1: Imagine… We are giving a speech or a talk. For each person we can see in the audience, there are actually two listeners: the person we see, and a second listener, also known as the “little voice in the head.”

“I’ve got all these problems back in my office,” says the little voice in the head. “My inbox is filling up, I’ve got email to answer. If only I could slip out of here!” 

Whatever it is we are saying, the little voice may be focusing on something completely different, Stephen Denning tells us in The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative. 

So what do we do when we start to see our audience drift? Do we push on, hoping they will ignore the little voice in their head? The short answer? No.

“Instead we work in harmony with it. We engage it by giving it something to do,” Stephen writes. 

Which is? We tell a story. Because a story will “elicit a second story from the little voice in the head,” writes Stephen. 

This week we are exploring the idea of a springboard story which is “one of the easiest kinds of stories to tell,” Stephen observes. “It’s a story about the past that is told without a great deal of embellishment. It has the advantage of getting the listener to do the hard work of inventing the future. “

2: Today we are looking at the first two elements of a springboard story: first, it must be purposeful, and second, it should be told in a minimalist fashion.

“The first step in crafting a springboard story is getting clear on the change idea that you are trying to get across. What are you trying to change in the world?” he writes. “What are they not doing now that you want them to do in the future?”

The idea must be significant and have the potential to resonate in people’s hearts.  

“Having a clear and worthwhile idea is one of the principal differences between organizational storytelling and entertainment storytelling,” Stephen notes. “When you’re telling a story to entertain, you may get the audience to laugh or to cry, and that in itself is enough. 

“But when you’re telling a story in an organization, particularly a springboard story, you are telling it with a purpose, and you must keep that purpose steadily in mind.”

We use our purpose to decide what to include and what to exclude. We ask: “Is this part of the story relevant to communicating my purpose?” Stephen asks. “If it’s not relevant, it must be deleted, no matter how entertaining it may be.”

Our change idea also has to be clear enough so that people can understand if they are making progress in implementing it. In some cases, “people are very clear on what’s wrong with the current situation, but they haven’t thought through what things would be like if the problems were resolved,” Stephen observes.

“Unless we have “thought through what the organization would look like once those problems were resolved, it’s going to be hard to tell a powerful story that will help the organization get there.”

Then, we find an example where transformation has already occurred. We “want an example where the change has already taken place, at least in part. It may be in our own organization or community. Or it may be in another organization or community, preferably similar to yours.”

This allows the voice in the head to be distracted by creating their own future. There is no better way to motivate than to inspire others to find their own motivations. Springboard stories can do that.


Reflection: Consider a current business challenge. What springboard story could I tell to engage the listener?

 Action: Do it.

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