Storytelling is key for successful intrapreneurs

Blogpost written by  Heather Dietz, innovation consultant and social intrapreneurship specialist at Imaginals. She will be a speaker at the Intrapreneurship 2012 Conference (Paris, Dec 13th)

Everyone loves a great story.

Even the most shuttered heart can be opened with a classic, emotionally gripping tale.  And that is quite a powerful skill. 

Storytellers command respect

Storytellers throughout history have commanded respect and awe.  They have been the keepers of history, the Shamans, the spiritual leaders.  The stories they have told continue to inspire the people around them to believe and accomplish seemingly impossible goals.

And there is no less love for storytellers within the business community.  Inspirational leaders like Steve Jobs and Richard Branson rely on the art of storytelling to provoke and engage their employees, customers and consumers across the globe.

Why is storytelling critical for intrapreneurs ?

So what does that mean to the social intrapreneur?  Why is storytelling so important?

As an intrapreneur, you are tirelessly trying to build momentum for your projects – within challenging parameters.  Each stakeholder conversation is an opportunity to enlist another champion, another office maverick.

Because you are asking people to invest time and energy in a project outside of their day job, it is vital that you find ways to emotionally connect them to what you are trying to build.

“I’m not Steve Jobs, but…”

“That’s great,” you’re thinking “but I’m no Steve Jobs. What does this mean for me ?”

I’m glad you asked.

In my career, I’ve found that no matter who you are speaking with, or what story you are trying to tell, there are 5 simple techniques you can easily employ in order to be more effective at engaging others around your idea.

Here they are :

1. Know your audience

This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s remarkable how many people forget to take the time to understand to whom they are speaking.  Before you reach out to a colleague about your project, ask yourself: What is this person most passionate about?  What elements of this project are going to be most exciting to them? What are their personal goals?  Then find connection points in your story that will resonate specifically with them.

2. Create an experience.

Human beings generate visceral memories using all their senses.  It’s why you might have a flashback to a childhood experience when you catch a whiff of cinnamon.  If you want a colleague to genuinely connect to what you’re saying, ensure they are truly brought into the story.  Are there opportunities to set the scene with rich, detailed descriptions?  Can you bring in a tangible, visual aid that your colleague can hang on to?  Are you telling the story in a quiet place so your colleague can focus on what you’re saying?

3. Open Up

The most effective way to encourage a trust-filled interaction with your colleague is by sharing a bit of what makes you tick.  What gets you really excited about this piece of work?  Where have you hit a wall?  Be honest and don’t be afraid to be a bit vulnerable. More often than not, your colleague will have had a similar struggle as you.

4. Introduce a protagonist

The most engaging stories are the ones in which the audience can recognise a little bit of themselves, and in order to do that, we need to follow a hero/heroine on their transformational journey. That sounds complicated, but it’s really not.  Simply choose an important stakeholder in your project.  Give him/her a name. Describe their background – their hopes and goals.  And finally, use their journey as a way to tell the story.

(For example: instead of doing a data dump about the health benefits of a new vaccine, introduce your audience to Divya, a young mother without access to this vaccine, and then describe what her life will be like if the vaccine becomes available to her – and what will happen if it’s not.)

5. Practice

Now, you have a handle on your audience. You’ve created an honest, open story of human experience. Are you really going to negate all the work you’ve done by deciding to just ‘wing it?’ Actors don’t perform without rehearsal, and neither should you.  The process doesn’t need to be long and arduous, just be sure you’ve got a strong handle on all the story points – enough to adjust once you see what your audience responds to.

As an intrapreneur, the most important tools in your arsenal are your fellow warriors.  They are your champions, your sales team, and your allies in the battle against business as usual.

Get your colleagues’ support embracing your “inner Hemmingway”

In order to be sure that your colleagues are every bit as motivated as you are about your project, embrace your inner Hemmingway.

If you are feeling a bit stuck, look back at some of your favourite films, books, and anecdotes for inspiration.

Spice things up for your audience with vivid imagery, human truths, and appealing characters. Paint a picture of a world changed through heart, courage, and tenacity.

Then sit back and marvel, as your story gains a life of its own.

Heather Dietz

Heather Dietz is an innovation consultant and social intrapreneurship specialist at Imaginals. She will be a speaker at our Intrapreneurship 2012 Conference (Paris, Dec 13th), set up by Global Enterprise.