencing not only the battle of the seasons, but also another war on multiple fronts. A viral pandemic had the globe in its clutches, and I was only 6 months into recovering from a massive heart attack. As I listened on the video call… and the person trying to upsell me on our organization’s infrastructure software, all these forces of nature were compelling me to ignore this person as they droned on about features, dollars, and market share ownership of the vendor. They clearly had a quota, an agenda for only their benefit, and a total lack of understanding of our business model. Somehow, I had granted them access through my normally tight gatekeeping process (note to self: get better at screening!) and was now starting to get frustrated. In a battle for my attention they had lost, I promptly thanked them for their time, let them know I was not interested, disconnected from that call, and promised myself to focus on what was truly important in my life and business and to not waste what valuable time I have left.
How many of us have had this kind of experience in business? Maybe not that viscerally, but if you look back at your week how many times will you see that your time was not being utilized to the highest and best use for your role or goals? Feeling the weight of external forces, internal challenges, and critically important issues is THE daily routine in the western world. Through this cacophony of life, business must successfully weigh in and succeed in capturing and keeping our attention. Many times, the inexperienced businessperson will approach a potential partner or customer with an eye towards how that partner or customer can help the businessperson make a sale or profit and focus on the facts and details right out of the gate. That approach will ultimately end like mine did on that fall day; with a polite, but firm NO!
The human brain is wired to process information, looking for friend/foe cues – real or perceived – and is constantly scanning the environment. One of the easiest ways to get the friend flag flying is to tell a story.
We love stories! Billions of dollars are spent by us to experience stories in the form of books, podcasts, movies, music, etc. We tell our children stories before bedtime! Stories viscerally stimulate us in a way that facts, figures, data, or statements do not. Studies show that when we are engaged with a story, our brains release dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter) into our systems, reinforcing the positive aspects of the story, and helping us to bond with the storyteller and their messaging.
In an increasingly distracted world, the new economy with its currency of ATTENTION, we need to embrace our inner storyteller! Leading with stories can help us to succeed in business and life.
To tell compelling stories that drive results on purpose, you can use this simple process (excerpted from: https://hbr.org/2014/07/how-to-tell-a-great-story)
Start with a message - Every storytelling exercise should begin by asking: Who is my audience and what is the message I want to share with them? Each decision about your story should flow from those questions.
Mine your own experiences - The best storytellers look to their own memories and life experiences for ways to illustrate their message. There may be a tendency not to want to share personal details at work, but anecdotes that illustrate struggle, failure, and barriers overcome are what make people authentic and accessible.
Don’t make yourself the hero - One of the main reasons we listen to stories is to create a deeper belief in ourselves, but when the storyteller talks about how great they are, the audience shuts down. The more you celebrate your own decisions, the less likely your audience will connect with you and your message.
Highlight a struggle - A story without a challenge simply isn’t very interesting. A well-crafted story embedded with a rallying cry means you don’t have to demand change or effort. People will become your partners in change because they want to be part of the journey.
Keep it simple - Not every story you tell must be a surprising, edge-of-your-seat epic. Some of the most successful and memorable stories are relatively simple and straightforward. Don’t let needless details to detract from your core message. Work from the principle that “less is more.”
Practice makes perfect - Storytelling is a real art form that requires repeated effort to get right. Practice with friends, loved ones, and trusted colleagues to hone your message into the most effective and efficient story. And remember that the rewards can be immense. Stories are the original viral tool. Once you tell a very compelling story, the first thing someone does is think, “Who can I tell this story to?” So, for the extra three minutes you spend encoding a leadership communication in a story, you’re going to see returns that last for months and maybe even years.
For more resources on business storytelling check out these links:
Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte: https://www.duarte.com/resonate/
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath: https://heathbrothers.com/books/made-to-stick/
Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us by Seth Godin: no website link – find at your favorite book or e-book retailer