A simple storytelling framework

What exactly goes into telling a good story? You need a hero, a villain, some conflict and a little resolution right? Something like that…

Let’s back up a little…why is storytelling important? It’s important because we connect with stories. We share our lives with stories. Personally, I have shared some of my happiest moments with new friends through stories: the story of how I met my wife, the story of the birth of first child, etc. I also have stories that describe times where I felt like a part of me has died with loved ones that I’ve lost. Our lives are a series of stories.

Another important property of a story is it’s ability to channel the complete opposite emotion of what you experienced at the time. Think of powerful stories you may have heard about a person who was without hope and didn’t see a way out. And then someone provides for them in a way they couldn’t have imagined. Or think of a story where someone was extremely embarrassed or frustrated. Years later you’ll be in a group and everyone will now laugh as you the story is told. Here’s a summary:

You were hopeless — your story —> provides hope

You were embarrassed/frustrated — your story —> provides laughter

Storytelling at work…

It’s clear to me that storytelling is important. Those best at communicating their ideas use stories to do it. Here’s an example…you are in a meeting. You propose to a coworker IT that your group needs TPS reports twice a day (and don’t forget the cover sheets) rather than just once a day. For five minutes they describe why this won’t work using generalities. You stop them and ask for a specific example.

At this point your coworker hasn’t been storytelling. Think about the best stories – they are full of details. A picture is painted for you and you are able to experience the story. Why can’t your coworker do the same thing? Here’s a sample response…

“Jane, I’d love to be able to provide your group with TPS reports twice a day. We ended up landing on daily production due to the needs of the marketing group. Let me walk your quickly through our production schedule….once we’re done, I’d love your thoughts on how we can move some of the pieces around to get your group reports twice a day. We start at 5:45am with….”

The framework

onceuponatime

Design thinking is centered around gaining empathy for your end user and having them experience a solution. Storytelling is an integral part of this process. In the picture above, the amazingly talented storyteller Scott Doorley was teaching the group this framework. Since the picture is tough to read, here it is:

Once upon a time…

And everyday until…

Until one day…

Because of that…

Until finally…

And ever since that day…

And the moral of the story is…

Here’s a simple example:

Once upon a time there were two tadpole sisters who were the best of friends. And everyday they played together, until the oldest sister turned into a frog. And because of that the youngest sister was lonely and sad. She played everyday by herself. Until finally, she turned into a frog! And ever since that day, her she and her sister have been inseparable. And the moral of the story is sadness and depression can be transformed like the tadpole into happiness and joy.

Practice, practice, practice…

So how do you improve as a storyteller? The first thing I have done is to practice. I play the “storytelling game” almost every night with my daughters. We alternate who takes each part of the framework. It is great fun for her and I’m continuing to hone my craft. You can also use the framework as a group exercise. If you’re in a meeting with 4-5 coworkers take turns constructing a story together.

The next bit of advice I would offer would be to view every presentation, every meeting, every project, etc as an opportunity to tell a story. Think about the opening, the conflict, the resolution and what you learned.

If you’re in the audience, what would you rather listen to? A well crafted story that allows you to experience what has happened on a project, or a deck of endless slides that just give updates on what has happened.¬†I vote for storytelling.

Lastly, spend time talking with great storytellers…maybe even some professionals. How cool would it be to invite a professional storyteller to your office to teach your group how to tell a great story? I’m in the process of trying to set this for my team.

Storytellers are not born, they are made…keep practicing and please share your stories.

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