New Manager’s Survival Guide: Storytelling

by Ben Richardson
12th November 2019    4 Minutes
Light Saying We are all made of stories

A great story is not just about the hard facts, but the feelings we have when we hear them. Hearing a story that resonates with us makes it extremely memorable and relatable as humans are hard-wired for storytelling.

We have all heard great stories and remember them clearly. Being able to tell one is a skill that is worth the time to master.

As a new line manager, you will need to learn to communicate clearly to your team. Telling this using a great sorry will make your vision and values very clear and memorable for them.

Stories engage the emotion part of people’s brains in the way that lists and facts never can.

Let’s take a look at how you can build your storytelling skills.

 

Storytelling As A New Manager

You could be talking to one person, to your whole team or to a larger audience, but the rules stay the same.

As a manager, your job is to communicate clearly and unambiguously. The key to this is to engage your listeners and keep their attention.

 

What Makes a Good Story?

All great stories contain the same fundamental elements.

  1. Make it Compelling

A good story draws in its audience. Where possible add in elements of mystery that will make people want to know more and keep listening or add in surprises to make it more memorable.

  1. Energy & Passion

Seeing and hearing your passion and energy as you tell a story will help draw your listeners in and keep their attention.

Even the best story will struggle to engage if delivered in a flat monotone. After all, if you can’t get excited about your story which should your audience?

  1. Inject Emotion

A story isn’t just about what happened and when. It should convey feelings and emotion. Make sure to inject plenty of emotion into your story when telling it.

This will help your audience to understand the motivations and feelings of the people in your story so that they can relate to the people in the story themselves.

By allowing them to put themselves in the people in the story’s shoes and imagine how they feel you will make your story far more compelling and memorable.

 

Practising your Storytelling Skills

In your position as a new manager hopefully developing your listening skills is also a high priority.

You can learn a lot from how other people tell stories. If you listen to someone tell a great story take 3 minutes to think about how they made it so compelling and interesting.

As a general rule, the best stories all contain the following:

  • Use a hook

You don’t have long to get your audience’s attention. Start strongly by grabbing their attention with a daring opener.

  • Momentum

It is easy to lose people. Once you’ve made a good start keep up the pace and momentum of your story. Try not to wander from the point. It is better to keep a story too short than too long.

If you’re struggling to recall a fact don’t dwell on it unless it is absolutely critical as you will be losing people’s attention fast. Just note that it doesn’t matter and keep going. Your audience won’t remember the precise details so much as the broad thrust and punchline of your story.

  • Dramatic Peak / Punchline

All stories must lead somewhere. Make it punchy and worth the build-up. As we noted above, a surprise is always a very memorable way to finish a story if possible.

 

The Right Story For The Right Audience

High risk = High Reward & Low Risk = Low Reward

The more personal your story is and the more emotion that you inject into your story the more memorable it will be.

However, there is a risk when communicating highly personal anecdotes that your story won’t be appropriate for your audience.

This means that the more personal your story is, the surer you need to be of your audience. You will need to learn to calibrate your stories for your audience.

Light Disclosure: This form of storytelling is really just short and amusing anecdotes that aren’t particularly personal and private. They are appropriate when speaking to large audiences where you don’t know people well.

Medium Disclosure: These stories usually speak to your ideals and beliefs and so are relatively personal. They also contain opinions that substantiate your point. These are only appropriate for smaller gatherings where you know your audience at some level and so can be confident that your story is appropriate.

Heavy Disclosure: This kind of storytelling is very personal. It is usually only appropriate in a one to one setting where you know the other person well. It is also only really appropriate when you know that what you will speak about will be kept in confidence.

 

Presenting To An Audience

Whether you are telling a story or making a straight forward presentation the basics of presenting are always the same.

Even when you have your story mapped out, you have to be able to tell it with confidence.

Let’s have a quick look at the basics:

Body Language

The first thing people will pick up is your non-verbal communication, how you stand or sit and what you do with your hands.

Think about what constitutes confident posture and open up your body language to show people that you are relaxed and enthusiastic about telling your story. As we noted above if you can’t get excited about your story it’s going to be had to get anyone else to.

Eye Contact and Movement

You should try to make brief eye contact with everyone in your audience to ensure that you are engaging them.

Hand gestures and movement show that you are enthusiastic about your story. Don’t’ worry about using them, within reason, to put some energy into your story.

Voice and Volume

A monotone will send people to sleep and conveys no emotion whatsoever.

People will engage if they hear emotion in your voice.

Use appropriate changes in volume and pitch to keep listeners attention.

If you are confident using them, impressions are a sure way to grab peoples’ attention.

Remove Distractions

Anything that will disrupt the flow of your story should be avoided.

If your phone rings ignore it (unless it is an emergency obviously!) as you will not be able to pick up your story where you leave it.

If you have a ‘ping’ set on your phone or emails to alert you to new messages it is worth apologising and turning it off. Otherwise, constant pinging throughout your story will distract people and mean that they miss parts of it.

 

As a new manager, you have a long list of skills to pick up.

Communication, storytelling and influencing are critical. The foundations for these skills are all very similar so don’t worry, when you are practising one you will, in effect, be practising them all. After all, they are all different forms of communication.