The power of stories: why innovators must be master storytellers

Power of Stories

Power of Stories

Dreaming big is an important part of being an innovator. Innovation, by definition, means “trying something new”.

We encourage would-be innovators to think big, break the mould and shout their ideas from the rooftop in order to radically shift the status quo and create measurable change.

However, as you already know, the actual reality of “innovating” in many organisations is easier said than done. It’s particularly difficult if you’re up against an industry with a rigid culture of traditions and bureaucracy.

So what can you do to change hearts and minds?

The power of stories

Many of the world’s best innovators and influencers are also some of the most accomplished storytellers. Martin Luther King Jr. famously roused the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s with his legendary “I have a dream” speech.

Steve Jobs, the revered Apple CEO, was able to paint a story of his visionary future with the now infamous presentation that launched the iPad.

JFK painted a vision of sending a man to space and returning him safely to earth:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal… of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind.”

The secret to persuasive storytelling

Storytelling skills are absolutely key to your ability to influence other people.

Storytelling is how human beings have shared knowledge for hundreds of thousands of years. Scientists have even shown that information learned through emotionally charged storytelling has greater memory recall. Stories inspire people. They remember them, they retell them.

For you to be an innovator, your ability to tell stories could be the difference between your innovation staying on the drawing board and making it to the market place.

The structure of a story

Are you trying to convince people in your organisation that there’s a better way – or at least that you deserve the opportunity to try?

The trick to getting the ball rolling is describing problems and their solutions in a way that captivates attention and encourages action.

Every powerful story is made up of key areas, as we’ve outlined in our five-step story structure below to help the listener, in this example, engage with the new idea of automated rent payment.

1. Setting the scene

Tell the listener who the story is about.

Give them enough information to make them care what happens.

Using a character reference or real human being helps, e.g. Irene is an elderly woman, too frail and frightened to leave her house after falling on some ice. She has to struggle to the rent office every week because there is no other way to pay her rent other than in person.

2. Explaining the problem further. Make it emotional.

The problem on hand is that a frail, injured senior citizen has no other option but to leave her house to pay her rent in person.

3. How the solution will change you / them?

If the payments could be automated, Irene could pay her rent easily without the pain and expense of getting to the payment office and standing in a long queue.

4. Paint the vision of the bright future

In this context, the innovation (automated rent payment), has made the difference.

Someone like Irene and millions of senior citizens just like her don’t have to struggle to make it to the payment office, and she has peace of mind that her rent is paid on time.

5. Highlight how the listener has a role in making the better future happen

Consider the role your listener plays in the story. For example, if you are trying to persuade your colleague to support your idea, help them connect to the part they play in making the better future  for Irene happen. 

Essential storytelling tips

Consider how you tell your story to others. Below are some essentials:

  • Make it about one person or a particular group of people –  people connect to stories of specific people on an emotional level, e.g. Irene, rather than stories of the thousands of people like her.
  • Make it simple, use simple language, no jargon or acronyms; your story has to be easily understood to be effective. A good litmus test is to consider if both your granny and a five-year old will understand it.
  • Think about your audience and what sort of story would appeal to their interests.

Lastly, and most importantly: you have to care!

If you don’t care about your story, you won’t convince anyone else to care.

(Nancy Duarte talks a bit more about the importance of structure and passion in her TED talk.)

Do you have more questions about storytelling? Ready to start innovating?

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