Communicating for Impact 

Lisa Wolfe shares tips for becoming a better storyteller in this 10-minute video. 

[Title Slide]  

Narrator: A mosaic of pictures representing a variety of people of different races, age, and gender appear on the screen with new portraits being added to the group. A title box appears over this image. 

Communicating for Impact: Storytelling Tips with Lisa Wolfe 

Lisa Wolfe, Senior Communications Consultant, Wheelhouse Group 

[Video of Lisa Wolfe: 00:18] 

Lisa Wolfe: We all know a good story when we hear one told. And, I bet we can name one or two people in our own lives who tell great stories – but I might guess these are people in our personal lives and perhaps not in our professional lives. The power in a well-told story is the transference of a feeling from one person to another. 

So, what would it mean to be a leader in your organization with the superpower of telling great stories that inspired teams to creativity, productivity, and ingenuity? What would it mean for you to be thought of as one of the best storytellers anyone’s ever heard? It’s possible! 

[Slide 2: 01:09]

What I’m about to share is a simple framework to jumpstart the creative process of finding, framing, and delivering the stories you – as a leader or an aspiring leader – want to and need to tell inside your organization. In other words, communicating for impact.   

Together, we’ll cover the elements of a story, how to find a story, why knowing your audience is important, and how to deliver a great story.  

 

[Video of Lisa Wolfe / Slide 3: 01:18] 

Here are the elements of a story: 

  • Great storytellers are able to create transformational change.  
  • Stories in general have staying power – if it’s good we remember it and we retell it.  
  • Stories are different from white papers which exist to provide information.  
  • Stories, on the other hand, are meant to create an experience.  
  • Evocative and memorable presentations blend language, credibility, and emotion.

Harvard University Professor, Dr. Howard Gardner says “stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal” – so how can you not perfect this skill? 

[Video of Lisa Wolfe / Slide 4: 01:54] 

Let’s look at it another way. Reports are written to highlight technical details. When information and facts are the main goals and when you need to talk about the “what”.  

Stories are told when you need to create change or movement, when you need to persuade or influence, when you must connect people to ideas, and when you need to talk about the “why”.  

Information is static. It doesn’t go anywhere, it just kind of lays there.

[Slide 5: 02:28] 

Stories, however, are dynamic. They engage your imagination and take you places – like Hogwarts!  

 

[Video of Lisa Wolfe / Slide 6: 02:31] 

 

Harry Potter is going to help me demonstrate the elements of a story.  

 

  • Stories all have a hero, a leader, or a mentor – and when you personalize or provide a protagonist, you give the listener someone to root for.   
  • Stories also have a triggering event. This is something the hero needs to act upon – a quest or an object of desire. It’s the adversity the hero needs to overcome. 
  • And they all have a turning point or resolution. A decision or action to bring the story to its conclusion and the hero to eventual triumph. 

 

[Video of Lisa Wolfe / Slide 7: 03:06] 

 

Here is where you get to add your spice to this recipe:  

  • you decide what the main topic area is,  
  • you determine the big idea/general concept,  
  • and you identify three main points (three is the number here),  
  • you need to distill one major takeaway – remember you want people to remember and re-tell your story. 

[Video of Lisa Wolfe: 03:28] 

In chapter two we talk about finding your story and this is where you’ll put pen to paper, fingers to the keyboard, and get your thoughts out of your brain and into a format where you can review and assess them.  

[Slide 8: 03:42] 

Story creation is a non-linear process, so start wherever you can and work your way around. What is your main takeaway? What are the three ways you want to reinforce it? What caused turmoil in the first place? And what are the pivotal moments or failed attempts? Who is your hero – is it you? Your team? A problem solver in another organization? 

Once you have those notes in front of you, assess what the shape of your story is. And what do I mean by that?

[Slide 9: 04:12] 

This is a very simple story arc. it begins in a steady state, then slowly gathers steam until it reaches its peak, then quickly drops back down to the original state once the crisis has been resolved. Let’s take a look at some variations on this theme. 

[Slide 10: 04:31] 

The Cinderella story. It exists in the space between misery and ecstasy with wild swings in between. We start in a valley of misery, then something happens to make things better, then things are great – but they don’t last because they never do! So, the hero finds herself back in a slightly less miserable state until, finally, something amazing happens and we can call it a day – happily ever after.  

[Video of Lisa Wolfe: 04:55] 

Here’s another theme: the common disaster story. It also exists between misery and ecstasy, but with fewer highs and lows.  

[Slide 11: 05:05]

We start out on a normal day, then the unimaginable happens: you’re about to miss a milestone! A new directive takes your organization in the opposite direction of where you thought you were headed. But guess what? You gather yourself, your team, and your resources and you do the impossible. The story ends in a new normal – one made better by the shared experiences and achievements. It’s another great day.  

[Video of Lisa Wolfe: 05:28] 

Chapter 3: knowing your audience. So, when you tell a story you need to know more than a few things about your audience. Have you ever told a joke that fell flat? Not fun. And not funny. So, you need to do a bit of research:

[Slide 12 05:47] 

  • You need to know why your audience has come to listen to you.  
  • What are their expectations?  
  • Are they familiar with your message? Less exposure to the message means more background and details may be needed.  
  • How do they think what do they care about?  
  • What common experiences do you share?  
  • What don’t they understand that you think is commonly understood?  

 [Video of Lisa Wolfe / Slide 13: 06:08] 

Having a handle on these questions will help you adapt your message to your audience:  

  • Consider each individual versus a monolithic group.  
  • Find common ground and places to connect.  
  • Anticipate their questions and concerns up front.  
  • And be aware of individual reactions and pace your story! Remember to slow down if you’re nervous. And if you see signs of audience disengagement, like fidgeting, or sighs, or eye wandering, you might need to pick up the pace.  
  • Also, avoid TLAs. What’s a TLA? You don’t know? It’s a Three-Letter Acronym: enough said!  

 Former AT&T Presentation Research Manager, Ken Haemer says “designing a presentation without an audience in mind is like writing a love letter and addressing it to whom it may concern.”  

[Video of Lisa Wolfe / Slide 14: 06:57] 

Chapter four: telling your story. Now we can talk about your delivery – or how to tell your story. Decide in advance what you want your one big takeaway to be. Draft no more than three supporting points to convey that message and make them tangible, relatable – and that goes back to knowing your audience. Don’t include so many details that the point is hard to see. And stay on topic and focus! It might be tempting to ad-lib, but that dilutes the big takeaway.  

[Video of Lisa Wolfe / Slide 15: 07:27] 

Another aspect to telling a great story is to use the mighty metaphor. It’s a mini story that provides an easy way to remember a complex idea. Use this instead of describing a complicated or detailed process that might be unknown to your audience.  

[Video of Lisa Wolfe / Slide 16: 07:45] 

And when you tell a story your credibility is at stake, so your information needs to be accurate. And, most importantly, you need to believe in the message. Word choices are important, but the paralingual and nonverbal communication you do will either help you tell your story or work against you. Paralingual communication means tone – the way you say a word conveys its meaning. Yes [questioning tone]? Yes [authoritative tone].  

[Video of Lisa Wolfe: 08:14] 

And your body language speaks volumes about how you’re feeling. So, as you prepare your story, also prepare your visual delivery.  

[Slide 17: 08:24] 

Make conscious choices about how you’ll appear in front of your audience. Consider your posture, clothing, hair, or makeup and choose things that help you feel confident and comfortable. Make eye contact with the audience. Find one member, hold it for about five seconds before making eye contact with the next person.  

[Video of Lisa Wolfe / Slide 18: 08:45] 

And lastly, prepare and practice. If you’re referring to notes or a script, underline or highlight keywords and phrases so that you can emphasize those words and phrases during your delivery. Vary your tone, pitch, speed, and volume. For drama and suspense lower your pitch, speak more slowly and softly, use silence to punctuate moments. For excitement and celebration raise your pitch, speak faster and louder.  

[Video of Lisa Wolfe: 09:18] 

Here’s a mighty metaphor for you: think about how you would react on a roller coaster. The long slow climb up to the top you might speak in hushed tones, unsure of what will happen. Leaning in or grabbing the person’s arm next to you speaking in this manner.  You’re conveying drama or suspense. Then, as you reach the peak and speed down, you are screaming, and laughing, and smiling, and happy it’s over. Speaking in this manner, you’re conveying excitement and celebration. Above all, speak clearly and double check the technology to make sure that you are being heard clearly.  

[Video of Lisa Wolfe: 09:50] 

I hope you found at least a couple of these storytelling tips, hints, and reminders helpful as you begin your next adventure in communicating for impact and becoming one of the great storytellers. And here’s a wink coming at you for good luck [wink]! 

[Slide 19: 10:06] 

Narrator: To learn more about how you can be an effective storyteller so you can better connect and make an impact, visit our stories of change initiative at wheelhousegroup.com/storiesofchange. 

Wheelhouse Group – guiding business and technology change.