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Good Storytelling Leads to Effective Meetings

Monday, December 7, 2015 - 15:00
Story Telling Effective Meetings

Some striking statistics from a recent infographic “2015: The year of video marketing” inspired me to connect a few dots.

In the infographic, a review of the latest research revealed experts believe video will account for more than half (57%) of consumer Internet traffic in 2015. In another three years, researchers expect video’s share of online traffic to rise to 80%. Internet video already represents half of all mobile traffic.

But volume isn’t the most remarkable aspect of these stats, viewer behavior is:

  • 65% of video viewers watch more than three quarters of a clip.
  • 78% of people watch videos online every week, while 55% of them watch online videos every day.
  • 75% of “business executives” watch work-related videos at least weekly, and more than half (54%) of “senior executives” share work-related videos at least weekly.

Video usage and storytelling on the rise

Overall, eight in every 10 senior executives surveyed say they watch more online video today than they did a year ago. And then, the final connections hit me… Why do so many people—in business or otherwise—watch so much video? Because video is a powerful means of storytelling.

As Susan Weinschenk explains in her “Brain Wise” column for Psychology Today:

“Everyone likes stories. We like to listen to stories, read stories, watch stories (movies, TV, theatre) and tell stories. In fact, stories are our normal mode of information processing. Stories are so normal to us that we don’t even stop to think about why that is.”

Integrating video trends and storytelling into meetings

So, if other research indicates a lot of U.S. business people feel many of the hours they spend in meetings are wasted, then maybe the way we conduct those gatherings is just plain boring compared to watching online video? Maybe, as meeting leaders, we aren’t telling compelling stories with our agendas, presentations and commentaries in the conference room.

“Stories are authentic human experiences. Stories leap frog the technology and bring us to the core of experience,” writes Pamela Rutledge in another piece for Psychology Today.

Think about some of the most memorable, productive meetings you attended recently. I bet the leader of the session was a good storyteller. And in her article for the SmartBlog on Leadership, author and learning guru Julie Winkle Giulioni tells us some of the reasons why:

  • Well-told stories appeal to a broad spectrum of learning, listening and info-processing styles.
  • Gripping stories tap emotions, creating visceral impact in a way even the best PowerPoint slides cannot.
  • In-person stories reach us by “human” means versus email, texting, etc., which enables them to cut through thousands of other disembodied messages bombarding us daily.
  • Efficient stories predigest and package vast amounts of information for “grateful inhabitants of a time-starved world.”
  • When told live, stories create not just a shared experience, but a shared space for dialogue, which many workers, feeling disconnected in today’s virtual world, may be craving.

How do meeting leaders become better storytellers?

Here are some tips gleaned from Giulioni’s work:

  • Apply a classic 3-part structure—set-up, confrontation and resolution—to your stories that lends itself to a variety of story types.
  • Sprinkle—don’t drown—your stories with metaphors and analogies to offer descriptive imagery that illuminate abstract ideas and concepts, making them memorable.
  • Repeat key lines from your stories to trigger understanding—but don’t overdo it.
  • Add surprises and twists to your story to keep listeners “on the edge” of their seats.
  • Practice the call-and-response technique by occasionally asking listeners to participate in your tales, sharing instant reactions and quick observations.

You’re running a meeting to a theater company

To quell any nerves stemming from performance anxiety before your meeting starts and your stories begin, take a few deep breaths and remember your attendees don’t expect to hear Shakespeare.

As Giulioni shares in her recent post, meeting leaders shouldn’t aim for flawless performance:

“The best and most memorable [stories] feel honest and candid. They reveal vulnerability and even mistakes. As a result, they evoke emotion. In fact, research suggests that people learn more from stories of struggles overcome than stories of perfection. When leaders let their defenses down and share errors, missteps and mess-ups, they not only gain greater credibility; they also teach more.”

Have you ever tried storytelling in your meetings? Did it improve them?


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