Storytelling can be harder than it looks. Once, as a BBC radio journalist in a distant past life, I was sent to ask people about a nearby murder. “Did you hear anything?” I asked one lady, “nothing”, she replied, “apart from a gunshot. Is that relevant?” Knowing what to include in a story and what to leave out doesn’t come easy to everyone. Stories come in all shapes and sizes, from gossip to a presentation. For an audience in a room, there’s a sense of unity in listening to someone speak. However, teams are less united these days. Zoom can lack connection. Managers need strong storytelling skills if they are to cut through isolation and reinvigorate their scattered team.
There’s no mystery to storytelling. The storytelling course on Learnflix, our eLearning platform, offers techniques that will help you inspire and motivate your team. Ultimately, telling a story is a form of persuasion, helping people to understand and accept your line of thought.
3 steps to storytelling
The best way to begin is by finding empathy with your audience. What concerns do they have, what do they want to know? Your audience might not be as informed as you on the subject you want to discuss, they might not be particularly open to what you have to say, or you might not be able to tell them what they want to know. You have to acknowledge these things. It’s hard to win over an audience by ignoring them, as KPMG’s former UK chair Bill Michael discovered when dismissive remarks he made led to his untimely departure.
1. Ethos – your credibility
Show your audience you understand them, tell them that you’re aware of the concerns they have. You may well share those concerns yourself. Empathy and warmth will help to make them more receptive to the main points you want to focus on. In catching your audience’s attention, it’s important to show them why they should listen to you. As a manager, you may be privy to information they do not have, for example details on the company’s general direction of travel, or specific plans for the future. This information makes yours a story worth listening to. In our storytelling course, this is referred to as ‘ethos’.
2. Logos – logical structure
Having won their attention, keep hold of it. This is the trickiest moment in telling a story. Stay focused, know what you’re going to say. It always helps to have a beginning, a middle and an end to your narrative. At the beginning, set out clearly what your intentions are (better company performance, starting a new project etc). The middle needs to focus on how these intentions are to be accomplished. The ending might underline the value of these plans, the positive takeaways you want your team to come away with. Keeping things simple, direct and effective helps to build understanding. And know when to stop. In our course, structuring your narrative in this way is referred to as logos, the logical appeal to reason.
3. Pathos – the appeal to emotion
Structure must be supported by an emotional element too. Known as pathos, this involves injecting a little humanity into your words and thoughts, a little humour perhaps, or a sense of authority tinged by a wisp of humility. Too much pathos, and you risk losing the plot, literally. Too little, and you risk losing the audience.
A balanced approach to storytelling begins with a little pathos at the beginning (the word ‘empathy’ comes from pathos), before settling into a sense of structure – which is best expressed in a warm, human and engaging way. These days, a sense of unity at work is sometimes hard to sustain. It helps to have clear, positive messaging from those around us. For managers looking to brush up on their storytelling skills, a few basic techniques will help to ensure the audience are listening as closely as if they were in the room.