Master storyteller Doug Keeley was one of the guest speakers at a big national sales meeting a few years ago when he noticed how miserable everyone felt. “The morale was horrible,” he recalls. “There was a new leader taking over, and his opening speech blew up. Everyone thought this CEO was cold and lacked empathy.
Keeley was convinced the only way to turn things around was to bring the CEO back onstage for a more personal conversation. So, he asked her to talk about a time when she took on a tough challenge.
“His story lasted maybe five minutes”, explains the author of The mark of a leader. “But she may have been vulnerable in front of her people. It made everyone realize that she also understood how they felt. This short story completely changed the mood in the room.
Founder of Stories Rule!, based near Toronto, Keeley has worked with dozens of Fortune 500 and CXO companies, teaching them how to turn storytelling into a strategic corporate communications tool. “Human beings communicate in three ways: with statements, with facts and with stories,” he says. “Affirmations are statements or opinions. Facts are numbers, data. Stories are the account of an event or series of events. They connect with people emotionally.
Senior executives in certain industries — tech, finance and pharmaceuticals — are more comfortable making assertions and sharing facts, Keeley notes. “These companies are very numbers-based and science-based, so communication tends to be left-brained. What is often missing is any emotional connection.
After watching Keeley’s formidable storytelling talent in action at a recent technology leadership conference, I caught up with him to learn more about the enduring power of storytelling, how CIOs can hone those skills. and the four types of stories all IT leaders should be prepared to tell. to tell about.
Maryfran Johnson: What has changed the most in business storytelling in recent years?
Doug Keley: When I started my speaking business in 2004, the dominant topic was leadership, and I used stories as a way to talk about it at conferences. Back then, business people thought storytelling was a “woo woo” thing. Their general attitude was ‘We have numbers to hit! There’s no time for woo woo!’ That has changed significantly today, not just because of the impact of Covid, but because of the challenge of attracting and retaining great talent. The leadership challenges of empowering people and communicating effectively have become much more extreme. Storytelling is really about communicating. If you are a manager or anyone in a leadership position, a crucial part of your job is to get the most out of your people. One of the most powerful skills for doing this is communication.
How can CIOs make their stories more memorable or impactful?
The most important thing to understand is that all stories are about people. They have an emotional resonance because they connect with others. So you make any story about the impact it has on people, not technology or data or change. “Change” is just an abstract name. What happens with the people to whom the change happens? This is where you focus. It could be another IT person you identify with, or an end customer who goes crazy trying to solve a technical problem. I’m talking about short 2-3 minute verbal stories here. Not the “hero’s journey” or the big stories OMG.
What kind of stories should IT and business leaders be able to tell?
The four main types of stories leaders should tell are personal stories, customer success stories, employee values stories in action, and perspective stories.
With personal stories, like the example of the CEO going through a tough time herself, you connect by showing people what you have in common with them.
Customer success stories should be about the people your solution helped and how it made things better for them. The big flaw with case studies is that they are about every business, and nobody cares. And by the way, the customer has to be the hero. You are Yoda, not Luke.
Company values are just abstract concepts with no stories attached to them. For CIOs, what are your employees doing to show these values in action? Give examples.
Perspective stories usually come from outside your organization and you use them to change the way people see things. Illustrate what you’re trying to convey so people can visualize it. In any situation where you want to engage, connect, or give new insight using data, don’t just “show up and toss” a bunch of numbers. Include a story about the impact of numbers on people.
How do you build and track a mental library of all these types of stories?
We all have stories to tell, but you have to think about them consciously. What happened? How has this changed or influenced who you are today? Get a capture or backup tool, like Evernote or OneNote or the free MemLife app. Write down the story details in bullet points: where/when/who/what happened? Add details that help you see and feel it. Use strong adjectives and adverbs. Work backwards from the point – every story needs a point! – then modify and repeat how you are going to tell it. Your goal is to make the listener feel what it’s like to be there.
What other storytelling resources do you recommend?
There is a community of storytellers at network.storiesrule.ca. You’ll find tons of tips, stories, and videos there. I’m also certified as one of more than 60 storytellers worldwide to offer workshops and training programs on Anecdote.com, which also shares many free resources.
This article originally appeared in the IOC’s Career Strategist newsletter. Subscribe today!