"When you live the vision and values you profess, you need only tell people what happened last week or last month. If you aren’t living your vision and values daily, well, you can’t dress a pig in a ball gown and expect people to call her princess."
I thought the opening quote might catch your attention. This book is filled with such fantastic imagery and anecdotes, it was a difficult challenge to choose just one opening quote.
The Story Factor by Annette Simmons is a very enjoyable, insightful read about the power of stories to influence and persuade. The magic behind “influence” has so much less to do about content and so much more about delivery. Unlike many other models and philosophies, it is not always about facts and logical arguments, but more about emotions and feelings and personal perspectives. If you are one who likes to categorize ideas into logical versus emotive, right brain definitely trumps left brain in this book.
A story is defined as a narrative (fact or fiction), that strives to add emotional content and sensory details to develop a picture larger and more powerful than the sum of its parts. Once the stage is set, the author focuses on educating the reader on the power of stories (what they can do that facts cannot), tips to tell a good story, importance of listening to the stories of others and Do’s and Don’ts of storytelling.
Getting back to my introductory quote…before you can have any hope of influencing someone else, you need to know who you are, what you stand for (and really believe that it is important) and how your vision will connect with others. Stories are a test of accountability. They hold us true to our values.
Crossing the line
"Telling a story is like building a sand castle in the sand instead of drawing a line in the sand."
A story can touch so many sensitive subjects that facts, arguments and traditional forms of influence cannot. Stories can also get past traditional objectives and boundaries. Often in influencing situations, one side wins at the expense of the other – or at least it feels that way to the participants. Stories can invite people in. Stories encourage people to see ideas from a different point of view without losing their own. Stories can avoid the “us” versus “them” perspective and side step the confrontation and adversarial trap. “Crossing the line” makes people feel like they have lost face. Stories are more subtle. It is a bit like coaching. You set the stage and let people find their way. It takes longer but is more powerful and longer lasting.
You might not “win” your listeners over with your story, but you certainly can’t lose. If at first you don’t succeed, regroup, ground yourself in your values and vision, and tell another impactful, meaningful story. It’s all upside.
Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten
"Only when you acknowledge the honorable aspects of the other side do you have a snowball’s chance of influencing them."
Story telling is many things, but it is not about feeling superior and imparting your “right” point of view onto others. Before you can hope to have some influence with someone else, you need to understand their point of view. To them, their personal story is just as powerful as your story is to you. In order to build our sandcastles, we need to touch on all sides of a topic and keep our eyes on the longer term goal and focus on sharing, future collaboration and mutual respect. Inherent in story telling is empathy and trust, demonstrating it and striving to build it.
Please don’t let me be boring!
"Hypotheticals are the playground of intellectuals, which explains why intellectuals who don’t tell stories tend to be tedious bores."
While stories are personal, there are three things you can focus on when telling your story that will help you engage with your audience – even if the topic isn’t rocket science, the Super Bowl or celebrity pop culture.
Do… Get specific! Details help to make stories more vivid for people. The more they can see it and picture themselves in it, the greater the emotional connection. When people feel connected, they are engaged, and engaged people aren’t bored. Modern workplaces would have us leave our personal details outside the topic. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to foster trust and empathy if you don’t open yourself up and let others get to know you and appreciate why your story is so important… and interesting.
Don’t… Talk! If you are really keen to learn how to tell a great story, listen to the stories of others. Hear the enthusiasm in their voice and the underlying values and vision that made the story so relevant. Perhaps their story connects to your story in a way that makes it more powerful.
Do… Bring your listeners into the dilemma. If you are feeling nervous, tell your audience. There will certainly be a few in attendance that will able to identify quite keenly with the nervousness you are feeling. If you think your story is boring, ask them. Both you and your audience have the same goal – for your story to keep them interested. When in doubt, just ask.
The Story Factor is a printed demonstration of all the concepts presented in the book. The author repeatedly uses stories to reinforce key concepts. So much so that the stories made the concepts come to life. The stories are demonstrative and engaging. Before the reader goes too far down the right brain path, the book comes full circle back to the concept of influence but in an authentic and holistic manner.
After I finished the book, I started to think of all the great speakers I had heard, leaders I had the privilege to work with and influencers I was influenced by. What made them so influential? Before reading this book, I would not have been able to articulate it. Now I can see the glimmer of good storytelling. When you think of key influencers in your life, are they weaving stores into their dialogue without you even noticing? What is the impact this has had on their ability to keep you interested and perhaps just a wee bit influenced?