Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Found: A quick guide to successful storytelling - plus an invitation from Neil

If you’re looking for some quick guides on how to tell stories that inspire and persuade people or, perhaps, encourage people to vote for you, then check out the website of Anecdote. Anecdote is an Australian consultancy that “helps business leaders engage their people to be even better collaborators, leaders and change agents using the power of business narrative”. The ideas and principles that they espouse are often applied in politics.

Anecdote have just published a short “white paper” called “Why some leaders inspire action while others are mostly forgettable”. The paper explains how and why stories are so effective and necessary for effecting change. It also suggests ways that putative leaders (and politicians?) can find their own stories. These can be summarised as follows:

1. Develop an awareness of the stories that swirl around you every day.

2. Move your style of speaking away from being predominantly rational and argument-based to being a good mixture of stories and argument. BUT start with examples, that turn negative case studies into positive stories.

3. Where possible, ask for feedback about what people infer about you from your stories.

Last week, Anecdote ran a “story week” that invited people to rate on line five different stories - i.e., one story on each day. The most interesting part was the criteria used to judge the chosen stories. The criteria, which are explained in some more detail here, were:

· Clarity: Is the story simple and clear

· Emotional: Did the story connect with you, have impact?

· Believable: Does it sound like it could actually have happened?

· Transport: When you read the story, could you picture yourself there?

· Surprising: Were any aspects of the story unexpected?

· Relevant: How relevant is it to the issue of 'leadership'?

· Overall: How memorable was this story for you

This checklist is as accurate and useful as any that I’ve seen. I am especially impressed with the way Anecdote emphasises the need for stories to build an emotional connection between a leader (or politician, or audience) and his/her audience. This crucial point has been developed by the sage of storytelling, Stephen Denning, and Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain (2008). Yet it has too often been ignored by the political party of which I am a member.

Similarly, Anecdote also pick up on the theme that stories are sensory experiences. In her book, Whoever Tells The Best Story Wins (2007), Annette Simmons argues that we need to smell, taste, hear, touch and see stories that we hear if they are to have any impact.

The point that seems to be the least well explained is “relevance . . . to the issue of leadership.” On this one, Howard Gardner has the most to offer, when he argues that when leaders tell stories, they must convincingly embody those stories, in order to make themselves seem authentic.

“The creator must in some way embody his story although he need not be saintly . . . The story may grow out of the leader’s personal experiences and may well have been embodied in his or her daily living before being expressed overtly”. [Leading Minds (1995)]

For my views on how Thatcher, Churchill, Blair and Obama embodied their narratives– as well as some suggestions as to how some Liberal Democrat politicians might do it - please click here.

Now, here’s an invitation. The European / local election campaign is now underway. When you see any of the above elements of a successful story, from any politician or party, please post the details below.

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