Why Government Communicators Should Tell More Stories

Paul Smith, the author of the best-selling book, Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire, presented to over 450 people tuning in via webcast and in person as our federal digital communications event keynote speaker. In his keynote, Paul explained just why government communicators should use stories in their work, and when they could do it to have maximum impact. Here’s a quick synopsis of his keynote speech:HiRes

Why tell stories?

  1. Simple: anybody can do it.
  2. Timeless: it has always worked and always will. Storytelling transcends the fads of communication.
  3. Demographic-proof: it works with kids, adults, CEOs, and new hires. While not all communication strategies work with every demographic, everyone can understand storytelling.
  4. Contagious: you tell a good story and it will travel on its own, without you having to send communication over and over again. It travels via word-of-mouth.
  5. Easy to remember: facts are easier to remember if they’re embedded in a story.
  6. Inspire: when is the last time you heard someone say, “wow, you’ll never believe the PowerPoint presentation I just saw”? People become enthralled with what you’re saying when you’re telling a story and want to share what you’ve said.

When should you tell stories?

Stories themselves are not a great management tool, but they are a great leadership tool. If you’re looking to determine your vision or goal, a story won’t get you there. However, once you’ve determined your plan, you need to convince the rest of your organization to understand, be motivated by, accountable for, and to deliver that plan. It is then that you need a good story.

While interviewing CEOs and executives around the world, Paul looked for leadership challenges where stories are used. The main examples Paul found when it is pivotal to use storytelling are:

  1. Helping people find the passion for their work: If people are not coming to work passionate about what they do, they’re probably not doing their best work. What you can do to motivate others is to find the stories about your role that make you feel passionate and share them. It will help you and others find passion. Or, if you find yourself not particularly enamored with the work you’re doing, try to think of the people you’re doing it for.
  2. Making recommendations: Instead of using facts and figures, a story will tell how you got to your “aha moment” and bring your audience along with you.
  3. Challenge people’s assumptions instead of their conclusions or recommendations: If people think it was their assumption that was flawed not their actions, they will be more receptive to your constructive criticism and you’ll find greater success in the delivery of your message.
  4. Teaching: Get the message out about exactly what you need people to learn. When you have a message that you need to convey, think of a story to share. It will work out better than being lectured to.

Storytelling is similar to any other skillset, it can be learned. Invest some time in learning about it and you’ll be able to use this skill in daily communication.  Apologizing or asking permission to tell your story delegitimizes your message and gives the idea that you don’t think it is as important as what was being discussed. Go one step further and simply don’t state that you’re going to tell a story. People who are great at telling stories do it without the listener knowing and will be more entertaining, memorable, and even more effective in delivering their message.

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