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Senior Leadership - Use Storytelling to Share Your Vision

Having trouble getting your employees – or customers, or investors – to buy into your goals for your organization’s future? The problem may not be with your vision: it may be that you’re simply telling it wrong. The good news is, by harnessing a little knowledge about the brain and what it responds to, you can pitch a winner by making use of a tale as old as time: the hold storytellers have over their audience.


Use storytelling to convey your organizational vision to your listeners in a way they’ll remember and buy into.

What is Use Storytelling to Share Your Vision?
Remember 1001 Nights? How the maiden told a story so well over successive evenings that the king, to hear the next instalment, not only put off executing her, day after day, but actually ended up marrying her at the end? Well, it’s just a story, after all – but there just may be some neurological truth behind it. Turns out science shows the brain responds differently to things presented in a narrative way. That means if you want to hook people’s heads (or their pursestrings), you’ve got to hook their hearts. The best way to do that is by presenting your strategy as part of a relatable story, one that bonds listeners as listeners – and hence as fellow participants, undergoing the same experiences you describe. Sound sketchy? The science is there, and it’s powerful.

How does Using Storytelling to Share Your Vision improve employee engagement and culture?
Organizations are data-driven, which means most presentations are too – including those relating to organizational vision. Justly or not, “Powerpoint presentation” has become synonymous with “boring recitation.” But there is another way. When presentations don’t unite us as listeners, it’s because we’re not processing the information on an emotional level: as a result, our brains set to work filling in the narrative we’re not being given otherwise — connecting the dots, in other words. The problem is, each audience member does so differently. If you’re pitching your vision, a fractured audience is not what you want to be left with when the lights come up. Using narrative storytelling techniques puts everyone in the same mood—receptive, empathetic and ready to work together at the end.

What are the benefits?
By unifying your audience and giving them a shared, collective experience, you make them more receptive to your vision and more likely to work with you – and each other – to turn that vision into reality.

How do you Use Storytelling to Share Your Vision in the workplace?
I never liked public speaking. Our instinct as humans is to fear being laughed at – we can all remember this happening to us at one point or another. I think this is why many presentations use a dry, factual tone: you’re risking less, by limiting possible connections. But talking vision, I find I have to really reach out – to share something of myself, inviting listeners to emphasize with me as a person. (See how this is working?) Fortunately, Marshall Ganz, of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, developed the “Self, Us, Now” technique. Elevator pitch or busy boardroom, use it whenever you want to bring someone on side with your vision.


Bring Storytelling Into Your Organization

First, understand the science. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, Princeton neuroscientists found that when we listen to stories – a narrative that makes us wonder what will happen, as if the outcome matters to us – our brain activity “mirrors” the brain activity of the storyteller, to whom it really did happen. Sometimes, when most in tune, the listener, anticipating, even experiences brain activity patterns before the teller does. The process is called “neural coupling”: listeners take on a story as if it was their own. Two areas, “Broca’s area” and “Wernicke’s area,” get especially fired up by stores: fortunately, they’re responsible for data processing. And dopamine gets released too – a pleasure chemical, created during emotional activities to help us remember them better. In other words, by using a story to relay your organizational vision, you’ve just forged a powerful connection with your listeners they’re unlikely to forget.

To do so, look to Ganz’s “Self, Us, Now” technique. Starting with “Self,” reflect on events in your life that made you the person you are. From these come the values you want to instill in your organization through your vision. Remember, you may not consciously recall these events or experiences until you identify them using this exercise! But tracing your vision back to values and then to experiences, while requiring some soul-searching, makes you much clearer about your vision and why you want to convey it to others. Your audience will relate to that passion all the more as a result.

The “Us” part comes when you take experiences of your own and start to connect them to those of your audience. This means explicitly identifying the values you see in your organization, your community, your workplace – maybe your field as a whole. Relate how these values connect to the experiences you relayed as part of “Self.”

Now comes the “Now” stage – this is where you flip the story outward to involve your audience. If you’ve done it right, thanks to the power of storytelling, you’ve drawn them in to the tale you’ve been weaving. Now you set them free – by giving them an opportunity to act. Maybe that act is investing capital in your new start-up. Maybe it’s becoming better employees, by being more inspired by the collective endeavour outlined in your vision. Whatever it is, end by inviting others to join you – to make your personal story their story too. It’s fulfilling for the speaker and the audience.

Lastly, it’s important to note that the storytelling technique isn’t just for you to wield more influence over your organization. Wouldn’t you prefer it if everyone you worked with could speak more personally, more persuasively, more openly about what matters to them? Share the “Self, Us, Now” technique and make storytelling part of your workplace culture. Let it guide how meetings happen, how workplace communication is shaped. And don’t forget to be open to listening to someone else’s story too – after all, every good story deserves a good listener.

Reference Material
Why Sharing Stories Brings People Together
Use Storytelling to Explain Your Company’s Purpose
Why Email Is Only 7 Percent as Effective as Talking

Updated on: 08/31/2023

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