What’s Your Story? How to Include Storytelling in Your Presentations — Guest Post, Amy Fenollosa of The Latimer Group

Have you ever been captivated by a story? So immersed that you felt like you were actually there? On a recent road trip with my middle school sons, I happened upon a story on the radio that captured us all.

The story transported us — as humans, our brains are conditioned to listen to stories. Throughout history, information has been shared orally. Stories can be engaging and interesting to listen to, but they’re also powerful ways to convey information. People remember stories.

When you’re preparing for your next meeting, consider including a story. If you have extraordinary data that you’d like to present, think of the detail behind the numbers. Can you weave a narrative for your audience rather than reciting from a spreadsheet? If you need to introduce yourself to a new group of people, instead of rattling off your resume, think of a short story that will demonstrate a little bit about who you are and what’s important to you.

Our model for storytelling provides a few steps to get you started:

  1. What’s your goal? What are you trying to accomplish? Be clear about your goal when you begin to choose a story.
  2. Think of the story themes to choose from. Scroll through the repertoire of experiences in your life and recall events that will demonstrate your message.
  3. Consider the impact: What will the audience remember? How will they feel? Will you inspire action? Determine the outcome you hope to achieve.

Once you’ve outlined your goal, chosen a theme, and determined an impact, map your story using the Story Board Method. Practice it. Do a dry run with a colleague. And when you’re ready, try incorporating your story into your next meeting, the response may surprise you.

Dean Brenner (C’91) is a recognized expert in persuasive communication, and is the founder and president of The Latimer Group, an executive coaching and training firm that that specializes in creating powerful communication skills. Dean and his colleagues offer coaching and training to a global client list of Fortune 500 companies. In addition, Dean has written two books on effective communication, and is currently working on his third. Dean lives in Connecticut with his family. To learn more about Dean and The Latimer Group, please visit TheLatimerGroup.com.

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To Communicate Well, Listen First by Dean Brenner (C’91)

When we think about communication in the workplace, all too often we focus on the delivery part: what we will say, what our slides will look like and how loudly we should speak. All that’s important, but what about the other side?

Before we speak, we need to listen. And when we do speak, we need to make sure that our audience is listening to us. As with nearly every aspect of persuasive communication, there are a few key ways to improve your own listening and encourage it in your audience.

First, why is listening so important as an initial step in communication? Because it helps you understand your audience and, thus, tailor your message to their needs and concerns. By listening well — in other words, through active listening — we discover the best way to deliver the message we need our audience to hear.

As you seek to cultivate active listening, keep in mind three important ways to engage with what you are hearing:

Fully Engage: Put away your cell phone and shut down your email. Truly focus on what is happening in this conversation. Ask questions, and listen closely to the answers. Be a thoughtful listener.

Take Notes: For your listening to really pay off, you need to be able to remember what you’ve heard. A written log of a conversation is an invaluable resource as you move forward to analyze what you’ve learned.

Repeat Key Information: When the conversation is over, review what you’ve heard, whether by going over your notes, discussing the call with colleagues or writing up a synopsis memo.

Asking questions — and being open to the answer, whether it is what you want to hear or not — is an important part of this process. Preparing a few questions in advance can be helpful; that way, you can really listen to the answers rather than thinking about what you should ask next. And recognizing what Tony Salvador at Intel calls “listening bias” can help make you more receptive to new ideas and fresh insights and better align you with your audience.

Besides allowing you to gather important insights into your audience, the act of active listening demonstrates your respect for your audience. In our overcrowded, high-volume world, it is easy to forget that communication isn’t a one-way street. It’s not just about broadcasting our own opinions: It’s about exchanging ideas and learning from one another. By listening well, you show your commitment to a respectful exchange. And your audience will be more likely to return that respect to you.

Which brings us to the other side of the equation: What can you do to cultivate active listening in your audience? It’s more than just crafting a gripping message, although that certainly helps. Once you’ve set the tone by demonstrating your own active listening, how else can you set up your audience to hear what you want to say? Often, it’s very simple: Change the environment.

Consider your goal, and pick a meeting place accordingly: Do you want people to think creatively? Consider moving to a new space or making sure that everyone sits somewhere new. If you want the focus to be on your slide deck, try to set up the room so that you can engage with the audience easily while keeping your screen in easy eyeshot. Think about the space, the ambiance and how you want your audience to feel as you speak.

Gauge the energy level, and plan ahead: If you need to meet first thing in the morning or right after lunch, bring coffee. Be aware of when people’s energy is most likely to lag, and try to offset it with additions to the meeting. And bear this in mind as you craft your message: If people have heavy eyes, they might need more attention-grabbers within your presentation to stay alert.

Engage from the start: Think about sending a quick introduction to the audience, so they enter the room prepared to address your topic. Use a video, tell a compelling anecdote or offer a striking statistic. Show your audience that you understand what is interesting to them about your topic, and they’ll be more likely to keep listening.

As individuals and as organizations, the better we listen, the better we work. By cultivating empathy, curiosity and humility, we connect more quickly, more sincerely and more enduringly — and we communicate more clearly, more efficiently and more persuasively.

Dean (C’91) is a recognized expert in persuasive communication, and is the founder and president of The Latimer Group, an executive coaching and training firm that that specializes in creating powerful communication skills. Dean and his colleagues offer coaching and training to a global client list of Fortune 500 companies. In addition, Dean has written two books on effective communication, and is currently working on his third. Dean lives in Connecticut with his family. To learn more about Dean and The Latimer Group, please visit TheLatimerGroup.com. 

Improving Our Responsiveness to Our People — John Keyser

Recently, I read an article about the key communication qualities of an effective leader. The article spoke about the importance of asking questions and being an attentive listener. I certainly agree. Yet, the article failed to mention responsiveness, which is certainly a very key quality as well.

If we are to help our team members feel appreciated, valued and heard, we must try to respond to their calls and emails and other forms of communication promptly. In my assessments of leadership and organizational culture, I often hear “My boss does not get back to me. He must not feel I am important and what I need or think matters.”

(Personal note: in my experience, women tend to put a higher priority on their responsiveness and how their team members feel about themselves than do men).

People all too often tell me that they have to follow up two or three times before their boss responds or maybe he never does. That lowers morale, organizational culture, and negatively affects our results over time. No question about that. Happy employees do better work.

When discussing the results of the assessments, the senior executives tell me “I know. I do get back to my people when I am able, but they need to understand that I am very busy.”

This is not acceptable. Everyone is very busy. We all have too many meetings to attend and a constant flow of emails and information coming at us.

When we receive an email or voice message and we cannot reply in a timely manner, we often can at least respond “I am very busy, and will get back to you first chance or in the morning.” This dignifies our team member, let’s them know we respect her/him and want to be there for her/him.

Yes, we are crazy busy. Too busy! Many of the meetings are simply scheduled automatically and way ahead and are not really necessary. Many of the meetings are inefficient and run too long.

Let’s do something about this! Ask our people how we can have fewer and more efficient and productive meetings. We must save time – our own and our people’s time.

And let’s develop a customized plan to manage our emails. The most effective leaders are efficient and have boundaries to maximize their productivity.

Delegate responsibilities and authority to free ourselves up to be more effective leaders. Conversations are the work of a leader. We want to have conversations, especially one-on-one conversations, throughout our day – letting our people know they are appreciated and valued, asking them for their ideas and advice, what they are learning from our clients, what they need, how can we help them, what we feel should be our priorities going forward, and other purposeful questions.

Let’s make our New Year’s resolution be freeing ourselves up so we can be out of our offices and meetings, having more time to walk the halls, and having more time for conversations with our people, and let’s make sure our other senior executives and middle managers also make their responsiveness a priority, as well. And the same goes for our home office being promptly responsive to those in the field.

Cathy Becker, an insightful and caring human resource professional, says “Leadership is how we help people feel about themselves.”

Timely responsiveness to questions, requests and needs definitely helps our people know that we care very much about them and that they and their work is important.

To learn more about the author and Founder of Common Sense Leadership John Keyser, visit commonsenseleadership.com. This article was published on Common Sense Leadership and is used with the author’s permission.