I must confess to feeling a gravitation pull to old-school POVs.
While storytelling in business might be the new black, the fundamentals of communications still hold true. That’s why the following guest post from friend and colleague James Strohecker resonated with me.
BTW, I now know how to get to Carnegie Hall.
By James Strohecker
Last night I watched the Golden Globes. And it was more than awkward when the recipients endlessly rambled and burbled, “I’d like to thank everyone in the universe … here’s the list.”
CLICK. (I’ll switch back when they’re done.)
For the award recipient, it was an opportunity to tell a story. And if s/he did, I the listener (viewer) was willing to give the winner the chance to thank a few people – because that made it interesting and gave me perspective + more information than I had before the recipient came on stage.
It’s clear that most people – including actors and performers on last night’s Golden Globes – don’t tell a story from the perspective of the *listener.*
Tell me you haven’t done or heard this before:
You have a pending Webinar, presentation or important interaction. You’ve briefed the presenter and s/he says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. You don’t need to tell me what to do. (I won’t listen to you anyway.) I’ll have my slides ready before the Webinar/Presentation, etc. Sure, I’ll be ready. Yeah, I know all about storytelling. I took speaker training once …”
From this type of response, the “presentation/story” is probably going to be painful to listen to, at best. It’s like going to a social event and having to listen to a boring story. The audience fidgets. People look around for someone else to talk to, or they interrupt the boor. It can be agonizing.
Whether it’s social or business, the best storytellers are the people who vividly set up the challenge and provide a clear, well-articulated storyline and impactful punch line or solution. They do it quickly and succinctly. And they’ve practiced.
I jotted down a few suggestions – from a listener’s perspective – for being a good storyteller:
1. Every story has a beginning, middle and an end.
a. Even Hansel and Gretel had a problem and found a solution. [Source: Doc Searls]
b. So don’t tell a story that doesn’t have a challenge and a resolution. There’s nothing worse than listening to an endless effluvia of product and corporate superlatives. Nobody believes it. And nobody’s buyin’ it.
c. Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em. Tell ’em. Tell ’em what you told ’em. Listeners want mileposts in your story. They need to know where you’re taking them. And you need to wrap it up with a summary of why this story is important. [Source: Jerry Weissman, Power Presentations]
2. Get to the point, Dude.
a. There’s nothing worse than a bad storyteller.
b. Even Judget Judy says, “Don’t give me the ‘who shot John!”
c. Make it short and succinct. And edit yourself – eliminate the blather of rambling words, product sales hype and meaningless statistics or specs. Here’s a good example of how to get to the point: Andrew Shepard’s Speech from “The American President.”
3. Written stories – eliminate gerunds and endless run-on sentences.
a. If you’re ESL or not the best at producing the written word, spellcheck and have someone QC your work before it goes out. And don’t assume the listener/reader has a clue what your acronyms mean. Spell them out. Use the AP Stylebook if you have a question.
b. PowerPoint is a crutch. You don’t need crutches to get around, do you? Articulate your story without endless slides. Close your PC and tell the story. If it’s good, people will listen. But if you have to use PowerPoint, keep it short, please: Four bullets with four words (MAXIMUM).
4. Take time to tell and practice your story out loud. What’s the point? What’s the punch line?
a. Nobody wants to listen to your commercial. So save it for the end or leave it out.
b. Eliminate: “uhhhhhhh,” “basically,” and trite phrases, such as, “going forward” (are you going backward?) and “bring to the table.”
c. Think, “Chicken wings.” Tommy Boy – Fancy Guarantee.
In today’s highly produced entertainment, a storyteller can’t afford to shoot from the hip and expect an audience to “get it.” It doesn’t work.
The best storytellers are the ones who think in terms of the listener: they grab the listener’s attention, provide a challenge and a solid resolution. It doesn’t take a lot to be a good storyteller – but it might mean checking your ego at the door. If a storyteller’s (or your) ego is in the way, well, then it’ll probably get in the way of the listener accepting the story.
Finally, keep in mind the old adage where the musician asks, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” and the cabbie says, “Practice, practice, practice.”