1: Esther Choy was excited about moving into a new house and hired an interior designer.

Unfortunately, there was a disconnect between them, she shares in her book Let the Story Do the Work: The Art of Storytelling for Business Success.

When Esther would ask a question about delivery dates or pricing, the designer would provide lots of information: “I went to the supplier’s work room and inquired about the popularity and available yardage of the fabric and they said… and then I spoke to the seamstress three times and she said…”

Sometimes Esther would get the information she wanted as part of the monologue. Sometimes she wouldn’t.

“You know why they do that, right?” remarked a friend who oversees customer retention for a major online retailer. “Money?” Esther replied, noting the designer was being paid by the hour.

“No,” he said, “they do it to demonstrate their value.” The designer wanted Esther to understand how hard she had worked, how knowledgeable she was, and all the extra work she had performed to provide a high level of service. She wanted to appear competent.

Esther “just wanted a direct, concise answer to my question, with the opportunity to ask probing questions if needed,” she writes. The more quickly the designer provided the information, the more quickly Esther could get on with her life and the more valuable she would view the designer.

2: The key point? Understanding our audience is critical to successful communication. Neglecting in advance to think through what our audience wants and how they will likely react is a crucial ingredient of successful communication.

“There are three elements involved: the story, the storyteller, and the audience,” says storytelling expert Doug Lipman. As leaders, we must become adept at understanding and speaking from different points of view.

For example, suppose our story involves last year’s Super Bowl. In that case, fans of the champion Los Angeles Rams will likely be interested in information about the value of signing veteran superstars to win a title. At the same time, followers of the team which lost, the Cincinnati Bengals, will likely be open to a discussion of questionable calls by the refs.

3: We are wise to prepare on two levels for any presentation or interaction where we want to be persuasive:

o Internal: “What happens to [our] audience internally, or inside, involves what they feel and what they know,” writes Esther. The “knowing” is straightforward: We prepare by asking ourselves what we want our audience to learn from our presentation. We ask: What do they need to know? Ideally, something they didn’t know before.

But what they “feel” is also critical: “Whether we intend it or not, our audiences will experience a specific emotion—intrigued, bored, happy, unsettled, excited, apathetic, surprised, confused, or some combination—after listening to us,” Esther notes. Wise “communicators always try to predict how their message would make audiences feel, and alter messages that may not result in the hoped-for emotion.”

o  External: We prepare by considering in advance, first, what questions they might ask; and second, how they will act differently as a consequence of what we’ve presented.

“Follow-up questions are the number one indicator that [we] have created real interest in [our] listeners,” writes Esther. “Regardless of the form, a question means [our] audience wants to know more.”

And as storytellers, action is our ultimate goal. To effect change, we prepare by asking: what specifically do I want my audience to do? “It is about first being clear with what you are trying to accomplish—pitching an idea, suggesting a change, winning an account, or whatever—and then crafting [our] story from the point of view that will be most persuasive to those [we] need to convince.

More tomorrow!


Reflection: Think back on a time I was persuaded by someone else. What did I learn that was new? How did I feel? Did I ask questions? What did I do as a result?  

Action: Journal about the questions above.

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