Note: the following article recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). I’m on the board of IABC DC Metro, and I often share content on communications.
By: Tony Stewart
Old habits die hard. As some managers mandate a return to the office, empowered employees — invigorated by the proven performance of remote working — are pushing back and demanding flexibility. If companies demand in-person attendance, they must make flexible working equally viable.
But such flexibility is resulting in people becoming overwhelmed — in their personal and work lives. We’ve got access to everything we need, all the time from the comfort of our living rooms. It’s connectivity for connectivity’s sake. We’re digitally joined up with more people than we’ll ever interact with, never mind talk to.
The result? Global organizations are struggling to streamline their communications, to overcome the noise and chatter this hyperconnectivity has caused. Now they’re in full retreat — cutting back on their channels to aid budget and save attention spans.
We, on the other hand, don’t know where to prioritize our time and energy. That can make joining a network, for business or leisure, a hard sell. The risk is that avoiding networks could mean siloes, isolation and a lack of creative collaboration. People don’t join companies for a solid social life.
By: Matt Russell
In a world where time and energy are limited resources, accomplishing everything within the constraints of a day can be a challenge. However, the advent of ChatGPT has brought about a fundamental change.
We now have the convenience of accessing artificial intelligence (AI) that can significantly speed up tasks and reduce effort. This not only enhances the quality of our work but also frees up more time and energy to focus on more valuable and fulfilling endeavors.
The key lies in taking that first step. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that a mere 12% of Americans have utilized ChatGPT for work-related tasks.
As we continue to explore the boundless potential of ChatGPT and similar tools, it's crucial to acknowledge that we are still in the early stages of fully comprehending their capabilities. This presents an excellent opportunity to embrace the possibilities offered by AI and give it a try.
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Blue Swift Consulting’s Alyssa Cox Concludes IABC DC Leadership Series with “Leading Through Vision”
Note: I serve on the IABC DC Metro board, and I wrote the following piece for the chapter's website.
Alyssa Cox of Blue Swift Consulting discussed the importance of setting a path that speaks to how an organization drives progress toward its overarching mission at IABC DC Metro’s “Leading Through Vision” on May 17. The webinar was the second of the chapter’s two-part leadership series.
“Vision helps us articulate what we need to be working on and it gives us guidelines for making strategic decisions for how we spend our time, where we deploy resources, and how we define success,” she said.
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Note: I serve on IABC DC Metro's board, and I wrote the following piece for the chapter's website.
Your leadership brand is an ad for why people should buy what you have to offer, advised Alyssa Cox of Blue Swift Consulting during IABC DC Metro’s “Establishing a Leadership Brand” on April 19. During the gathering, the first of the chapter’s two-part leadership series, she discussed the key dimensions of a leadership brand. Guests also completed a guided exercise to craft their leadership statement.
“Memorializing your brand in words makes you accountable to that brand,” Alyssa said, adding, “If you articulate what you mean to do, you’re much more likely to actually do things that way.”
Here’s an overview of the webinar:
1) Define your leadership brand: Alyssa noted the importance of being intentional. Everyday, multiple times a day, we have opportunities to be deliberate about how we behave and how we’re perceived. Intentionality shapes your reputation, as well as people’s perception of your brand.
Alyssa shared an anecdote about her former supervisor who advised that she learn who she was as a leader. He said: “If you don’t figure it out, other people will figure it out for you — and you may not like what they decide.”
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Note: I wrote the following piece for IABC DC Metro’s website. I’m a board volunteer with the chapter.
Interpersonal relationships are key to countering false and misleading information, advised Deanna Troust, founder and president of Truth in Common, during IABC DC Metro’s “Misinformation: How We Got Here, and What We Can Do About it.” The virtual gathering occurred on February 7.
Deanna explained communications professionals are especially needed in the mis/disinformation space as they are experts in human behavior, information channels, and how news and discussion influences others. Communicators are encouraged to notice people’s emotional reactions to information, check sources, and watch and listen to outlets they normally don’t consume as a form of market research.
“I believe human-centered approaches are vital or we’re not going to turn the ship,” she said, adding, “It can’t just be on media platforms, on policy makers, on the PhDs — it’s on every one of us. We, as communicators, can take a stand for the truth simply by being polite and asking questions. If we can all do that, we’ll be in a much better place.”
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Note: the following article recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). I volunteer for both
IABC DC Metro and IABCLA, and I wanted to share the content.
By: Adam Fuss, SCMP, MITI
On 25 January, Shel Holtz’s Catalyst article, “Generative Artificial Intelligence for Communicators” served as a wake-up call of sorts. Widely respected in the IABC community and broader communication profession, Shel outlined compelling and ethically sound use cases for how generative artificial intelligence (AI) technology can fit within the professional communicator’s toolkit.
Generative AI is all the rage now, and for good reason given its potential to transform content creation and other areas of life. Although not perfect by any stretch — no technology is — generative AI is here to stay and is almost certain to improve rapidly. Rather than debate whether it should play a role in our work, as professional communicators we would be far better served by debating how we should use it.
Not Entirely New
Generative AI tools like ChatGPT are relatively new, but the idea behind them is not. The underlying technology has been used in content creation for longer than people realize.
Machine translation, for example, has been particularly successful. Like generative AI, it uses neural network models to do the labor-intensive work of putting metaphorical pen to paper. It also comes with worries of its own regarding things like data security, privacy, accuracy, copyright, intellectual property and professional displacement, to name just a few.
Less frequently discussed are the potential impacts of these technologies on human creativity, critical thinking and professional development. With generative AI, we’re still very much in the realm of hypotheticals, but my own experience with machine translation over the years suggests that the path from possible to probable to definite may be very short indeed.
The time to broaden and deepen the ethical discussion of these technologies is now.
"What’s Taking so Long?"
I first encountered Google Translate in 2007, shortly after its launch. At the time I was working as a full-time translator, editor and copywriter, playing my small part helping Russian and western companies — or, rather, the people who worked for them — communicate better and engage more deeply with one another and their respective markets.
Curious about Google’s new technology, a colleague and I gave it a try using a few texts we were writing for an oil industry client. To our surprise, the results were quite good for both the English and Russian samples. Sure, Google mistranslated some numbers and didn’t do so well with the formidable double negation in Russian, but the output was something that could be cleaned up by professionals like ourselves.
For the next few days we used Google Translate for several full texts. While initially thrilled at having our jobs seemingly done for us, we quickly realized we were spending more time fixing Google’s translations than we would have spent doing the job properly straight away. When our boss began asking about the slowdown in our work, we decided to end our experiment.
The Power to Connect and Inform
Fast forward to the past several years, and the world is a very different place. Google Translate has improved by leaps and bounds. Machine translation technology more broadly is used everywhere from social media to travel sites, often with people completely unaware. It’s used by translation agencies to speed up the process of translating standardized texts (such as contracts and technical documentation), has been greenlit for use in medical settings and has mobilized European support for Ukraine to an astonishing effect. It has, in no uncertain terms, changed the world.
"Just Clean Up the Google"
Social media posts and travel reviews are one thing, but what about murkier use cases?
Many years after that first professional encounter with Google Translate, I found myself giving it another go when a client requested I turn around a 2,500-word translation in less than two hours — a tall order, to put it mildly. The document in question was a set of talking points to prep a Russian executive for an upcoming television interview. Under ideal circumstances, at least twice as much time would have been required to translate it properly.
“Just clean up the Google” was the response I received when protesting the lack of time.
I hesitated for a number of reasons. I feared turning in substandard quality that would reflect poorly on me as a professional. I felt like I was cheating. I harbored concerns about potentially giving sensitive intellectual property to Google in the process. This felt like far too serious of a project to let a machine take the lead.
But since there was no time for debate, I proceeded, careful to remove words and names I knew were sensitive before entering the text in Google. To say that I was blown away by the results would be an understatement.
Technically accurate and grammatically correct, the English version — available instantaneously — gave me an excellent starting point. Some sentences required restructuring, a few minor translation errors had to be corrected, but a number of sentences needed nothing at all. Several times I had to remind myself that I wasn’t working with human-generated output; it was that good.
Turning in a cleaned-up Google translation felt a bit dirty at first, but I rationalized it by telling myself that the document was never going to be published and that my client’s best interests demanded moving as quickly as possible.
But How Good Is Machine Translation at Connecting, Really?
Going back to common use cases — social media, travel reviews, medicine — those surely mean greater access to content that simply wouldn't be possible without machine translation. Exactly no one, after all, is going to invest in translating comments left by the masses on Trip Advisor or tweets about European security policy. The talking points, though slightly more problematic in the sense that this executive wasn’t handed the very best English translation possible, ultimately represented another use case where the good outweighed the bad. He ended up giving a really good interview, after all.
Had I been using Google Translate to translate a published work, however, I may have crossed a line. The less-than-perfect English in many Google translations, though technically accurate and grammatically sound, is often stylistically off even when cleaned up. But it wasn’t until well after I had submitted the job that I began to fully appreciate this.
Consider the following two sentence formulations, which mimic some of the language I was working with:
1) According to the results of the latest survey of customers that was conducted by our company….
2) A recent customer survey ran by our company showed that…
There’s nothing wrong with the first sentence. It’s accurate and faithfully reflects what would appear in numerous languages where passive voice is acceptable. It’s how a native English speaker who’s not used to writing professionally might formulate it in a hurry. In all likelihood, something similar made it to my client even after my clean up. But it’s clearly not as good as the second version, which is closer to what I would have written myself.
And therein lies the problem.
Machine translation is capable of generating such accurate and grammatically sound copy that one can easily get lazy and simply accept sub-optimal output. This state of affairs can just as easily hinder communication as aid it, especially when people are made to sound like the bureaucrats they may well be or, in the worst-case scenario, like the robots they most certainly are not.
I can only wonder how this experience will soon be mirrored with content generated by ChatGPT and similar tools, if it’s not already.
The Tough Questions We Must Ask
Shel Holtz rightly points to the IABC Code of Ethics as a starting point for how professional communicators should approach the use of generative AI tools. But as this trend continues to emerge with real-world use cases, IABC’s code (and others like it) is not currently well equipped to answer the bigger questions that we would do well to discuss sooner rather than later. Here are just a few, in no particular order of importance:
1) How can people be expected to devote time to their craft (writing, translation, photography, graphic design, etc.) when “good enough” output can be generated instantaneously and free of charge by AI? Or do we expect them to?
2) How can we prevent or mitigate talent displacement resulting from AI use in our profession? Or do we?
3) Will people develop a preference for the output of machines? Is that a problem? How do we guard against it?
4) What does increasingly good machine output mean for training future professionals? Do machines become gatekeepers? Do machines train people? Does machine output provide a standard against which students and early career professionals are measured?
5)Is there a point to funding the study of languages, translation, creative writing, journalism, or other creative skills like videography, graphic design and photography?
6) Will people forget how to research topics and lose their ability to think critically about sources? What does fact-checking look like?
7) What will we do when AI tools introduce bias, even though their output might be factually correct? Will we be skilled enough to spot it? Will we care enough?
8) What does attribution look like? Should communicators or publications be required to disclose the use of generative AI? Should there be a threshold or percentage of how much AI-generated content is acceptable in a given communication?
9) Should there be an expectation that humans should always be involved when generative AI is used?
These are not easy questions, but organizations like IABC are well positioned to address them. Several years ago, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in the UK and the Canadian Public Relations Society jointly published the “Ethics Guide to Artificial Intelligence in PR.” Now is the perfect time for IABC to go a step further and create a robust position statement and/or expand our Code of Ethics to specifically cover issues related to generative AI use in the same way that the American Translators Association did several years ago with machine translation.
Business communicators are often criticized for reacting to events as they happen; such is often the nature of our work. But with generative AI, we would do well to be strategic and forward-looking in addressing both the potential promise and peril that these tools hold. It’s an effort we owe our organizations, our profession and ourselves.
Photo: Alex Knight
Note: the following article recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of IABC. Suzanne O’Brien, a career coach and founder/CEO of LevelUp Careers, led a discussion for IABC Seattle on how to advance your communications career. I wanted to share the piece as it offers helpful content. I serve on the board of IABC Los Angeles (IABCLA).
By: Mary Gable
You might think that communications pros would be naturals at the job search. After all, we write copy that draws readers in. We develop messaging strategies that help businesses get noticed. We prepare talking points that make leaders shine.
But sometimes the hardest product to sell is yourself — and even the savviest communicators aren’t immune from this challenge. Fortunately, even if you dread updating your resume or working your network, there are a few easy ways you can use your communication skills to help land your next job.
That’s exactly what Suzanne OBrien shared during IABC’s Seattle’s latest ProTalk. Suzanne is a career coach and founder/CEO of Suzanne OBrien Careers and specializes in helping professionals define their value, build a professional brand and maximize results at each step of the job search. Here are a few of the top takeaways from the discussion.
Don’t: Think of job descriptions as a list of requirements.
Do: Consider them an employer’s wish list.
Job descriptions often include a statement such as, “The ideal candidate will have…” Many job seekers, particularly women, tend to interpret this as a list of must-haves. However, the key word here is “ideal,” Suzanne says. “It might be that you haven’t done that exact thing, but have done something similar. Or have done it in your personal life. Or are passionate about the space. Whatever the situation, find a way to tell that story and bridge that gap.”
She points out that this is equally important to consider if you’re the hiring manager and want to be more inclusive. “If you would still hire a strong candidate who didn’t meet a particular requirement, take it out.”
Don’t: Focus on where you fall short.
Do: Share what you’ve accomplished.
In resumes and cover letters, we tend to say things like, “I currently lead communications at a healthcare company, but I’d really like to lead communications at a tech company.” We lead with the differences and things we don’t currently do. This draws attention to where we’re unqualified.
Instead, Suzanne says, “Imagine a Venn diagram with what you’ve done in one circle, and where you want to be in another. Build your story around where they intersect.”
Don’t: Over-emphasize the job you already have.
Do: Position yourself for the job you want.
Use LinkedIn’s features to your advantage. While the headline of your profile could be [TITLE] at [COMPANY], if you’re looking for a new role, use that space to position yourself for where you want to go next. Your summary is another great place to articulate your personal brand and highlight what you can offer — even if it’s not exactly what you’re doing now.
“A given task might only be 10% of the work you’re doing now. But if it’s 90% of what you want to be doing in the future, that’s where you should focus,” Suzanne says. And while the most challenging projects might be the ones you’re most proud of, “If you hated doing it, don’t put it on your resume.”
Don’t: Worry about being well-rounded.
Do: Develop your personal brand.
Recruiters and hiring managers are likely sorting through hundreds of applications for a position. One way to stand out is to send a clear and consistent message across your LinkedIn profile, resume, cover letter and interviews — and you can do this by determining your personal brand.
Suzanne recommends that clients think about their personal brands in terms of three themes. “These could include the work you do, how you go about doing it, how you interact with others, or what you’d like to be doing,” she says.
“If you’re stumped on an interview question, bring it back to one of your three themes. This will leave interviewers with a clear idea of what you have to offer and what sets you apart.”
Photo: Tima Miroshnichenko
Thank you to my friend and colleague, Julie Wright of (W)right on Communications, for crafting this insightful piece to what lies ahead this year in PR — it was too good not to share!
SAN DIEGO; Jan. 10, 2023 — When you advise innovators, change makers and industry leaders every day, it’s expected that you’re also keeping a finger or two on the pulse of shifting trends in business, public relations, and media. It’s our job to help client partners understand current trends, spot future trends, and make the most of them.
So, what are we ready to make the most of in 2023?
Click here to read the rest of the piece!
Photo: Eugene Capon
Note: the following article recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of IABC, and I wanted to share the piece as it offers helpful content. I serve on the board of IABC Los Angeles (IABCLA).
By: Danielle Bond, SCMP
Climate change is a complex topic, but it’s one that needs our attention. It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation, so what role can communicators play in helping organizations and the public understand its urgency?
I spoke with Dr. Marco Tedesco, a Lamont research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and an adjunct scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. His research focuses on the dynamics of seasonal snowpack, ice sheet surface properties, high latitude fieldwork, global climate change and its implications on the economy and real estate.
Dr. Tedesco speaks about humanizing climate science through empathy and the impacts climate change is having on human species and the planet. He talks of his concerns about greenwashing and its impact on real climate transformation, as well as the unintended climate gentrification impacts — the intersection of climate change with other social justice issues.
We are now in a different territory when it comes to climate change, according to Dr. Tedesco. “There is a new generation of media and communicators who grew up with climate baked into their culture,” he says.
So how can we do more? Through convergence of intersectionality, information, inspiration, urgency and humanization.
Ultimately, he says scientists are humans who are motivated by their love of the planet. His advice for communicators is to learn the science in the same way scientists must learn communication.
“The convergence toward the meeting of the two disciplines of communication and science has to happen on both sides, and I think this is happening,” he says. But we can do more. Read on to find out how.
We want to elevate amongst our members and the broader communications profession the role we can play in helping audiences understand climate risk and the transition that's needed if we're going to avoid catastrophic outcomes. As a scientist, how important do you believe good communication is in tackling the climate crisis?
Some scientists don't feel comfortable expressing too much of their view besides the proper numbers. When you combine this with the coverage of false information, the beginning of climate science has been very bumpy.
There is a new generation of media and communicators who grew up with climate baked into their culture. There's a better understanding from the public, too. You see this with the way the economic market is reacting, the choices toward net zero — they are supported by government, but also embraced by people.
If we look at climate change as a hazard, it’s really the combination of the physical manifestation of climate change and the exposure of people. Over the last five years, there has been a shift in consciousness of the global scale of the anthropogenic nature of climate change, and the energy revolution that we're all living through. There has been more room to focus on the social side of climate change — and I do believe that climate change is a social justice problem before being a physical problem. It's of course both. However, I think the social side of climate change is far more immediate. It needs more attention as people are suffering now.
How can we communicate with the right amount of urgency — but at the same time, not to the point that people feel like they can’t do anything about it?
It's complicated to talk about such big themes and try to provide people with tools to scale them properly. When it comes to climate change, the issues are so big they become unfathomable, so we start to forget about it.
Some people compare the concept of climate change with the concept of death. You can only process part of it, and at some point you keep living with the idea of it — knowing that it's going to happen. But you don't know how to deal with that.
There is a huge machinery required to build a scientific consensus at a global level.
We have a duty and responsibility to not only promote the science, but to actively promote the potential of science. We need to connect and align globally and not just annually — across financial markets, policy and scientifically.
Balancing the right amount of urgency with context and curating the facts in a connected way is paramount. We need to share scientific discoveries and the consequences of these discoveries with governments, industries and consumers.
Can you reflect on any examples where you've seen science and business communicators working together effectively to build understanding and trust around these complex issues?
The Washington Post was a real turn in direction, winning a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for their work. They were the ones instead of scientists who took a risk and created a common language through their communication style and graphics. They became such experts on something that we knew as scientists. I think they built trust with the readers about their competence on the science, explaining the information in a way that wasn’t sterile. It was strongly contextualized through other research that was part of the knowledge of the communicator. The message was strong, organic and coherent to building on multiple articles.
They really built a crowd and engaged the audience to be educated, similar to what the New York Times did. They were direct, straight to the heart of the piece. The language was burning, passionate and yet very technical. You could feel they were thinking about humanizing — you could feel that they were heavily involved in the research and they cared about the article.
4) Humanizing a Complex Issue — The Washington Post’s Award-Winning Climate Reporting
In 2020, the Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize for its climate change reporting, “2°C: Beyond the Limit,” a piece that blends nearly two centuries of temperature data with the realities of global hot spots today.
The Post analyzed 170 years of temperature records, pinpointing locations where the climate has already increased 2 degrees Celsius (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) — a threshold the international community hopes the planet will not reach.
Following this research, teams of journalists were deployed to put a face to this complex issue, telling the story of scientists, government officials, farmers and more who are impacted by these hot spots.
“As with the coronavirus, we are well served if we pay attention to the science. In producing this series, our staff not only paid attention to the science, but also built on it with deeper and more granular analysis,” The Post says in a release about their coverage. “And then, with the full resources of our news organization, we put a human face to the numbers, showing the severe impact that extreme warming is already having on communities around the world.”
How can we help translate climate science so it's meaningful and actionable by people?
I think we need to humanize the way we communicate it. It's important for those who listen and those who talk.
I look at [climate change] in a very emotional way, as would most scientists. We’re people who are in love with nature, and we shouldn’t forget this. Yes, the proper communication of proper scientific results is important, but how can we just be technicians?
Humanizing climate change has become more natural, but at the same time the question is how we tell these stories without overselling progress. I think empathy is something that can be stimulated through the humanizing side of climate change. It is one extremely powerful tool that is now being properly developed and utilized in many cultures. It could also help [us] better understand in which direction to fix things.
Humanizing the consequences of climate change is not just good for communicating to lay people, but it's been incredibly important for inspiring my new lines of work and research on climate justice.
Climate justice is the science of climate applied to society directly, rather than looking at long-term physical changes over 30, 50 or 100 years. We're talking about a different kind of climate science, which is to look at the short-term implication on people. I think in this case again, communication has been extremely important. It was the song that woke me up from the sleep.
Can you tell me about the two terms you used, climate justice and climate gentrification?
Climate gentrification is the process through which socially vulnerable populations are affected by climate events, displaced or forced to move out as a result of climate change.
What's going to happen to some areas or classes of population as we transition to our new energy [system]? How do we make it equitable and just? What about jobs in the energy sector for people who are socially vulnerable and are exposed to low-income issues, for example.
Climate justice looks in this direction and tries to understand what the impact on the socially vulnerable population has been, what can be done and what are the potential consequences of the actions they are taking now to mitigate climate change and the social level population. Another way to think about climate justice is as social justice seen through the lens of climate.
It's not only the socially vulnerable populations are more exposed, but they will be more and more exposed, and that's the sad reality.
7) How concerned are you about greenwashing? If you wanted to send a message to communication professionals, what might it be?
It goes back to the problem of accountability and liability. Unfortunately, we live in a society where we are bombed by information and misinformation. We get so much content within a single day that, at the end, the things that stick become part of our knowledge. With greenwashing, I think they're really capitalizing on this.
It's extremely important for communicators to be knowledgeable but not become too specialized. They are not just the expert communicator, but they need to know the facts and communicate those facts in a contextual way.
Communicators should understand that this is a battle and there is some exposure in being part of this battle. If they decide to go into this arena, they really need to spend time doing some homework and being stronger on the technical side.
Photo: Nataliya Vaitkevich at Pexels.com
Note: the following article recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of IABC. I wanted to share the piece as it offers helpful content. I serve on the board of IABC Los Angeles (IABCLA).
By: Nancy Duarte
When shelter-in-place orders came through, seemingly overnight, the world as I’d known it — my team had known it — was in lockdown. The following Monday would be our first all-company meeting since the mandatory shut down.
My team was facing our fiercest monster together. Sure, during our 34 years in business, we’ve endured other significant challenges, which tested our resolve. During that Monday meeting, we did what we’ve always done in crisis: We told stories.
After we told stories of overcoming previous crises, it became clear that my team had no intention of shrinking in fear. They would not be deterred. Rather, they rallied. With agility and innovation, our team transformed all of Duarte’s in-person workshops and all our clients’ massive live industry events to virtual experiences. It was no small feat. We did things during COVID we never thought possible.
Similarly, over the years, I have watched firsthand how our clients — who are leaders at the world’s highest-performing brands — use the power of story broaden their influence. Why? Because stories engage us and make us feel affection for an organization’s culture and products.
Our executive clients understand story is a powerful communication device. I’m not talking about fairy tales, fiction, falsehoods or spin. I’m talking about framing your point of view in a logical, story-based structure. Stories can move people to embrace big ideas and accomplish great things. Most of all, stories help us transform information into meaning and move us to act. Ultimately, that is why stories have the power to build influence.
Today, almost every role within an organization requires you to influence others in some way. Whether you manage a team, work alongside them or even communicate up … leveraging the power of story can help increase your influence.
1) Identity Stories: Illustrate Who We Are
First, stories provide insight into where we came from and what we stand for — as individuals and as organizations. The stories we share reveal to others why we show up the way we do and how our life experiences shaped and transformed us. This enables others to find moments of connection with us. We become more relatable characters, which helps foster trust and, in turn, build influence. Stories have the power to make ideas stick in our brains like glue, especially when we wrap them in a memorable and emotional story package. Every leader should have a handful of stories ready to share, so they can help others get unstuck.
These stories can be told from three perspectives:
A) I Stories: Told from the first person, an “I story” is one you personally experienced and learned a lesson from. These are the most powerful stories to tell because you can tell of your transformation from a place of personal conviction. As leaders, it’s essential to tell stories that tell of the messy middle and illustrate both triumph and failure. I’ll follow a leader who’s tried and failed and talks about it before I’ll follow one who pretends life isn’t hard.
B) We Stories: Similarly, “we stories” are stories experienced by a group of people you were part of who learned a lesson together. A “we story” could be about your family, your team, your company or community. These stories are about how you overcame obstacles with others, like the origin stories of co-founders or entire departments achieving a big goal. The stories can also be told with deep conviction from your perspective because you lived through it.
C) They Stories: Third-person stories, or “they stories,” are told about other people or historical events, but you personally played no part in it. You’re simply relaying the outcome of the lesson someone else learned. These stories are great to tell, but if you do tell one, immerse yourself in the lesson of the story and tell it in a way that transports people to feel like they were there.
Each of these story perspectives, when used in the right moment, can transform how others relate to you and your organization.
2) Insight Stories: Lend Meaning to Data
The power of story not only comes in the lessons learned but also in how people find meaning in the insights that lead to action. This is particularly true when discerning stories to tell from data to convey critical information or influence decision making.
Illustrating clear insights and making clear recommendations from data moves people from a place of “let me think about it...” to “let’s do something about it.” That’s why communicating data using story principles speeds up the decision-making process.
Many analytical roles spend time deeply exploring the data, and they can swizzle it and plot great charts. Some data geeks at this stage feel more comfortable flicking charts to those in a higher pay grade to figure out what data is telling you to do. Yet, one of two things happens when exploring data: You find either a problem or an opportunity in the data. But, once a problem or opportunity has been identified in data, you have a communication challenge to solve.
In order to advance in your career, the threshold for you to cross becomes learning how to explain the action others are to take based on data — and using story structures to do so. The ability to identify the action and communicate it well moves you from an individual contributor to a strategic advisor. And, as you build this muscle, you become more trusted and broaden your influence.
3) Idea Stories: Create New Futures
Finally, stories give traction to your ideas by moving an audience away from the status quo and creating longing for an alternate future. A great story has a cathartic release, where there’s a building of tension and releasing it. The beginning of a great talk should establish “what is.” This is the shared current reality and mindsets of the audience, organization and industry.
Then, you contrast the current state of “what is” with the future state by sharing “what could be.” The audience begins to see the ideal picture of their world with your idea adopted. The gap between “what is” and “what could be” is similar to the inciting incident in story. This gap between “what is” and “what could be” throws the hero’s world off balance and causes them to grapple whether they’ll leave what feels safe to them or choose your proposed future.
Stating the gaps clearly and repeatedly in your presentation helps the audience separate from
the status quo and makes your future state more alluring. However, like with any story, the audience knows that the path to “what could be” might not be an easy one. Like a young hobbit at the start of a book, your audience needs to be shaken out of complacency.
How you end a talk is very important. The principle of recency states that people will remember the last thing you said more than the beginning or middle, so make your final point powerful. End by stating what I call the “new bliss.” Make it clear how their world and life will flourish if they choose to adopt your idea in their future.
Great Stories Start With You
Through the power of story, we have been able to keep our teams focused and engaged during COVID. But it has required me, and really each one of us, to keep facing this unknown future by admitting our fears amidst the challenges which, when shared authentically, builds greater trust as we work toward our vision.
Communicating through story creates longing and makes others more willing to travel into the future with you. That’s why I encourage you to keep finding ways to infuse story into your communications. Whether you’re battling a monster like COVID or rolling out a new initiative in a challenging market, telling your story is the first step in changing the world.
Photo: Matheus Bertelli at Pexels.com
I'm Eli Natinsky and I'm a communication specialist. This blog explores my work and professional interests. I also delve into other topics, including media, marketing, pop culture, and technology.