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It's Okay to Tell Stories

July 07 2014 - by Joan H. Underwood, CLP's Regional Project Manager

Story telling can be an extremely effective tool for conveying powerful messages in a memorable way.  This Harvard Business Review Blog capitalized on the July 4th holiday to draw leadership lessons from one of that country’s greatest statesmen.

How effective are you in utilizing storytelling as one of the tools in your leadership toolkit?  Last month I attended the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Annual Conference.  One of the sessions was titled Four Steps to Using Storytelling to Deliver Unforgettable Presentations.  Whether you’re delivering a formal presentation or just interacting with your peers, direct reports or other stakeholders, the following four steps which were included in last month’s SHRM presentation by Brad Karsh, President JB Training Solutions, may be useful to you.  

  1. Keep it Real – use real world, practical stories to which you audience will be able to relate.
  2. Beg, Borrow or Steal – Use anecdotes, references to movies etc. to simplify and amplify your message. For example, how about using aspects of popular movies to create a compelling story to help make your point about:
    • Caribbean pride/effective teamwork/visionary leadership/ethics/regional integration - Fire in Babylon
    • Ability to persuade and influence - 12 Angry Men
    • Mastering challenges/finding meaning in life/leading up - The Legend of Bagger Vance
    • Just about everything you need to know about leadership, overcoming adversity, stakeholder engagement, motivation, inspiration, strength of character… –Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
  4. Simpler is Better – Less really is more; when making a presentation consider using verbal cues and pictures to trigger your narrative rather that writing out the narrative on the slide.  At all costs avoid getting blood on your hands by being the perpetrator of “death by powerpoint”!  A picture really is worth a thousand words – or more.
  5. Command the Room – Remember to utilize gestures, posture, body language, eye contact, voice modulation, passion, energy and enthusiasm to bring your story to life and make it memorable.  This is applicable whether you have an audience of one or of one thousand! 

Those of you in my demographic or older will remember Paul Keens Douglas and how he riveted us with his stories.  In addition to an amazing sense of humour, his stories also serve to convey rich lessons about West Indian life and culture.  Who can forget Tanti Merle and her treatment of topics from West Indies Cricket to Politics? 

Well, while most of us can’t or don’t aspire to be as effective as Paul Keens, surely we can utilize storytelling to help create and celebrate our organizational culture.  Are there any stories which exist in your department or ministry that help to motivate staff and keep them focused on your vision, mission and organizational goals?  CLP recently visited the Immigration and Passport Office in Grenada where Supt. Jessmon Prince and his team have created a powerful story around their experience of transforming the department from what popular public opinion described as the worst government department to one which was acknowledged by the UN when they were awarded second place winner (from 400 entries) in the 2012 United Nations Public Service Awards Programme.  For more information on this inspirational story of public service excellence, please click here to check out the latest issue of our electronic newsletter CLP Connect.