We are addicted to stories. A good story evokes emotion within us. Since the Stone Age, we have been telling stories to teach, to engage, to create laughter, to inspire and to influence behaviour.
So why when we go into business meetings do we often abandon stories and instead vomit facts on power point slides?
Stories have always been a primary form of communication. Cinema is a globally popular activity and many people are addicted to soap operas – these pull in vast number of viewers. People are fascinated by these TV drama series even though the daily lives and problems of the characters are sometimes not much different to their own.
Yet, in the professional world we tend to think we’ll impress people if we show them a slick PowerPoint presentation with bullet points and lots and lots of really insightful facts laced with business jargon.
How to Get People to Sit Up and Listen
The whole point of being in a meeting is to explore ideas, discuss and walk away with outcomes that help us move forward.
When you communicate in a meeting you want people to sit up and listen. The problem is that when someone is delivering facts or relying on PowerPoint or totally uninterested in their content no one is really listening.
I’ve been in many meetings where you can see people thinking about lunch, subtly or blatantly looking at their phone, or interrupt and completely diminish the speaker.
I’ve also been in meetings where someone’s shear ability to tell a story was so powerful that everyone has been hooked from the beginning, inspired through out and motivated to go and do whatever they were instructed to do straight afterwards.
So what do these compelling and charismatic people do in meetings so well?
Use a Story to Take People on a Journey
They know how to tell a story with energy and take us on a journey. They find ways of turning figures into to stories. They realise that PowerPoint takes the power out of the point. They avoid business jargon at all costs, they stir up our emotions and get us feeling, thinking and doing.
By telling a story rather than delivering a bullet point list of facts and figures you are creating anticipation and painting a picture in your listeners mind. Most of us will associate more with a story and it can help us to understand messages.
If I were to talk to you about a recent holiday using a formal tone in a list of bullet points like this…
- I went to Poland
- I participated in Skiing
- I ate good food
- There was a lot of snow
Would you feel excited and want to visit Poland or would you forget about our conversation five minutes later? Would you think I was someone you really wanted to go on holiday with or would you think I was deadly boring?
I’m far more likely to tell you a particular aspect of the holiday:
“I went to Poland, the snow was fantastic. On the first day we had a very funny skiing lesson where I went plummeting into the side and covered my leg in bruises while my five year old glided down the slopes” (all true, by the way).
Do you see the difference?
The second example is how we speak as humans. It’s more interesting. It’s natural. The first example is how we approach most business meetings – leaving people bored and uninspired.
Those that are magnetic in meetings often take that conversational, personable approach and bring their messages to life through stories, whatever the content and circumstances.
I’ve seen pitches in the financial industry brought to life through wonderful stories, I’ve seen stories used for effective negotiations in law firms and I’ve seen school students sit up and listen when a Maths teacher used stories to help them understand the Pythagoras theory.
5 Tips to Tell Great Stories
To help you compose captivating stories that will woo your audience, follow these five story telling tips;
1. Make it Jargon Free
Most industries have their own terminology – doctors, lawyers, builders, and science teachers – but if someone starts to speak to you using their specific industry vocabulary, do you listen? Do you understand? Find a simple jargon free story.
2. Using ‘I’
Using I makes it personable and relatable. On the whole, people don’t like to take responsibility or ownership at work so they often say ‘we thought it would be a good idea”. If you use we, be sure to be clear on whom ‘we’ are – the marketing team? Editing team? Who?
Stories stir up emotions through their movement. They are not static like bullet points.
If you yawn your audience will yawn. If you feel inspired and energised by your content you audience will feel the same. It’s emotions that prompt us to act. Use humour and laughter.
4. People and images
Bring your stories to life by threading people and images into your story. Describe rather than explain.
No need to come out with lots of stories. Think about what your intention is, what do you want people attending the meeting to think, feel and do?
Be that person that can get people to sit and listen in a meeting. Practice telling stories and watch your outcomes change. Go for it.
About the author
This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Lindsay Maclean. You can find more tips on meetings, presentations and interviews in Lindsay’s book – Speak Up & Be Heard which is out now, priced £10.99.
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