I will not forget that moment... It was last year during a focus group with a team who performed high-hazard work for a major industrial client. I was working on a project to try to gain insights about the gaps between top level vision and ground-level perception. One of the goals was to find out where these gaps were and how safety was perceived at multiple levels of the organization. I had conducted several sessions, but this one really struck a chord with me.
This one group seemed to "pour their hearts out," describing how they enjoyed their work and how they took care of each other as a team. They told deep stories about how they worked and how they tried to actively create safety. Their stories were so rich that in a way I felt as if I was alongside them during their safety and operations journey. At the end of the session one of the workers thanked me and told me how good it felt to be able to get the information out there to someone who would listen. It was at that profound moment when I realized I needed to do something different.
As a university instructor, who teaches John Kotter's material on strategic change, I was aware of how powerful storytelling can be, and the importance of helping others "feel" the need for change, but this was different. Rather than reading about it I was "feeling" it, and I experienced the power of storytelling. I started on a quest to identify the hows and whys behind storytelling, and how to integrate the process in a compelling way to help organizations improve. I studied other books and masterclass instructors, and learned how they told stories. This process shaped how I speak today and helped me redesign one of my powerful keynote presentations, which I call "From Cowboys to Ninjas: A Story of Transformational Change."
Here are a few tips I learned in the process:
1. Listen to your audience to find out their needs. If they are workers, spend some time with them and listen to their stories in an open way. The idea is not to judge, but to learn. Sure, if you see safety hazards, you will likely need to take action to mitigate them, but the point is to get into the field and learn about how they do their jobs. What struggles do they go through? How is it that they achieve success most of the time?
2. Identify who needs to hear the important stories. Even the best stories are just that... stories, unless they reach the right people. They don't really impact organizational change until they are elevated and conveyed to key people across the organization. Who are the peers, seniors, and subordinates who need to hear the stories?
3. Craft the story so the hero or heroes resonate and inspire with the listener, clearly identify their steps along the journey, and articulate the ups and downs as the hero or heroes move along their journey. The story could be based on an event that happened in the past, a journey that is currently underway or a journey that needs to take place in the future.
4. Pick the right story archetype for your hero/heroes to follow. Picking the right type of story, such as "The Quest" or "Voyage and Return" may help you fully develop the story so that when you tell it (such as during a company presentation or even an informal meeting) it has the structural elements to keep the listener engaged.
5. Identify what changes you would want to see if the right people were to hear these stories. Stories can be inspirational, but it can help to have an outcome in mind when we tell a story. Think about what kind of action you would like someone to take after they have heard the story.
There are many more tips that could go along with these 5, but these should help to you to get started.
If this material resonates with you I would love to hear from you! I am creating astorytelling guidebook and will soon open up a limited enrollment in my storytelling course, which will consist of a 4-module online workshop, with Instructor engagement, and will be designed to teach you what I have learned so far along my own storytelling journey. I presented a core portion of this material to the American Society of Safety Engineers in June of this year and they liked it so much I have been invited back to present it again as part of a virtual symposium in November. If you want to receive a free copy of the storytelling guidebook and get on the list to be notified when the course is ready, please enter your email address here or in the box at the bottom of this post.
Thanks so much for reading, and I wish you a great, safe and productive day!
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