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Communication through powerful storytelling

Lynda Bourne
June 25, 2013

One of the most effective ways to communicate a new idea to your audience is through effective storytelling. A well-structured story will impart understanding, inspire action and be remembered long after other boring presentations are forgotten! The power of storytelling is summed up in the storyteller’s creed:

The Storyteller’s Creed by Robert Fulghum
I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.
That myth is more potent than history.
That dreams are more powerful than facts.
That hope always triumphs over experience.
That laughter is the only cure for grief.
And I believe that love is stronger than death.

We know stories are effective; they have been used to communicate sophisticated ideas for millennia ranging from the parables in the Bible through to the morals embedded in fairy tales. The storyteller’s realm extends from fantasies and fiction through to business presentations and team meetings. In short, there is nothing like a good story to connect with your audience!

In business, storytelling is a captivating way to explain why a decision was made, what it means to the audience and the benefits that will flow as a consequence. Rather than simply using techno-speak, data and facts, building this information into a well-crafted story will engage your audience as you explain the reasons why you have selected a particular set of options and what the listeners need to do to help achieve the ‘happy ending’. The facts give your stories substance; your stories give facts meaning.

Creating a good story requires skill, and while you may never aspire to becoming the next JK Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series), applying some effective development techniques can help you develop your own style of storytelling.

The Story Spine, originally created by playwright Kenn Adams, is one tool that can be used to craft well-structured stories. It is a series of sentence fragments that prompt the narrative elements of your story, and it can be used by itself or in conjunction with any exercise in which individuals or groups are asked to craft a story to explain a new idea or technical concept.

The structure of the Story Spine (the option in italics suggests one possible use to explain and get buy-in to solve an emerging risk issue).

The Platform: Introduces the issue/topic

  • Once Upon a Time…
  • Everyday…
  • The project risk register identified…

The Catalyst: Explains why this is important today

  • But one day…
  • Then something change…
  • The recent xxx has escalated this risk significantly…

The Consequences: Explains the journey and the ‘problem’

  • Because of that… (repeated as may times as you wish)
  • And then … occurred
  • And then…
  • Because of this we have had to change…
  • Which has caused…

The Climax: The core problem/challenge/solution

  • Until finally…
  • Then suddenly
  • Which means the project must…

The Resolution: The solution to the climax

  • Ever since then…
  • And the moral of the story is…
  • And the funny thing was…
  • And we need your approval to implement these recommendations!

This template serves as a dynamic and fluid structure, allowing storytellers to pick and choose what works best for them.

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Lynda Bourne
Dr Lynda Bourne PMP, FAIM, is an international authority on stakeholder engagement and the Stakeholder Circle visualisation tool. She is the author of 'Making Projects Work' (2015), 'Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders' (2011), and 'Stakeholder Relationship Management' (2009) and a contributor to many others.
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One thought on “Communication through powerful storytelling

  1. Hi Linda
    I met you at University of Melbourne with Patrick (I think it was for Hementa’s book launch). Thanks for your article – humanising communication is key to captivating interest. I now work as a project manager in mining (MMG). Sebastian

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