Make your audience care
“In order to be a good leader, you need to be a good storyteller,” Peter Perceval explains
He is Director of the Belgium based company Inspiring Speech, where he coaches - among other things – business leaders to become better storytellers and gives lectures about the art of storytelling:
“There is a big difference between coercion or persuasion and storytelling. Storytelling is showing vulnerability and your mistakes while talking about the lessons learned. A good story is created when a hero, for example the company, finds its way from a problem to a solution. It is never a straight line nor should it be.”
By labelling a campaign as a story, they think the job is done.
However, many business executives believe it is about persuading others, when they are telling a story.
“By labelling a campaign as a story, they think the job is done. But that is just window dressing. It is advertising, not storytelling. The key is to never hide your mistakes – or nobody will believe you,” he says.
The impact of the internet
According to Perceval, the internet and the aftermaths of the financial crisis have changed the way we look at the world, why storytelling has become a must for companies and company leaders.
“The internet has created a new generation of conscious consumers. It used to be very difficult getting a package from Australia to Europe – now it takes just two clicks. Communication has always been important, but what we experience now is the direct impact on consumers and clients, and this creates a need for good storytelling,” he says:
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“However, do not fall into the window dressing trap, which is telling a story about how great you are. You should tell a story to the people you want to reach, why the story has to be about them.”
Your choices influence peoples’ lives
Recently, Peter Perceval was the advisor to the management officials of the large port of Antwerp. The directors were to implement a new work schedule for the port’s 3,000 employees, and they were struggling a bit about how to communicate it.
“The management engineered a bunch of new ideas, which they wanted to integrate in a story that they could tell their employees. However, they were not able to create a story from their ideas – there were simply too many questions, which they could not answer. For example, why this new schedule was a good idea,” Peter Perceval says:
“When the human factor comes into play, you realize that you cannot force new ideas upon people without having reasoning behind it. Therefore, you’ve got to have an elasticity when it comes to storytelling. Like they say in the American army: No plans can survive contact with the enemy.”
To create a good story, it is therefore essential to know your audience and the questions they will ask you.
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“In general people ask 31-70 questions before they trust your message. Always begin your story from your audience’s point of view and have a good idea of the questions they might ask. However, it is also important to keep your message short. You should actually be able to explain it in a tweet,” Peter Perceval says:
“In the case of the Antwerp port, the management realized that the work schedule could influence the employees’ daily life – maybe they would not be able to get their kids to school. Seeing it from the employees’ point of view, they realized that they had to take another approach in order to create a story.”
Perceval’s advice is therefore to always remember, that people are in a dialogue with you.
“People will listen to your story and at the same time reply to your message with a ‘yes – but...’. They want to know what our plan is for their lives. Make them care,” he says and underlines that you should not only consider how they will react professionally, but also the impact the changes will have on their personal lives.
“This is what matters the most – both for your employees and consumers. Think about them as real people: What do they drink, eat, or do for fun? If you know what is important to them, you also know which story to tell.”