Manner of Speaking

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Originally published in Toastmasters Magazine, September 2012
By Allen Schoer

Mastering Storytelling: Know the three I’s: invitation, imagination and impact.

You’re on the road to becoming your company’s Chief Storyteller. Let’s begin with some good news: You’re already better than you might think. You tell stories every day. Here, we’ll explore three capabilities that will take you well on your way to becoming a professional storyteller. Remember the “three R’s” of your early education: reading, writing and ’rithmetic? Now consider the “three I’s” of storytelling: invitation, imagination and impact. Here’s how you can master them:

1) Invitation

Remember Steve Jobs’ famous invitation to Pepsi’s then- CEO John Sculley when he lured him to Apple by asking, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?” Engage your listeners by stimulating their curiosity and asking them to share in something exciting with you.

2) Imagination

Enlivening people’s imaginations is easy. What happens before you visit the doctor? Or when you’re waiting for the board’s reaction to your latest strategic plan? Your imagination puts on quite a show. Who needs PowerPoint or technological wizardry?

In 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy recognized the need for a new narrative to galvanize the space race. Before a joint session of the U.S. Congress, he boldly announced that by the end of the decade the country would be dedicated to “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” Despite widespread doubts, and the fact that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had not yet even sent a man into orbit around the Earth, he electrified the collective imagination of the country.

Imagination is the direct access point to our creativity. Simply say “Imagine this …” and people’s creative juices start flowing. They’re transported to a different and vivid new reality without leaving their seats.

3) Impact

We crave impact. We want to be seen and know that what we do has meaning. In baseball terms, it’s called “looking the ball to the bat.” As a storyteller, that means watching your audience closely to see how your content is affecting them.

In 1995, South African President Nelson Mandela knew he had to shore up his government’s tenuous hold on post-apartheid unity. Adopting the strategy of “Don’t address their brains. Address their hearts,” Mandela convinced the Springboks rugby team, until then the country’s symbol of white supremacy, to join him. At the commencement of the Rugby World Cup final being held in South Africa, Mandela and the team symbolically broke all barriers by singing “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika,” the anthem of the black resistance movement, to a stilldivided nation and a worldwide television audience. The Springboks won the World Cup, and South Africa moved toward reconciliation.

Brilliant ideas without brilliant human connection usually die fast. That connection builds trust and cultivates relationships. When you see how you move others and are moved by them, you grow in stature and authority.

Keep this in mind: What you’re saying isn’t for you. It’s for your team.

Practice Time

Try these techniques at your next team or client meeting and note what happens:

  • Be an “investigator” — not a content dumper. Ask, don’t tell.
  • Watch carefully how what you’re saying impacts your team.
  • Don’t leap to the next point until you see people absorb the previous one. Don’t assume everyone’s with you. Ask questions like “Are you with me?” or “How do you relate to this?”
  • Slow down. Don’t race your narrative simply to get to the end. Consider practicing on someone first.
  • Create images to get the client engaged in your story: “Imagine this …” or “Picture that …”
  • Stop occasionally and observe your effect on everyone in the room.

Remember, your team and your clients are your creative partners. Actress Katherine Hepburn said, “If you give audiences half a chance, they’ll do half your acting for you.”