Storytelling: your secret (neurological) weapon

Photo © drestwn

Photo © drestwn

When you have a senior, high profile role, and you’ve been in that role for some years, the opportunities for public speaking are endless. Addressing the business, pitching, sharing information, explaining new ways of working… They're a daily occurrence. 

So it stands to reason that by this point in your career, you’ve honed your speaking style, and feel comfortable at the front of any business room.  

But when the stakes are suddenly raised, and it’s absolutely critical that you win hearts and minds – no second chances – it’s actually incredibly common for senior, experienced professionals to dry up when it comes to getting real engagement from their audience.

The kind of engagement that has people hanging on your every word, and wanting more. 

It’s a natural human tendency to shift into technical mode and revert to complicated jargon when the pressure’s on; it comes up for 90% of the senior leaders we’ve worked with.

When the pressure is on, do you falter when it comes to telling captivating, business-relevant stories to grab your audience’s imagination? Do you find yourself resorting to complex terminology, or overly technical jargon? Do you stick to the facts, and keep things super professional?

When people leave the room, have they met the real you, flawed and imperfect? Do they know you a little better than before? Or have they met your professional façade? 

Most importantly, are they hooked on your message?

"A story can go where quantitative analysis is denied admission: our hearts. Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act; to do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul." Harrison Monarch, from The Irresistible Power of Storytelling as a Strategic Business ToolHarvard Business Review

So what's the solution? 

As we honed the design for our Lead, Influence, Inspire programme, launched last month, three key questions popped up in discussions with our storytelling coach Julia Wheeler, and our personal impact coach, Richard Fallon.

The questions are perfect prompts for your back pocket, on those occasions when the stakes are suddenly very high, and you need to convince, be credible, and get people on board; with no second chances.

  1. What’s the core message you want to convey in a single sentence? Distill it down, and cut the noise and clutter around what you really want to say.  
  2. What's your audience's perspective? What will they be thinking about when you speak, and what will they need to hear from you? Will they be fearful, or excited, or cynical as they enter the room? And when you get up in front of them, what body-language and energy cues will you look for in the moment, to help you navigate?
  3. What relevant business story, from your own background, can you use to illustrate your point? Perhaps a story about an epic business failure or a snatched success? Or maybe a story from your childhood about persistence, or giving up? What will draw your audience in and help them relate to you as a real person?

Sceptical about the power (and professionalism) of using stories in business? 

The research of neuroeconomist, Paul Zak suggests that storytelling evokes a strong neurological response in humans. Our brains produce cortisol (the stress hormone) when we listen to a story with a tense or dramatic plot; it's what helps us to focus. And when we hear stories that are endearing, oxytocin (the feel-good chemical most commonly associated with childbirth) is released, helping us connect and feel empathy. Research has also found that when a story ends happily, dopamine floods our system, kicking us into 'hopeful' and 'optimistic' mode.

Telling stories, then, really does help us engage with the listener, on a neurological level. 

Time to take action

If we've struck a chord with you and you're struggling to create the engagement you want when high stakes situations come up, Click here to explore and sign up for our Lead, Influence, Inspire programme: storytelling is one of the core modules. 

We've been doing this work for years with clients across Europe; and now we've distilled the strategies into a neat package for you to access right here. Make your 'complex jargon' issue a thing of the past. 

Over to you

Have you experienced the challenge of engaging an audience? Want some more guidance on how to develop your influencing skills? Come on over to Twitter and let us know

PS: Spread the word

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