It seems like 10 years ago but in fact it was only 6 short corona-filled weeks since I stood in front of PwC Ireland. It was their Advisory Partner/Manager conference and they had given me the brief to talk about the Power of Story, and “challenge our thinking and push us out of our comfort zone”. I had planned to do just that but in fact by pushing them, they taught me something that has been incredibly valuable to me since the UK lockdown happened. They demonstrated the connecting and energising power of shared stories within a business community.
My keynote started as usual with some story basics; why a story travels at the speed of light and the design of a story. I invited them to pair up to tell a story and it was tremendous to hear the buzz of 80 stories being enthusiastically told in the elegant surroundings of the Dublin Intercontinental Hotel. It was not a surprise that my primarily Irish audience were a dab hand at this! I then moved onto talking about how to really drill down on your purpose. As storytellers we have to be really clear in our own minds what we plan for our audience to think, feel and do when they hear our story. I came clean and told them my plan for this keynote. I wanted them to: –
Think: “Ann is really good, and we should book her again” and “Storytelling is really useful and I can see where I can use it”
Feel: excited, inspired, a little bit under pressure to give it a go.
Do: use stories, pass on their learning to others, tell my story.
Then came the brand new and as is turned out, very impactful section of the day. To help get really focused on purpose, I had identified three types of story that I had seen being used to great effect in a business situation; a reflective story, a future story and a persuasive story.
Reflective: looking back on project and telling the story of it succinctly, touching on what was overcome and the tangible markers of success.
Future: once the client/colleague is signed up, you share the landscape of what you can see ahead, what they are going to experience in human terms
Persuasive: rather than focusing on the detail of a choice, describing two worlds; the current world the client lives in and what that looks and feels like, and then describing the world they could be living in if they follow your recommendations.
The organisers of the conference had already given me a panel of 3 staff members who would each tell a story from their experience, and so we ramped up the challenge by framing it in the context of these three examples. The panel would choose an example each, then tell us the audience who we were for that story and what they wanted us to Think, Feel and Do by the end of the story.
The anticipation was building throughout the afternoon for this panel because even the one member who was ‘a legend of storytelling’ according to their colleagues was telling everyone they met, how nervous they were about telling their story. Anticipation and engagement with my audience was already brilliant because their colleagues were on the line. Out of comfort zone – tick! The three stories were;
Reflective: Telling a young colleague of their experience of prepping for their first pitch and its success.
Future: Telling a triumphant young colleague the story of the challenging road ahead over the next 6 months on a project (while they were still high on success of winning the business).
Persuasive: Which CEO do you want to be? Two real scenarios of a cyber breach, one with and one without the preparation made beforehand.
They nailed some of the Think, Feel, Do, and they were all entertaining. I do not have the word count to tell you the stories in full but a line that still sticks with me is “I didn’t put on my lycra and cape, but I did use the bus lane”.
As we moved on to drinks and dinner, it was clear to that listening to the stories had left an impact, created an energy and a connection between everyone at the conference. People kept talking about them, repeated their favourite bits, and enjoyed reviewing each panel members’ storytelling. They clearly appreciated their colleagues putting themselves on the line and the stories had engaged them emotionally as well as intellectually.
What that’s meant is since the Corona Virus lockdown, I am focusing all my efforts into setting up ways to encourage businesses to share their professional stories within teams. As we settle into this strange new normal of working from home, we are are missing the interaction that was laced through our working day; the commute, the canteen, the spontaneous quick coffee, the catch-up chat on the stairs. When you share a story, you pass on a humanity-rich nugget of emotional wellbeing and connection. I recommend putting storytelling into your weekly catch-ups. One professional story a day, either future, reflective or persuasive, (it helps to give the process this bit of structure). It is a win win exercise, it will provide a way of strengthening connections personally and professionally, and your teams will gather a valuable arsenal of stories to use in coaching, selling, onboarding and leadership going forward.
Much thanks to my brave story telling colleagues at PwC for leaving their comfort zone, telling their stories and demonstrating their conencting power to me.
First published Linked In on 13th April 2020