Author: Rob Biesenbach
Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results Rob Biesenbach 2018
Is it ok to joke at a funeral? (Unleash the Power of Storytelling)
Unleash the Power of Storytelling: The art of storytelling is one of the basic communication skills. Stories serve humanity as a way of learning, rallying, and exchanging social and psychological information, and just entertainment. A good storyteller is desirable in any company: he knows how to convince, sell, defuse the situation, calm, and inspire. Anyone can be that person.
In Unleashing the Power of Storytelling, Rob Biesenbach talks about the structure of a story, its required and optional components, gives actionable advice on using the expressive means of language, and helps build different types of stories for business and informal communication. In addition, you will learn how to collect stories, how to keep the focus and get rid of unnecessary details, and how to coordinate the story with the customer. Read the summary and you will understand how to isolate the “red thread” from your biography, determine and develop your personal brand, and how present your story using the tools from the arsenal of theatrical actors. Once you master the skills of storytelling, you will never again be afraid to lose face when you need to “say a few words”, and you will learn why it’s okay to joke at a funeral,
This exciting and useful book will force you to take a fresh, conscious look at everything you write and tell, get the most out of communication with different people, and perhaps lay the foundation for your new passion – effective and effective storytelling.
Why tell stories
Stories are what people love more than anything. A good story can do what you want to do: make you stand out in the background of informational noise, change public opinion, get people to do something, and even stop doing what they are used to. Storytelling is the most effective communication tool we have.
Studies show that when people listen to stories, the production of oxytocin is activated, which causes a feeling of special emotional closeness. In addition, stories engage people intellectually and psychologically, forcing them to ask themselves the question – “what would I do in this situation?”
Six signs of a good story:
1) causes an emotional response;
2) is well remembered;
3) makes the message (brand, initiative) humane;
4) reveals the character and values of the narrator;
5) appeals to the values of the listeners and raises them above everyday life; 6) allows you to show what you want to talk about (in a story, you can show yourself as fun, interesting, customer-oriented, and whatever – instead of listing these qualities, causing irritation to the audience).
Nine reasons to tell a story:
1) justify the policy by filling the regulations with meaning; 2) inspire the team; 3) create a common ground for working on the project; 4) change public opinion; 5) build trust; 6) promote a strategy or brand; 7) make a successful presentation; 8) originally fill in the section “About the company” on the site; 9) make a spectacular toast, memorable speech or congratulate the newlyweds.
Storytelling works great in the B2B segment too: no matter how harsh and unemotional your business is, people prefer to deal with people rather than abstract mechanisms, which means that with the help of a good story you will strengthen cooperation. This is especially true for segments where the quality of service is largely related to the personality of an expert: in jurisprudence, and consulting.
Two big misconceptions about storytelling:
• “To make a great speech, you need to be an unusual person (hello, TED lectures!)”.
• “It is worth opening your mouth – and the story will flow by itself, fascinating, instructive, and witty.”
Both of these points are nonsense. You don’t have to be an expert to tell a compelling story. The material itself does not have to be fantastically original. But in order for the story to turn out, you still need to follow a few rules.
Structure and plot
Raised in fairy tales and stories, people expect a story to have a clear structure: an opening, a climax, and a denouement. If this structure is not followed, frustration ensues.
The plot in its simplest form looks like this: the hero strives for the goal, overcoming obstacles.
This form can be complicated and developed, but the story needs a hero, a goal, and obstacles just like legs need a chair.
Practice finding the hero, purpose, and obstacles in every story you come across (in books, TV shows, movies, and life). Look for the plot, the climax, and the denouement.
The beauty of storytelling is the endless number of options you can come up with.
The basic construction of the plot looks like this: (in brackets – professional terms of storytellers):
1. In the opening, you introduce the character and describe the “normal state of affairs.” Then something happens that upsets the balance (“incident”). There is a challenge for the hero (“turning point”).
2. In the middle of the story, the hero enters into a struggle with circumstances that impede the achievement of the goal (“conflict”).
3. In the finale, the goal is achieved: the balance is restored or, if this is not possible, the hero changes himself and begins to live in a new way (“denouement”).
How to make the story work:
• Study your audience: who are they, what do they strive for, and what are they afraid of? How well do they understand your field, do they know the terminology? What language is used when discussing related topics? What are the postulates of their culture and direction of thought? What values are close to them? What is important in their lives right now? Where and what are their pain points? What mood are they in? Conduct research, interview representatives of the target audience, and study their profiles on social networks (if the group is small). Don’t skip this step! You must ensure that your goal becomes their goal – so the deeper you understand your listeners, the better. Find what unites you. How are you different. History will help to strengthen the first and overcome the second.
• Formulate a goal. When telling a story, do you want to achieve some result – to make people act (or stop acting), change their assessment of the situation, or maybe just “break the ice” and establish emotional contact? By being clear about your goal, you are more likely to create a story that achieves it.
• Mark obstacles. They should be understandable to your audience and disturb them just as much as you.
• Create a character. To get an emotional response, the hero must be “their own”. This is the risk of stories “about the great” – they are good only if the driving motives of the hero are understandable and close to the audience.
• Come up with a compelling ending. There is nothing worse than a story that ends “nowhere.” This is one of the problems of art-house cinema: it may be closer to life, but the public craves clear plots and regularly buys tickets for Hollywood blockbusters. If you can’t come up with a good ending, come up with a different story, the author advises.
An effective story does not have to be extraordinary: just the right structure and the ability to evoke the right emotions is enough.
Five tricks for depth and authenticity:
1. Make the hero as alive and recognizable as possible. Ideally, the listener should associate himself with the hero of the story, or at least be clear about his motives and circumstances.
2. Give tension to the plot. Dynamics arise where there is a serious contradiction between the goal to which the hero strives and the circumstances that prevent this. When everything goes smoothly, there is no story as such.
3. Raise the stakes. The risks and threats in case of failure should be enough to stir up emotions.
4. Observe cause and effect relationships. Logically related events are more catchy than coincidences. Make sure cause and effect are shown clearly.
5. Fill the story with emotion. They make the listener feel involved and remember.
They force a person to act, blocking the logic and breaking the resistance of the rational brain. People buy emotions, not products. To make people do something, make them feel something.
How to fill the story with the right emotions:
• Experience this emotion yourself. Nothing impresses the listener more than the sincere emotion of the narrator. No need to burst into tears or scream with delight (although sometimes the scale of the occasion allows this too). It is enough to express joy, surprise, or grief – if you are sincere, it will work: the audience will begin to empathize. This feeling of trust and closeness is the most important effect of storytelling.
• Build a story around motifs. What do you love about your job? What makes you do what you do every day? How do you strive to make the world around you even a little better? Talk about what drives people to heighten emotions.
• Emphasize connections. Inscribe a particular situation in a larger story, let you feel how the participation of one person affects many others – it resonates.
• Give a reason to be proud. The desire to be proud of the results of their work, their contribution, and participation are natural for people. Use it.
• Admire the heroes. Show the accomplishments and feats and encourage the audience to feel proud of these people.
• Talk about something personal. Stories from your childhood and stories about relatives and friends touch the listeners. Here are just a few win-win examples: the most important lesson I learned from my father/mother/grandfather; what I dreamed about when I was little; my biggest triumph and biggest defeat. The love that permeates these topics will not leave listeners indifferent.
If you find it difficult to express emotions in public, think about this: you are telling a story not for yourself, but for people. You are giving them something of value, inviting them to experience authentic feelings and make the right decisions. In addition, this is not about losing face, but about the conscious and controlled use of emotions for a specific purpose – the control remains with you.
Storytelling requires the ability to “go down to the auditorium” in order to properly present the story and convey emotions to the listeners, taking care of the optimal amount of details and details that you will use.
Storytelling is the art of choosing only the essentials.
How to keep focus and get rid of unnecessary details:
• Remember the goal. Each story is about something. Everything that is not relevant and does not hit the right target is superfluous. Analyze each detail and decide whether it moves the story forward, slows it down, or does not provide anything of value. You only need parts of the first type.
• Reduce the number of characters. You don’t need heroes who don’t do anything important. Let the audience focus on the main characters.
• Get rid of side stories. Everything you talk about should relate to the main story. If you deviate, get back to the point as soon as possible.
• Avoid non-essential details. Remove unnecessary names, positions, company names, dates, and other unnecessary details. Talk about the main thing.
How to make the story lively and realistic:
Include in the story: time and place (Moscow or Paris is enough, do not give the full address; the farther the date is from today, the closer it should be – it does not matter if it was an important day in 1962 Tuesday or Wednesday); sensory hooks (describe smells, tastes, noises or feelings that are familiar to the listeners).
• Don’t be afraid to change some circumstances. As the saying goes, “don’t let the truth ruin a good story.” Small permutations, rounding numbers, and shifting emphasis are not lies, but simply a way to make the story more expressive. The main thing is that the essence of the story remains true.
• Narrow your focus. Don’t talk about all the services your company can provide. Tell about one in such a way that people want to become your customers, and they will know what else you have to offer. Show timeless values through small private details.
• Follow the “rule of one”: one story – one character – one conflict – one denouement.
• Respect the audience. Don’t chew on truisms and turn the story into reading out a list of your services and opportunities – just trust that the listeners can think and have some horizons.
If you are telling a personal story, the rule becomes especially important: story first, character second. The focus of the audience should be the plot and its development. Analyze the information about the hero – if any of them are superfluous. History is made for the sake of those who listen to it, not for the sake of those who participate in it.
How to make a story figurative:
• Use active “sensory” words that will make the listener experience tastes, colors, smells, and sounds.
Let the future be “bright” (not “promising”), the noise “abrupt” (not “sudden”), and the situation “sour” (not “adverse”); the mountain can be “climbed” or “climbed”, and not just “climbed”; and objects to “throw” or “throwaway”, and not just “drop”;
• look for vivid metaphors
In a speech devoted to space exploration, John F. Kennedy compared the power of the rocket to “10,000 cars with accelerator pedals recessed into the floor”, and called the space mission itself “sending a fleet to a new ocean”;
• compare with understandable: people are bad at imagining huge numbers, and standard comparisons don’t always work.
It is customary in the United States to “measure” the volume of water in the falls with Olympic pools – but if you are told that Lake Superior of the Great Lakes system contains 4.5 billion such pools, you will most likely be puzzled. But when you hear that “this volume of water can cover both American continents with a layer of half a meter of water”, you will immediately imagine a picture;
• revive the flow of numbers
“Half” is perceived better than “53%”, and “one in five Americans” is better than “63 million Americans”.
How to avoid distortion
Stories are powerful, and some of their properties lead to distortions that we don’t even notice unless we know where to look.
Having become famous for some kind of failure, it is very difficult to regain a good reputation: the stories that people tell, as a rule, are directed only in one direction (it is either a success story or a failure story).
• Check the facts. Always check the facts, especially if the story looks too optimistic or too bleak.
• Be humble and don’t relax. Even if today only good things are said about you / your company, remember how important it is not to fall off your horse. If it does, just move on.
By telling the same story many times, you run the risk of modifying it over time until it loses its original essence. Record stories and periodically check to see if your retelling is accurate.
Those parts of the story that concern you personally are especially prone to distortion. Make sure the story you’re telling doesn’t turn into a story about your own personal exploit or brilliant insight (those who tell such stories look like jerks).
Where to get stories
Searching for stories on the Internet is a bad idea. As a rule, this is done in a hurry, and what you find has already been heard in a hundred presentations, is very likely to contain false facts that are being replicated, and besides, it cannot even emotionally ignite you yourself. It is better to create your own collection of stories yourself.
• Learn to highlight stories in everything you see, hear, and read.
• Write down – because there is nothing more offensive than losing an idea that once came to mind.
• Focus on stories that can be useful to you: for example, if your brand is about reliability, stories about reliability, loyalty, and commitment are of the greatest interest to you.
• Interested in something outside of work. The wider the circle of your interests, the more entertaining stories you will find.
• Talk to people. Ask around, especially those who are in your target audience and have a strong personality. Perhaps you just intuitively feel that this person “has something to say” – so arrange an interview! Ask about thoughts, feelings, successes and failures, conclusions and aspirations, idols and motives.
• Dig into yourself. We have already talked about how compelling personal stories are – look for them in your experience.
history of the company
The section “About us” or “About the company” is often the most visited on the corporate website. Its content should be considered especially carefully.
• Use all components. A company story requires the same components as any other: there must be a character, purpose, challenge, conflict, stakes, and emotional hooks. The story should have a plot, development, and some kind of ending (rather, a summary).
Classical doesn’t mean bad: it’s perfectly fine to tell a story by first introducing the founders, then describing the problem they solved and then outlining the development story. End by pointing out that today, a company that has come a long way, operates on the basis of the same values that were embedded in it from the very beginning.
• Think about who will read your company’s story, and write with a focus on what the company can do for people.
• Do not get carried away with chronology: dates and numbers do not catch, stories do.
• Give facts a dramatic and human dimension.
• Try to come up with an interesting headline (eg John Deere: “It all started with a plow”).
• Write in simple, human language – as if telling a story to friends. Simplicity is in fashion now, and pathos often seems ridiculous (especially if the company is young).
• Replace the story in a beautiful way.
The world-famous advertising agency Leo Burnett does not tell the “history of the company” as such but explains that apples for visitors, which are always available at the agency’s reception anywhere in the world, first appeared in the company’s office during the Great Depression and have since symbolized friendliness and desire to be helpful to customers.
Stories in a presentation
• Start with a story to grab your audience’s attention. At first, everyone present does not care who you are and what you are going to talk about. Immediately intrigue them with a story that is really close to them.
• Tell a few stories as the presentation progresses. But not too much! If the presentation lasts up to 15 minutes, it will probably be one or two stories, and the report for 40 minutes will contain about five. Be content-driven and remember that every story needs some “space” to get into the minds and souls of the listeners. Don’t pile one on top of the other.
• End your presentation with a story. It’s great if the end story sums up the one you started with: add a dramatic detail, an unexpected twist, or tell the same story from another character’s point of view.
How to tell a story effectively:
• Practice. Tell stories over and over.
• Use the stage actor’s toolkit to keep the emotional impact of the story you’re forced to repeat. Each time, go on stage, the actors re-live the plot of a long-known play, and since their feelings are sincere, the audience applauds. To achieve this, you need to be fully present at the moment and live your story with those who listen to it.
• Energize. Your voice should be filled, your face should reflect the emotions you are experiencing, and your posture should be collected and energetic. Exaggerated facial expressions are not needed – if you feel what you are talking about, your face will reflect exactly what you need.
• Use intonation to emphasize important points. Lower your voice when you want to create intrigue and get the audience to listen to you. Speed up your speech to emphasize the momentum, and pause before or after the most important points.
• Gesticulate. If you are talking about two cups of coffee, show how you hold them in your hands. List – bend your fingers. Compare – Imagine weighing the alternatives in your palms.
• Illustrate the passage of time. If you are telling a story over time, stand in one place on the stage (past) and then move to another (present or future). Move from right to left: the audience will see this in a mirror image, and this will coincide with the general perception of time (which for most flows from left to right).
• Use a dummy. If your story includes a dialogue with a certain character, place their symbolic image on the stage next to you. Then you do not have to repeat “I said / then he said” – it will be enough to point to your “interlocutor”.
History and personal brand
A story about you is a story that is needed to successfully pass an interview, and introduce yourself to partners and colleagues. The purpose of a story like this is to give people an idea of who you are and encourage them to learn more about you.
• Give your biography a story and meaning. No boring listing of facts in chronological order.
• Use red thread. The leitmotif of your story can be childhood dreams, special abilities, and the desire to achieve something in life.
To highlight this main motive of your life or career, interview friends and loved ones, and also analyze your resume: what problems did you face? How did you solve them? Why were you hired, and what qualities did people look for in you? Look for recurring patterns, highlight them, and try on how to string your personal story onto them.
• Try to find “turning points” – even if not as dramatic as the blockbuster episodes, they bring your story to life.
• Conclude with a conclusion you have reached for yourself, what you have achieved and what concerns you now.
• Be mindful of the audience. The story should be relevant to the situation in which you are telling it. Different situations, different listeners, different stories. This is not manipulation, but respect for the listeners.
Even if you have not thought about yourself as a brand, try to do it. The fact is that this brand already exists, whether you like it or not. Your personal brand is what other people think of you. It is useful to understand what exactly they think, and consciously correct this perception by managing impressions about themselves.
Once again, go through the list of questions about the “red thread” of your life: achievements, challenges, awards, and successful projects. Note typical patterns.
Who you are? An analyst who seeks the essence of subjects and deeply understands the problems? An organizer who knows how to attract and manage resources? An innovator delivering bright ideas? A tenacious tin soldier who remains imperturbable even in the fire? Or, perhaps, a brave fighter who does not give in to any difficulties and boldly takes new and new heights?
Having found the core of your personal brand, try to express it as fully as possible – through the appearance and manner of dressing, through the choice of work tasks (if possible) or hobbies, and through the style of communication. Make sure all of your stories about yourself (on social media, resumes, and LinkedIn) are about the same story.
This does not mean being manipulative or immodest: you are only developing the strengths of your personality, and this is for the benefit of you and everyone around you.
By thinking carefully about your brand identity, you will be more confident in a variety of business and personal situations and will be able to tell your personal brand story using everything you’ve learned in this book.
Stories for special occasions
Rob Biesenbach has been blogging about storytelling for many years and knows firsthand that speaking at emotionally charged events such as commemorations, weddings, and funerals is the biggest challenge.
Storytelling also helps out in such cases: the story saves you from having to say platitudes that may not be at all appropriate when applied to specific people. Having built the plot, you can effectively perform without the need to prevaricate.
If you need to praise someone by giving a toast or a short speech:
• choose three specific qualities that stand out (not “beautiful, fantastic, amazing”, but “smart, generous, sincere”);
• tell one short story about one of these qualities;
• end with a graceful counterpoint (“despite all the well-deserved regalia, he remains the humblest and simplest person I know”).
To this design, you can add:
• a few emotional details (a particular smell, picture, or sound that you associate with this person);
• a description of the lesson you learned from interacting with him;
Remember to keep your speech reasonably short. Feel free to look at your notes if you took them in preparation for the presentation. Avoid looking at those you care about if your performance is very emotional (in a more relaxed environment, this, on the contrary, is supportive). If you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope with your emotions, just take a deep breath and return to the story (it’s okay to feel emotions!). And one more tip: if at a funeral people will appreciate you for a little joke that will defuse the situation, it is very dangerous to joke at weddings and anniversaries. Nowhere do people make jokes more personally than at a wedding. Almost any joke can seem offensive or too personal to people who are very self-centered right now. Better be serious.
Top 10 Thoughts
1. Storytelling is the best means of communication. It helps to create and strengthen connections, develop relationships, influence the opinions and actions of people, and achieve better results in business and private life.
2. Everyone can learn to tell stories. You don’t have to be a particularly gifted speaker to impress people, and the story itself can be quite ordinary—you just have to be able to tell it right.
3. A story consists of an opening, a climax, and a denouement. The plot is built around a hero who strives for a goal, overcoming obstacles.
4. The main task of the story is to evoke emotions. Therefore, the hero must be understandable and somewhat close to the audience, the stakes are high, and the ending must answer all questions.
5. For the story to reach its goal, you must clearly understand why and to whom you are telling it.
6. Language should be simple, metaphors should be vivid, and comparisons should be clear. Use words that will make people literally feel what you are talking about.
7. The rules of structure (character, conflict, denouement) apply to absolutely any story, from the story of a company to the presentation of your own biography.
8. History is created for the listeners. To make an impression and achieve its goal, you need to be able to convey the essence and abandon irrelevant details, characters, and side plots.
9. To become a good storyteller, you need to practice – telling stories and collecting them everywhere: in books, communication, movies, and life.
10. Don’t joke at weddings.