The first treatises on it were found in ancient Egypt; the Greeks gave us ethos, pathos and logos (pathos is the storytelling one); and the brothers Grimm scared the pants off us as kids.
Storytelling is a key component of persuasion, always has been. Ask the troops who listened to Elizabeth the First at Tilbury, or imagine you could. All that “heart and stomach of a king” stuff hit the spot.
If you want to make your message - the pitch, those seminars, an intervention at a big meeting - memorable let me give you some essentials.
Brian Williamson is our new “Entrepreneur In Residence” and last week came in for 90 minutes at the end of a three day Strategic Influencing programme for senior NHS managers: he gave them headings, they picked their favourite and he was off on a mesmerising journey.
It is not often I am at the back listening but I am glad I was, so walking round St. James’s Park this morning I reflected on what made the 90 minutes so compelling.
It’s not about the story
Okay it is about the story. But everyone has them. It is not necessary to have walked to the North Pole twice in your pants to have something to say. I once heard a speaker who had in fact done this, with their partner leaving them while they were tramping north through the snow for a second time. So badly rendered was the tale the audiences immediate thought was “no wonder”.
(I made up the bit about the pants to get your attention and for alliteration.)
You need analogies and metaphors that resonate with both you and the listeners. Find yours and learn to tell them well but know just “having” the stories is not enough.
It’s not about the delivery
Okay it is about the delivery. But I was struck listening to Brian how different his style was to mine. Think about all the greatest orators from your own perspective and you will realise that there are many ways to deliver well.
Find your own way of doing this and amplify that style, always performing to the pitch of the room. What I am not saying here is “just be yourself” because the version of you that’s the one that comes out down the pub on a Friday will be memorable for all the wrong reasons. What I am saying is you need to work very hard on your delivery style, get comfy, and forget about it when out front. Just as the golfer should not be thinking about his swing on the 18th fairway when one shot ahead of the pack, the speaker should not be obsessing about posture at the peroration.
It’s about the insight
Yup, it is. No, really this time it is. What made Brian compelling was the way he connected his stories to the touch-points, challenges and fears of the people he had in the room.
There is little point in telling the story of the 28 soon-to-be-redundant welders on the shop floor if in the process you can’t make the room see how that chat with your wise old dad was relevant.
The example of temporary workers stuck at home, clients unhappy and your business in trouble if that situation prevails (a lose-lose-lose situation) being turned into a win is pointless if the audience see it only as a bit of personal grand-standing.
Even the story of your own recovery from cancer can be a turn-off unless your commentary is fiercely relevant, neither mawkish nor patronising and shows a keen understanding of the people you are standing in front of.
Brian is neither a very naughty boy nor the son of God (you never thought that open goal would be missed, did you?).
He is, though, a terrific insightful speaker who makes the emotional connection and I can give two final insights, directly from the man himself one from his presentation and the other in a recent exchange.
The first story he told on the day was about going to his dad for advice about managing a tough team: his dad told him there was no magic bullet and he would have to take time to get to know them. Indeed, magic bullets are for the movies.
And finally, when we were discussing how we would work together in the one area I have a bit more experience than him, speaking, he signed off an email “I’m a fast learner… and I’m always keen to learn”.
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about the author
Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.