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How to Turn Storytelling into a Science

Posted on  4 October 11  by 

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Enabling CommunicationI can teach you how to swim. It can be any stroke you want. You probably know some freestyle and you’ve heard butterfly is hard, right? Butterfly it is. You probably won’t be as good as Michael Phelps or win any gold medals but you can swim butterfly. Because I’ll tell you a secret; butterfly is easy. Sure, it’s probably the most tiring way to swim from one side of the pool to the other, but there isn’t anything mechanically difficult about it.

As with learning any new skill, it might sound impossibly daunting at first. But then I’ll show you how to kick like your legs are stuck together and use your arms to pull in tandem. We’ll put it together in a full-body rhythm that will probably feel like you’re trying to do the snake in Jell-O — except less graceful. And that will be it. A little practice, some gentle reminders to breathe when it’s most natural to the stroke and you’re done. You can swim butterfly.

Learning most things is a matter of willingness, aptitude, and finding a competent teacher. As we talk about the importance of Communicators as enablers, it’s clear that this coaching function is more of a ‘when’ than an ‘if’.

Breaking down a communications strategy to make it more accessible is the first step in teaching a new communications skill to noncommunicators. The soft skills — a.k.a. interpersonal skills — that communicators deal in can be intimidating because they aren’t often thought of as something that can be taught. More often than not, people have developed a static perception of their own soft skills and will get anxious if they think they are being pushed beyond their comfort zone. If Communicators are going to help them improve, the first step is to convince them that it’s easy.

Professional communicators can help demystify these skills by breaking them down into easily actionable components. Though basic guidelines may seem overly simple to the pros, they can overcome the greatest hurdle for many to unlocking their soft skills — the perception that they can’t improve.

Take a look at how Continental Airlines broke storytelling into four simple steps to train managers to use stories to emotionally engage with employees:

  1. Design a Story
  2. Tell the Story and Receive Feedback
  3. Tailor the Story for Specific Audiences
  4. Tailor the Story for Specific Objectives

The airline got such positive feedback and had such success with their first storytelling practice sessions that they rolled it out to all of their managers. For more information on helping managers overcome their fear of communicating and telling stories, CEC members can learn how to equip your managers with story telling skills.

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