Rance Greene

In your next meeting, instead of breaking out a PowerPoint presentation, why not tell a story instead? Stories have more application in business than most people realize, says Rance Greene, a trainer who specializes in teaching storytelling techniques.

“When I’ve asked leaders how they are already using stories, they generally say things like, ‘I share stories to make personal connections with my team or bring humor into a situation.’ Leaders use stories to sell their products or to communicate company values to someone,” Greene says. These are all great uses of stories, but Greene says they can be used for more purposes than most people think.

Greene will lead a webinar on story design for the Mid New Jersey Association for Talent Development on Wednesday, February 26, from 6 to 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. For more information, visit www.midnatd.org.

“Stories are memorable,” Greene says. “If you want people to remember your message, tell a story. Stories are actionable. They prepare you to take action. Stories are like a flight simulator. As you are consuming the story, those neurons that are firing as you listen to the story are firing when you’re out there in the workplace doing the thing that you were asked to do. Stories prepare you to take that action.”

Stories are also emotional, which is important because emotion is required to inspire action, Greene says.

Greene will teach his method of story creation, which is adaptable to multiple business settings. The key to crafting a good story is understanding the audience. “You need to know what the characters need to be in the story, and how that character is going to connect with the audience emotionally,” he says. “Look at your audience and ask yourself, what is their current circumstance? How are they reacting to those circumstances? And thirdly, how is your message going to make them feel? … If you can answer those three questions, then it’s a good indicator you have a fairly good grasp on how your audience is going to react, and construct a character in similar circumstances with similar reactions to the circumstances and similar feelings.”

Crafting an emotionally resonant story can be challenging in some business environments, but still necessary. “Yes if you are presenting to a group of actuaries and you need them to do something, you need to connect with them on an emotional level,” Greene says. “They are still people, and they do have emotions. It might be a different emotion than what you would present to a group of customer service advocates or a group of CEOS, but there is still an emotional piece to every person in the room no matter who they are.” Greene says it’s important to keep in mind that “emotion” doesn’t always mean being dramatic, and it doesn’t just mean making someone laugh or cry.

Aside from getting the characters and emotional resonance right, it is crucial to be clear about what action you want the audience to take based on the story. For example, a leader might come in and start a meeting saying something about how there has been a dip in production and tell the employees to course correct. Or they might say that clients have noticed a slip in deliverables and order the team to stick to project timelines. Or they might ask if anyone has ideas about increasing performance metrics.

All of these are examples of bad calls to action because everyone leaves the meeting unclear about what to do next: “Course correcting” is too vague.

Storytelling can come to the rescue. For example, a leader might connect with the team by telling a personal story about a time he or she got overwhelmed with work, and how they got through it. Or they might bring out a customer complaint as a case study and determine why a deadline was missed. Or they might craft a fictional story about a project manager who is finding it hard to meet deadlines, and then ask teams for suggestions on how to help the fictional character. “The conversation then just comes alive,” Greene says.

He says leaders should not be afraid to use fiction if a true personal story or a case study isn’t appropriate. “All three are valid and useful,” he says. “People shy away from fiction, but I use fiction all the time. People shouldn’t be afraid to use fiction in a business setting. Fiction is useful because you can make it do anything you want.”

Among the most notable storytellers of the business world was Steve Jobs. Other companies have used it to great advantage. For example, Southwest Airlines runs employees through compliance trainings that are interactive stories where trainees are asked to make important decisions as it goes along. “It gives learners an opportunity to work through that problem,” Greene says.

That example is one of several that appear in Greene’s book, “Instructional Story Design,” available on April 1. For more information, visit www.needastory.com.

Greene grew up in North Carolina, where his father was a human resources manager and his mother a teacher’s aide. His career took an unconventional path. He studied performing arts at Appalachian State University, switching majors between visual arts, music, and theater before settling on dance, and later earning a master’s in choreography. After graduation he moved to New York to join a dance company but ended up working at Goldman Sachs for a short time.

In New York his career changed abruptly. “I had an encounter with God that completely changed my life,” he says. He then became a minister, running a church in Times Square. After nine years he moved to North Carolina and then to Dallas, where he works in talent development mainly for healthcare industry companies.

His expertise in storytelling didn’t come from the business world: it came from his ministry. “I spent a lot of time with high school kids, and the way to reach them a lot of times was through storytelling,” he says. “The Bible itself being a treasure trove of stories.”

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