Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Leadership & Storytelling Part 11 of Many...

We continue with our examination of the Interaction Ring and the second competency of Telling Stories. This is what most people think of when they talk about storytelling skills. Over the next blogs we will venture into some areas that may be less known to you.


Relaying information with authenticity. Paint a vivid, engaging picture for listeners.

Some behaviors include…

* I use anecdotes when I communicate.

* I vary the tone and volume of my voice when I communicate.

*I allow others to interject their own thoughts and experiences during a conversation.

*I invite my listeners to interact with me by adding details, anticipating the direction of the conversation, and contributing comments.

Maybe you are shy or self-conscious. I am not concerned with turning you into an award-winning orator. There are great resources out there that have a lot to offer in that arena. The ability to dramatize a story for purposes of entertaining is an art form but does not concern us here. If you find it natural to spin a yarn or be the center of attention there are other subtleties to be an effective communicator through stories that you will want to master.

You must believe your stories are interesting. This is the first hurdle. People love to hear stories. Without stories our conversations are dull. Worse yet very little can be communicated without them. Transmission is encapsulated in language understanding is transferred through stories. Isolated islands of abstractions leave us wanting. We listen awkwardly waiting for some way to connect to the speaker. As soon as an illustration enters the conversation we breathe a sigh of relief. Finally there is something we can grab unto. Stories are fundamental to how we communicate. Therefore we must become adept at using them.

When telling a story expand and collapse the amount of detail you include. There is a time and place for stories to be told in long, rich detail however most organizational settings require us to be concise. From our discussions earlier in the book we know that stories can be as short as a single sentence. While you may parse down the number of details you use be sure to include ones that will enrich the story for the audience it is being told to. In the next exercise you will practice truncating details without sacrificing a story.

Tell a story by reliving it. Overcome any self-consciousness by connecting to your story. If you watch a story as it unfolds in your mind it becomes more real for you and the people you are sharing it with. Telling a story is another opportunity to learn from it in one or more ways. As you relive the story you may discover new insights, and secondly people’s reactions to your stories may offer you a new perspective. These things are only possible if you engage your imagination.

Recognize that there is no right way to tell a story. Find your own voice. Each person has a unique way of internalizing the world and expressing themselves. Admire what you like in other people’s communication style but do not emulate characteristics that are not in keeping with your own. People respond to authenticity not to gimmicks. Have you ever been in a group when someone’s story grabs your attention? It’s not always the story delivered with award winning aplomb.

The most important facet of telling stories is frequency. The more you tell the more comfortable you will become. Make stories a natural part of your conversations. Stories are not just for speeches, presentations, or pre-meditated occasions. Telling stories is an integral part of any conversation. In this next exercise you will identify how stories are occurring in your conversations and work on incorporating more of them into your own.

We tell stories to invoke rich responses in others. The best response is another story. Sometime this story is shared and other times it is not. When you tell a story try to involve the listener. Let them participate in the story. Try inserting questions as you tell you story. These act as triggers for others to search their memory for similar experiences. If you do this you will need to be prepared for interruptions. I am always reminded of reading a book to an inquisitive child. As the reader it is easy to become wrapped up in the story and brush aside a child’s interruptions. These interruptions are more central to the story than the story itself. As adult tellers of stories I think the same principle holds true. In fact, if the story becomes derailed and goes an alternative direction we may have to abandon the original story altogether. If we are interested in making a connection we need to give up a certain degree of control. When the setting does not lend itself to interruptions such as a large group or a brief time period, use rhetorical questions and slight pauses to encourage listeners to be involved in the story you are telling. To do this well it requires us to be less focused on ourselves, and more focused on the listener. It is a shame that much of our storytelling in informal conversations has a tendency to be self-absorbed in nature. At first this will demand a concerted effort on your part. The rewards are worth the disorientation.

All of these skills can be measured with the only assessment in the world that measured story-based communication skills (recognized in 2008 with an HR Leadership Award from the Asia Pacific HRM Congress).

Story-based Communication Assessment: Click Here...

I also have a book of self-development exercises to work on these skills with yourself or others. All of these exercises that map to the nine skills of the competency model

Book of Self-Development Exercises: Click Here...

I also recommend my book, Once Upon a Time: Using Story-Based Activities to Develop Breakthrough Communication Skills. It contains a collection of group process activities aligned with these story-based communication skills.

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