The Power of the Message – Why It’s Important to Tell Stories

How can your communications engage stakeholders to take action and drive mission value?

This was the big question addressed at FCG and GovDelivery’s Annual Digital Communications event: The Power of the Message. The event brought together government leaders at all levels to discuss the importance of effective communication and the power of your message.

Keynote speaker, Paul Smith, Author of the best-selling book Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince, and Inspire, kicked off the morning with his presentation based off his book. According to Smith, storytelling is a powerful way to deliver your message and an important skill for app, but particularly, leaders, to learn. With all of the ways to communicate nowadays, from social media to texting to powerpoint presentations, perhaps nothing is more effective than a well-told story. As Smith noted, “experience is the best teacher, with a story being a close second.”

Smith shared his 6 top reasons for storytelling:

  • Storytelling is simple- anyone can do it and anyone can understand it. It’s human nature to tell stories and we should leverage this natural ability.
  • Storytelling is timeless- it’s not a fad and not dependent on technology.
  • Storytelling is demographic proof- regardless of age, experience etc people can tell and learn from a story
  • Storytelling is contagious- a good story can travel, it can be re-purposed, and it can be passed around by word of mouth. As Smith said, “people share great stories, not policy memos.”
  • Stories are easy to remember- think of that powerful story you heard years ago. Or a funny story your friend shared that feels like you were part of. The easier something is to remember, the more effective and lasting your message becomes.
  • Stories inspire people- as Smith said, “nobody talks about a powerpoint presentation, but they will share a story.” If you want people to believe in your message and understand your mission (regardless of what it is) you have to inspire people. A good story can do that.

So, now that we know why stories are valuable and how they can share your message like no other form of communication, when do you actually use them? All the time? Half the time? One-on-one of in front of CEOs? Smith shared that stories are not always a great management tool, but they are an effective leadership tool- mainly for the ability to inspire. Stories may not help you with strategy or detailed business decisions, but to communicate that strategy and to rally people around it, stories can be very important. Smith shared three times storytelling can be effective:

  • Making a recommendation
  • Helping people find passion at work
  • Teaching important lessons

To end his presentation, Smith highlighted two common mistakes/opinions when trying to implement more stories into your leadership style:

  • Storytelling can’t be learned. Like any other skill, you can get better at storytelling. Unfortunately, we don’t invest the time to get better. However, if you practice, take trainings, and study the skill you can learn how to tell a great story.
  • Apologizing or asking for permission to tell the story. Many times in professional settings we begin our stories by saying,”I’d like to share a story and it will only take a minute” or “sorry, but there is a good story…” Opening with an apology immediately sets your story up for failure as people expect it to be less important that the meeting. Value the story and never ask for permission to share it.

You can learn more about Paul Smith’s book here and learn more about the power of the message here.

GovDelivery is the #1 sender of government-to-citizen communications, serving over 550 government entities worldwide and more than half of major U.S. federal agencies. Organizations use GovDelivery to send over one billion messages every quarter on a broad range of topics including national emergencies, health alerts, tax policy changes and more. Check out their User Group on GovLoop.

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