By Martin Munguia, LSC Alumni Committee
Every one of us tells stories. We like to tell stories, and we like to hear stories.
LSC Board members, alumni and new Signature and Young Professional class members came together at a great event on September 17th to learn about Leadership through Storytelling.
It’s a subject gaining in popularity and has emerged as a leadership tool now being researched and taught, including guidelines for effective storytelling and for telling the right story to the right audience.
The concept is in conflict with the traditional way many of us were taught to do presentations – by using facts to convince our audience.
John Allen Paulos is a Professor of Mathematics at Temple University and writes about storytelling and statistics. He says, “In listening to stories we tend to suspend disbelief in order to be entertained, whereas in evaluating statistics we generally have an opposite inclination to suspend belief in order not to be beguiled.”
We listen to a story until the end before making a judgment on whether we like it or not.
In a statistical argument, we are fact-checking the message in our heads, trying to figure out if it all adds up. We can get caught up on one suspect calculation and miss the rest.
Chip Heath, one of the authors of the book Made to Stick and a professor at Stanford, has done research on presentation retention.
When asked to recall information in presentations they’ve heard, 63 percent remember the stories and only 5 percent remember any individual statistic.
My line of work is public relations, and I often speak to the media. One of my general rules when I go into an interview with a reporter is to develop three key messages for what I want to say. No matter what question is asked, I try to bring my answer back to at least one of those key messages.
Knowing the higher retention rate for stories rather than stats is important in helping to craft key messages that will stick.
Preparation is important. You need to figure out the right message for the right audience and the right way to tell it. On Thursday night, we heard from three storytellers – Richele Blair, Jonalyn Woolf-Ivory, and Larry Schlecter.
Larry, Jonalyn and Richele weave tales into their everyday work. The stories they told were compelling and personal. You could tell what their passions were from their stories. And they were memorable.
Leadership Coach Kristi Hedges, who wrote The Power of Presence, says leaders can use seven types of stories:
Challenge stories are used when we need a team to get over the hump or push themselves to a new level.
Relating stories help leaders to be truly known by others and to connect on a human level, such as personal stories about your background or a time when you faced a similar issue.
Metaphoric stories open perspectives as they take us out of the situation we’re in and propose an alternate – and neutral – set of circumstances from which to learn.
Vision stories enhance our ability to imagine, and create vivid images of what the future may hold. They allow us to suspend judgment and move from what can’t be to what could be.
Potential stories may be used to show others what’s possible for them, and to unlock what they see for themselves. They’re similar to vision stories in that they stoke imagination, but are usually more directed at a particular outcome.
Cautionary tales are used to keep others from steering off the tracks and provide a firm example of what not to do.
Humorous stories simply lighten the mood. They ease tension and allow others to reframe and refocus.
If you are interested in learning more about leadership storytelling, watch a TED Talk online at the November 6 event in Edmonds. Here are some other resources:
Forbes Magazine has a Leadership column that frequently includes interviews with storytelling experts. Go to Forbes.com and search “storytelling.”
Harvard Business Review has a Leadership & Managing People column. Go to HBR.org.
There are many good books on the subject, including:
- Made to Stick – Chip and Dan Heath
- The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling – Stephen Denning
- Squirrel, Inc. – Stephen Denning
- Organizational Storytelling for Librarians – Kate Marek
So, what's your leadership story?
Martin Munguia is a former LSC Board member and graduate of the Signature Class of 2005. He works at Community Transit.
Postscript: many of you are ready to dive into the "how" of telling the stories of your organizations.
Check out this webinar for some concrete steps to take now, generously shared with us by Chris Davenport and Shanon Dolittle, founders of the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference (Seattle, November 12-13, 2015).