Storytelling Hack -- Reverse Engineering

You Start at the end

One kind of story coaching I do is to help former foster youth find their voice and tell their stories. I do this through a local nonprofit, Just In Time For Foster Youth (JIT).

These 18-25 year-old young men and women want to tell their story to:

  1. Help JIT raise funds

  2. Give back to JIT in some way

  3. Find their voice and tell their stories about what they've had to endure in order to make a difference in the world

Now here's the kicker -- to find their story, get it honed, work on their delivery, etc. -- I'm lucky if I get two 2-hour sessions with them for a total of 4 hours. Normally tackling a story that's as big as theirs requires 8 hours minimum, and that means they are using notes. Add more hours for no notes.

Why do I get so little time with them? Because they are working (sometimes 2 jobs), going to school, volunteering, dealing with family, raising kids, traveling hours on public transportation, etc.

In other words, their schedules are totally jammed just like yours.

They need results fast and don't have much time -- just like you.

As a result I've had to find/create storytelling hacks so they can:

  1. Find easy ways to tell their story

  2. Stand and deliver with confidence

  3. Feel great about themselves and their story

  4. Have the audience feel great about them and their story

  5. Inspire listeners to donate, volunteer, or help them in some way

Wow! What a tall order. But we do it. Here's how:

Story Hack #1

Reverse engineer the story

Start from the end and work forward.

Figure out FIRST what your key message is:

  1. What do you want to tell people at the end of your story?

  2. If there is a message -- something you want them to know -- what would that be?

  3. If you could leave them with a piece of wisdom you've learned about your project/your data/teamwork/leadership/life, what would that be?

Don't agonize over this. Just write down either:

  1. The first thought that comes to mind

  2. OR the thought that grabs you the most

What I've learned time and again from storytelling is that the key message typically gets refined anyway -- sometimes even changes completely -- when you fill in the rest of the story.

So don't get all twisted up about this. Just put something down.

Once you have your key message, pick your spot for how you want to start your story.

  1. Is there a place? "So there I was working in Chicago..."

  2. Is there a date? "You know, it was back in 2000 when..."

  3. Is there a person? "My boss came to me the other day..."

  4. Is there a setting? "One day I was sitting at my desk when..."

  5. Is there a project? "We've been digging into this project now for..."

Boom! You've got it. You've got your working key message and your beginning. Now the rest of the story unfolds.

Try this hack out!

Have fun and tell me how it goes.

If these young adults can successfully use this storytelling hack with their stories that deals with abandonment, abuse, trafficking and worse -- you can easily use it to craft your business stories.

More hacks to come for what to do in that mushy middle between the beginning and the end. After that, even more hacks to follow on delivering your story, practicing your story, capturing your story, mining your story, refreshing your story...the list goes on.

Story on!

Just Why DO Stories Bring Me Impact, Influence, & Income??

Inquiring minds want to know

In this post you'll find:

  1. What regularly happens in business today
  2. Who says stories are better
  3. How do stories work on the brain?
  4. Take Action
  5. Use the Building Storytelling Skills Map

By Karen Dietz, Just Story It

Stories are universal. They’ve been around for over 100,000 years. Reading and writing however, has only been around a few hundred years. We think in stories. We talk in stories. We live and die for our stories.

Yet here’s what regularly happens in business

A businessman went to a networking lunch to hear a bigwig CEO talk. The CEO had spent days preparing his presentation which was full of beautiful charts, succinct bullet points, and cool graphics.  When the businessman got home later that day, his wife asked him about it.

            Wife: “Who spoke?”

            Businessman: “Some executive.”

            Wife: “What did he say?”

            Businessman: “Well, he didn’t say.”

Don’t let that happen to you! No one wants to be boring. No one wants to waste anyone's time.  No one wants to miss a slew of golden opportunities.

But in the business world, we do just that. We love to talk numbers or data: financial statements, sales figures, ROI percentages, KPIs, product features, spec sheets -- charts, graphs, bullet points galore! These have their place, but not as the main communication vehicle for communicating value, enhancing your leadership, and getting business done.

We have been taught to both ask for -- and give -- information. So when we present our case, our position, our new idea, or our products/services, we create presentations chock full of informational charts, graphs and bullet points. Snoresville.

But numbers are simply abstractions. And, bullet points are merely summaries. Both only reflect reality. 

Stories however, convey reality.  Stories PULL us into them.  Charts, graphs and bullet points may transmit information, but they don’t necessarily create meaning.  As someone once said, “No one ever marched on Washington because of charts, graphs and bullet points.”

This is the new reality:  storytelling and working with stories is now a core competency for businesses – whether you are an entrepreneur, small business, non-profit, someone looking for a job, or in the Fortune 500. 

Don’t miss countless opportunities to grow your impact, influence, career or business because you couldn’t effectively share stories about what you do, what you offer, or how you make a difference.  And don’t miss countless opportunities to enroll others in your products/services/talents or vision for the future.

Who Says Story is Better?

Kendall Haven in his book Story Proof cites over 350 studies across many different scientific fields.  The conclusion of these studies?  Hands down – stories are the most effective and powerful form of communication.

According to studies reviewed by author Benedict Carey of This Is Your Life And How You Tell It, “People tend to remember facts more accurately if they encounter them in a story rather than in a list.” In fact, they remember them for longer periods of time. In fact, John Medina tells us in his book Brain Rules that retention goes from 10% to 65% when stories and visual images are used. Wow!

It’s been demonstrated over and over again that stories:

  1. Can easily untangle complex information, making it understandable and meaningful 
  2. Capture and hold people’s attention and interest
  3. Connect powerfully with staff and customers
  4. Communicate information faster
  5. Make you or your business more memorable
  6. Cause information to be more believable.
  7. Can establish and strengthen relationships
  8. Builds trust
  9. Establishes authenticity

We are hardwired to think in story form. Stories are more powerful than other forms of communication because they are about emotional experiences. Emotion matters.

How Do Stories Work On The Brain? 

Let’s find out. Read this:

Years ago when the Marshall Field, the owner of the famous department store Marshall Field, was walking through his original story in Chicago, he heard a clerk arguing with a customer. He stopped and asked: "What are you doing?"

The clerk answered, "I'm settling a complaint."

Field said, "No, you're not. Give the lady what she wants."

Now read this:

In general, a customer trigger is a factor or an event that changes the basis of a relationship. Reactional triggers are those critical incidents of deterioration in perceived performance...When something out of the ordinary occurs, such as a decline in performance before purchase, during purchase, or during consumption, it redirects a customer’s attention to evaluate present performance more closely, which may put customers on a switching path.          

Both are about the same principle. But which piece would you rather read? Which is more meaningful and memorable? Why is this? Let's figure it out.

Here’s your brain on data activating only the 2 language centers of the brain (left image) and your brain on story where 7 areas of the brain are activated (right image): 

Here’s what happens when 2 people are story sharing:

Neural Coupling: 2 brains on stories

Neural Coupling: 2 brains on stories

Neuroscientists have now shown us what happens to the brain on stories – they couple or entrain together. This is called neural coupling. During simultaneous brain scans of someone telling a story to a listener, they’ve found that the same areas of the brain light up in both brains.  The only difference between the two brains is that in the listener’s brain, another area of the brain is also being activated – the area of the brain that is anticipating what’s next.

Well-constructed stories engage up to 7 areas of the brain and all of the senses. They are full of packets of sensory material. As a result, because stories are multidimensional and hook into our personal memories/experiences, they frequently are perceived as “more true’” than facts.

It means that storytelling is a whole brain/whole body experience, making it easier to understand, retain, and remember what is being said.

In contrast, sharing information is only a very narrow channel of communication. Left-brain data only reaches the 2 language centers of the brain. That's it. When data or information is shared, our brains have to work really hard to make sure we understanding what is being said, make it meaningful for ourselves, and can remember it. Our brains quickly tire and we often forget most of what we heard.

Used carefully and told well, stories can make a clear difference. Because story conveys our knowledge, values, wisdom; because stories ignite our imagination and create neuro-coupling; because stories generate empathy -- stories create power for people, a business, and in the marketplace. Having the ability to share your powerful stories and then deliver on your promises—now that’s a winning combination!

Take Action

  1. Start listening for stories that others tell. Pay attention to what you like about them and what they inspire you to do or not do.
  2. Notice how you feel when you listen to presentations or conversations that do not contain stories—and what you are able to recall.
  3. Pay attention to how often you insert stories into conversations or presentations and the reactions that you receive from others when they hear them.
  4. Make a list of the stories you tend to tell most frequently.
  5. Notice when you do not use a story and what keeps you from doing so.
  6. What are you inspired you to do more of?
  7. Define two to three action steps for yourself, along with dates for reviewing your activities.

Use The Building StoryTelling Skills Map

How do you build storytelling skills? Here’s your map for building your storytelling skills:

  1. Find Your Stories – Chapter 4 in my book “Business Storytelling For Dummies” on where to find your stories.
  2. Craft Your Stories – what stories do I need to tell in my work?
  3. Hone Your Stories & How You Deliver Them – learn how to tell your stories in compelling ways that move people to action (the kinds of stories we want in business). Practice delivering them so you can tell them really well.
  4. Apply Your Stories to your business
  5. Renew Your stories – so they stay fresh
  6. Mine Your Stories – for multiple meanings, metaphors, key messages, & ways to tell them

Now get out there and story on!


Interview with Nike's Chief Storyteller Nelson Farris

Storytelling  in marketing/branding is all the rage. And Nike does a fabulous job at that.

But how else do they work with stories internally to ensure success? Well, my 30 minute podcast with Nike's Chief Storyteller and Sr. Director of Global HR Talent Development brings to light some of their practices and story philosophy.

If you are an entrepreneur, manager, corporate exec, or nonprofit, Farris' insights can apply to you.

Grab this podcast and continue to leverage the heck out of storytelling for your business.


Finding Common Ground From The World Of Storytelling

Finding Common Ground From The World Of Storytelling

"As I pondered these questions for my own best response to the current conflicts we face, I looked at the JIT Core Values on the wall in my office; values that lie at the foundation of how we strive to engage with each other, connect with our diverse volunteers, and create partnerships with the young people we serve."

Amazing Interview With Rich Sheridan, CEO & Chief Storyteller

Here's the link to the interview

I recently had a great time interviewing Rich Sheridan, CEO and Chief Storyteller of Menlo Innovations based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Rich is the author of the wildly popular book Joy, Inc.

With Five Inc. magazine revenue growth awards, invites to the White House, speaking engagements around the nation, numerous articles and culture awards and so much interest the company is doing a tour a day of the Menlo Software Factory™. Something is going right and Rich shares with us that that is.

During this interview Rich talks about the role of storytelling in building a strong corporate culture that beats the competition. We chat about why this happens. I love Rich's story of the Viking helmets, along with his thoughts on corporate culture, and about storytelling being a critical part of his CEO duties. And the results for Menlo have been amazing. 

Listen to this podcast or download it for later this weekend. There are solid tips here and our conversation was both fun and enlightening. Enjoy this gem.

Listen here

What Makes Great Leaders

5 Important Ways To Be Storytelling 

I'm sure you've heard this expression: "People leave managers, not companies."  Substitute "leaders" for "managers" and the result is the same. When you combine this piece of wisdom with the latest research showing 70% of US workers are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work, all I can say is "Yikes!"

So how do you make certain you are not chipping in to the 70% club?

I always say that storytelling is not the answer to every problem, but when it comes to leadership it's a critical core competency. Especially if you understand story dynamics. We tend to think the focus is on storytelling. But the twin to storytelling is story listening. Story listening embodies specific behaviors and attitudes to gain the maximum value out of the experience. It's like 2 halves of the same coin. Story listening is one part of story dynamics. Story dynamics covers the entire spectrum of storyteller and audience experiences when caught up in a story.

Here are 5 ways story dynamics moves you to the exclusive 30% club of engaged employees:

1. Increase your openness and transparency to build collaboration. Don't converse like a talking head in boring business speak. Drop the jargon.

  • Are you using the dynamics of story sharing to connect, build relationships, and collaboration in order to achieve something extraordinary?
  • Are you willing to be vulnerable, and are you willing to be changed by the stories you hear?

2. Speak to current reality. It's a relationship, social, and experiential economy these days, and you need to attract, focus, and keep talented employees.

  • Have you shared the "why" stories about their work and what's expected of them?
  • Do you leverage the behaviors and attitudes of story listening to convey your recognition and praise for doing good work?

3. Trust is a keystone your leadership needs to stand on.

  • Are you sharing a story and then modeling the positive behaviors the story is about? You move from storytelling to story doing when you walk the talk.
  • Are you being authentic and transparent in your stories and habits?
  • But even more importantly, are you story listening? Story listening come first for any trust to be built at all.

4. A sustainable culture creates an environment of learning and growth.

  • Are you repeatedly sharing stories about how employees are reaching their potential?
  • Are you sharing stories demonstrating that growing people is one of your priorities?
  • Are you sharing stories about experiencing organizational values in action?
  • Or stories about being best-in-class?
  • Or stories about incredible mentors/mentorship in your company?

5. And last but not least -- in fact, it should probably be #1 -- is self development. Storytelling is an inside-out job. A self-aware leader is a resilient leader. Are you asking yourself questions like:

  • What's the story I'm telling myself (about my beliefs, attitudes, values), or what's the story I'm telling about others -- and are these still valid?
  • Where did my stories about power, anger, fear, withdrawal, optimism, openness and assertiveness come from? Are these still valid?
  • How do I rewrite the story to live into a new or revised narrative?
  • What role models do I admire, and what are their stories that I can use to help guide me?

These 5 ways to be are the heart of leadership. Because as the famous author Salman Rushdie says,

"Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives -- the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change -- truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts."

Find your stories. Listen well. Story on and flourish!

For coaching or workshops on Storytelling For Influence (for alignment and better decision making), Transformational Leadership (for transforming self and others; leaving a lasting legacy), Data Storytelling (for finding knowledge, understanding, or transformative insights), and Inspiring Presentations (to enroll others in your vision), contact Karen.

Update on the Just Story It Curation

Changes Are Coming!

Well, as you probably have noticed. I haven't curated an article in over 4 weeks. Until today. Good grief! What the heck is going on?

After 5 years of steady curation I needed a break. And I wanted the time to think deeply about what's happening in the field of business storytelling, ways to reflect these trends, the kinds of articles to curate, and how to reorganize the curation to better serve you.

So here is where my thinking and observations have led me: 

  1. I'm going to focus on the topics of transformational storytelling, storytelling for influence, and data storytelling. These are the biggest needs and trends.
  2. Transformational Storytelling covers storytelling for leadership, personal development, change, and culture.
  3. Storytelling for Influence covers presentations, customer relationships and anything to do with how to work with stories for greater influence and impact in your world.
  4. Data Storytelling sounds dry, but it's a critical need it today's data driven world. There's some great stuff out there about how to tell the story of the data, and lots of junk. Data scientists talk about story, but many make a lot of mistakes. Business storytellers sometimes say things that are going to get us into trouble with the scientists. Over the last 2 years I've been talking to both scientists and academics about the topic. I don't have all the answers, and I'm sure I'm going to make my own mistakes. But I hope to bring more clarity to this hot topic.
  5. I'm still hunting only for the best articles I can find. It's getting harder to find these. So I may end up curating only a few times a week. 
  6. I'm going to check all the links on the articles in the collection to verify they are still good. I've already stumbled upon a bunch that are not. Give me at least 6 months to do that.
  7. Over the next 6 months I'm also going to re-tag all of the articles in the collection (2,000+) so everything is easier to search. I'll create a document showing you how to easily search the collection, and post that too.

I'm excited about these changes and still bringing my passion to you! directions and some cleanup work is on the horizon. LOL, this will keep me busy plenty while my business continues to grow :)) Please continue to send me your support and ideas. I love to hear from you.

Many thanks for your patience while I've been going through this re-adjustment/re-focusing process.

I look forward to the new upgraded Just Story It curation and hope you do to! Chat with you soon. All the best,