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What Is The Intent Of Your Story?

I had the privilege of attending John Losey’s discussion group at the Learning 2012 Conference.  John is the Leadership Training & Development Manager at the Farmers Insurance Group.  He also maintains a blog, “The Juicy Life,” at www.loseyexperience.blogspot.com. 

John’s topic was an aspect of storytelling that I had not seen covered before, “How to Find Your Story.”  If you are a presenter, you likely have a selection of stories that have worked for you with your audiences in the past.  It is tempting to trot out the ones that have had the most favorable responses.  However, if you haven’t tied that story directly into a point you want to make, it may be little more than a diversion.  John spotlighted a way to guard against that happening.

Some introductory points are worth noting before going into the process:

·         One of the reasons that storytelling works so well for case studies and other teaching scenarios is that people don’t tend to easily remember theory.  They remember the story that highlights it.

·         Storytelling can be an imaginary and envisioning tool.  The effective story helps us to imagine and dream what we want to be.

·         You convince people with data, but you move them with a story.

Keeping those things in mind, you can see why it is important to use a story to its full potential to illuminate a point.  Otherwise, it becomes an anecdote.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it won’t carry any special meaning as an anecdote other than entertainment.

So, here is the process:

1.   Determine the point that your story will highlight.  What is the story’s ultimate objective?  What do you want your audience to learn from it?  Why are you telling it in the first place?  While you are considering these questions, come up with examples of where you might find evidence to support your main point in real life, especially in an unrelated area.  (If it’s true in an unrelated area, it adds weight to it being universal.)
When you come up with the central point, it helps with convergent thinking, when the audience can see a single, well-established solution to an issue or a problem.

2.   Try out your story with multiple audiences.  These aren’t formal presentations.  Instead, you are looking for reactions.  At what points do audience members respond?  When do they seem to be particularly engaged?  This is effective in helping you to decide what portions of the story to shorten, and whether the “reaction points” relate to your story’s ultimate objective.  (If not, then your story is more likely to be a distraction.)
Telling your story with intent, what John calls “intentionality,” is where the real power of your story resides.

3.   Edit the portions of your story that don’t contribute to the main point.  You don’t want your audience to be distracted from your intent.  If the details paint a clearer picture, that’s great.  If not, then your story loses some of its potential power.

In all of this, you are using your story as a guide.  You are directing your audience to react emotionally to the point you are trying to make.  That “intent” keeps people centered, and reduces the possibility that their minds will drift to other conclusions.

Speaking of conclusions, our session finished with a suggestion that I especially liked.  Many of us are introduced by our bios.  This reads as a dry history of our accomplishments…and, being dry, it is easily forgotten.

For your next presentation, try introducing yourself with a story about you.  This creates an emotional reaction that allows your audience to get to know you much more quickly and effectively than the standard “I did this” bio.  This also helps them to remember you for a longer time.

Now, it’s your turn.  Think of a story about something memorable that happened to you.  How does it illustrate a part of who you are?

Thanks for reading.