Using Stories to Inform And Influence

Kevin Eikenberry

By: Kevin Eikenberry - Chief Potential Officer, The Kevin Eikenberry Group

Category: Human Resources

A quick look at the calendar told Glenn it was almost December. Just a couple more weeks until everyone’s focus at work would be on the Holidays . . . and not the business goals for 2007. He knew how important 2007 was going to be – the stars were aligned such that, if they executed correctly, the business could grow dramatically and benefit all of his team in many ways.

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But he also knew that unless everyone was involved, engaged and committed to the new efforts required to capitalize on these opportunities, the window would pass… and maybe never open up again.

Unfortunately, he didn’t feel like he had been able to get the message across. But it wasn’t because he hadn’t tried.

He had honed his PowerPoint presentation, practiced it and worked through the slides until he thought the presentation was great. When he delivered it the staff seemed interested and paid attention, but he didn’t feel it made any ‘real’ impact. Conversations at the water cooler and the information he was hearing confirmed his fears.

People hadn’t gotten it; they didn’t buy in to it.

He continued to share his message in every way he could think of – putting his PowerPoint slides on the company website, offering to answer questions and more. He even sent an email to everyone reminding them about the opportunities 2007 would provide, coining the phrase, “Shooting Towards Heaven in 2007.”

Even he thought this was silly, but he didn’t know what else to do.

All of this weighed on his mind as he walked upstairs to put his seven year old to bed. While Kim could read, she loved hearing her Daddy read, and he loved reading to her. That night they chose one of the mutual favorites – The Little Engine That Could.

He kissed her goodnight and walked downstairs. On the fourth step it hit him.

Stories!

He thought, “If I tried to tell Kim the message of persistence with five bullet points on a slide, or in an email, or with a slogan alone, she wouldn’t want to keep hearing it. In fact, she’d probably tune me out. But she’ll listen to the story over and over – and she is understanding and believing in the value of persistence, just like the Little Engine taught her.”

Glenn went to living room and turned off the TV. He sat thinking and taking notes about the story he could create to help his team understand the opportunities of 2007.

But he was stumped.

So the next morning he called his old friend Susan and asked to have lunch with her. She was only available that day, and since he was desperate, he re-arranged his schedule to meet with her.

He explained his situation to Susan, talking about the opportunity, explaining his challenges and more. Susan listened carefully when he was done, she asked, “Did you ever study Aristotle?”

Glenn, startled, answered that he hadn’t really studied him, but he knew he was “a really smart Greek guy.” They both laughed at that comment and then Susan said she agreed with Glenn that a story might help him solve his communication and persuasion challenge – and that Aristotle could help.

She explained that Aristotle had, 2500 years ago, laid out the basics of effective persuasive stories:

1. Exodium. Find a way to get people’s attention.
2. Narratio. Pose a problem that the listener is having.
3. Confirmatio. Pose a possible solution.
4. Peroratio. State the benefits of taking action on this solution.

Glenn tried to take notes on his napkin, but his spelling was awful so he gave up.

Noticing this, Susan smiled and said, “how about I share Aristotle’s ideas in English?”

Glenn was grateful and did take notes as Susan explained a bit more about what she meant.

Glenn’s Notes

When their lunch and conversation was over, Glenn thanked Susan and reviewed his notes. He knew that now he had a game plan for helping people see what 2007 could mean to the business… and to them. He notes read:

--Basic Informational Story Principles

--Grab Attention

--Make it real

--Make it personal

--Help them understand

--Maybe start with a question

--Create a desire to resolve the situation

--Create the problem

--Peril, risk – the elements of any good movie, translated to your situation

--Help people identify with the story, whether the story is directly or indirectly about them

--Offer a solution

--How it was solved in the story

--Explain how to get that solution

--Make it attainable

--Share steps

--Help the listener to discover the solution

Glenn is currently crafting his story. Time will tell how successful he will be, but he is confident that if he builds the right story, he’ll get the results he wants.

Who do you need to persuade?

What story can you tell them?

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