"Just the facts" doesn't cut it anymore.
If you’re a “just the facts” kind of a presenter, you’re missing the chance to influence not just people’s minds but their hearts. And the heart is where change happens.
In Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, How to use your own stories to communicate with power and impact, Annette Simmons aims that message at leaders who have learned to mistrust emotions and cultivate a data-driven communication style.
“Facts matter,” she says, “but if you want to motivate people to change, feelings come first.”
Practice story thinking
The story consultant, coach and author advises leaders to practice “story thinking.” The key is to learn which stories stimulate your own feelings. It if feels right to you, it’s more apt to feel authentic to your listeners.
Why personal stories? For one, they’re easier to remember. More importantly, they’re more effective. “Only by finding and telling stories that feel personally significant to you can you expect to elicit the level of personal engagement to win hearts and minds,” she says.
She defines story loosely. “Any significant emotional event can be a story,” she claims. “Whatever interaction simulates a visceral, experiential sense of meaning—to the satisfaction of the listener and the teller—is a story.”
That’s an okay way to describe the intent of a story, but it’s less helpful for understanding how to construct a story. For that, I prefer the definition of story espoused by Kendall Haven in his seminal book, Story Proof, The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story: “A detailed, character-based narration of a character’s struggles to overcome obstacles and reach an important goal.”
Six story types for influence
Simmons lists six types of stories that help build consensus, win others to your point of view and foster better group decision-making:
- Who-I-Am stories. Personal stories of a time, place or event where your values or character traits helped you overcome the odds. “People need to know who you are before they can trust you,” she says.
- Why-I-Am-Here stories. Stories that explain why you want people to share your vision and what’s in it for you—besides being in it for the money.
- Teaching stories. Stories about experiences (e.g., a time you needed to exercise patience) and why they worked are more effective than telling someone they have to change.
- Vision stories. Stories that paint a picture of an imagined future. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is the paragon of this type.
- Values-in-Action stories. Stories that illustrate what a value you want to promote looks like in the real world.
- I-Know-What-You’re-Thinking stories. Stories that get people’s objections and suspicions out in the open, and then dispel the myths without getting defensive.
For each of these six types of stories, Simmons suggests using one of four “story buckets” to structure your narrative: a time you shined, a time you blew it, a mentor, and a book, movie or current event that you make personal by explaining what it meant to you and why you’re sharing it. So, for example, you could tell a Who I Am story by talking about a time you messed up. Showing your vulnerability by admitting you blew it and what you learned as a result can break down barriers of mistrust.
Make it your own to make impact
As someone asked to write stories for leaders and organizations, I appreciate Simmons’ short list of six story types, each with four variations. That simplifies things nicely. Best of all, I appreciate her point that a good story isn’t something a writer can just hand over and expect someone to read. You’ve got to make it your own. And that’s something that has to come from your core.