Bill Baker, strategic storyteller, was the closing speaker of the recent Dietitians of Canada conference. Given my new found interest in stories, I eagerly awaited the end of the conference for Bill’s session. A quote from Bill to open his talk “To be human is to have a story”. Stories get us to feel something. Stories connect us to ideas and to each other. They make us feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves. They help tell the what and why. As we all know, there is a difference between being told to do something and wanting to do something. Storytelling can be used to inspire people to want to do something.
Bill discussed that the single most effective tool a leader has is a story. Great leaders in history like Nelson Mandela and Ghandi were great communicators and great story tellers. They were able to bring their vision to life and transfer ownership of that vision to other people through their stories. The definition of strategic storytelling is the exchange of something meaningful shared from one person to another for a purpose.
Bill described using storytelling to engage, align and unlock human energy needed to realise organisational vision. He suggested using stories to bring more meaning to the work and workforce. Stories help set a sense of purpose and significance, especially in the face of lots of change. Stories work because they are already in our nature, and they help take people from where they are now to where they need to be.
Questions to think about when using strategic storytelling –
- – What do I want audience to do?
- – What barriers might get in the way?
- – What do they need to think and feel to make leap?
- – Is there a story I can tell to help them think and feel that?
Where can you get stories from? You have stories all around you, for example from when you were a child, being someone’s friend, going through a hard time or health scare, facing a tough decision, learning something new. Also remember that a story can take many forms; and it doesn’t have to be about yourself. You can tell a story about others, from history, video, cartoon, image, news headlines. It’s important to start collecting a library of stories. Draw inspiration form storytellers around world. Traits of great storytellers are that they listen, engage and interact with their audience. They take us to places we have never been. Storytellers empower others to think and feel differently. Use visuals in your story – pictures tell a thousand words; and use less words that mean more. Like any other skill, you need to practice, practice, practice storytelling.