How storytelling can help project managers influence stakeholders decisions

by Sylvie Edwards

The ability to tell a great tale, to move people with one’s stories has always been part of our culture and a sign that one has achieved something great or been there. Great storytelling can be the difference for any good project manager between influencing stakeholders decisions or not.

Did you know that in most cases you have only 15 seconds to capture a person’s attention and you can only expect to retain that person’s attention for an average of about 5 minutes? That’s not long at all so how can you ensure that your message carries the maximum amount of weight? Learn a new skill: become more of a storyteller.

Why could storytelling be important to a project manager? We might not be on a big stage swaying audiences by regaling them with heroic tales every day, but we do need to get stakeholders to look at what we are proposing and to relate to it. We are in the business of influencing stakeholders to do what needs to be done to achieve a goal.

For the most part, the information that we need to convey to our stakeholders isn’t that entertaining, in fact, it can be quite dry in some instances. So how do we elevate our communications a notch to ensure that we have their attention? The use of storytelling or using stories to place things in context that will resonate with our audiences is what can save us and make us better communicators. As with graphics in a presentation or charts in a report, storytelling helps by augmenting our ability to communicate more clearly to our audience. People do and will relate much faster and better to a story told than they would to technical language and business-speak. We make them feel comfortable by making it relevant. A word of caution: don’t take humor or jokes as storytelling. Yes, humor can be key and important, but jokes can sometimes have the reverse effect on people.

Stories also touch on our emotions and will help spread your message in a more meaningful way. People tend to share stories not so much basic raw data. When was the last time that someone wanted you to rattle off the budget numbers? Information put in this context comes alive and is easier to engage with. We can ensure that we enhance how ideas are shared and we also extend the spread of our message.

Supported by storytelling, you will soon notice that data will be more easily remembered and, in most cases, followed up by action on the part of the recipients more often. The use of analogies in our stories helps people link other’s experiences with their own which brings it all to a level that they can see or understand.

Think that you don’t have what it takes to be a storyteller? Well, you will be glad to know that it can be learned. You can do this with easy steps. First, start by watching others who do this well and see what their strategies are to get their message across. Great storytellers make it look so simple, and you don’t see the work that often goes into it. It does take time and practice, so don’t expect to turn into one overnight.

Stuck and don’t know where to start? Get on the Internet and check out the resources that are available to you on this topic.

Give it a try and see how you can improve how you relate and resonate through the simple art or skill of storytelling.


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