Enhancing employee engagement: embedding a theme with great storytelling

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The ASE often uses an event theme to build a narrative that helps participants grapple with the challenge in hand.

I recently blogged about the components of successful storytelling . I mentioned its rise as a key component of being a successful, authentic leader and communicator, and its power in an Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE) context, as stories can create a more engaging environment, a metaphor through which our clients can explore their challenges, and a tool to stimulate new ways of thinking.

We are all storytellers

The ASE often uses an event theme to build a narrative that helps participants grapple with the challenge in hand. Think of all the times you help solve a problem using a metaphor or a story from an experience elsewhere in life. A poorly thought through theme or a great theme with a poorly told story, could break the effectiveness of event outcomes. The below captures some principles for building themes and stories that should be applicable across the board, whether you’re a fellow ASE practitioner or a leader wanting to better engage your teams.

How do I build the theme and story?

1.Find the twist and the metaphor. The one that brings your story to life – We tend to use stories built around metaphors.  They offer another way for people to engage with their challenge or underlying issue.  It means they can discuss the challenge through the metaphor and also find ideas for how they solve it, without having to dive into organisational politics that often get in the way.

The other side of this is to not be lazy in identifying the metaphor.  Let me give you an example, superficially it’s easy to use something like Lego as a metaphor because it’s about building together, creativity and fun.  All good but there is another side to the Lego story, the one about a failing business, over extended, with poor product development and lagging customer engagement.  The journey they had to go on to rebuild their business is a really compelling story.  It also has the twist as most people see them as successful and don’t know they almost went under. Is the latter not a much better story than the standard building metaphor?

To get it right you need to identify what the real issue is.  Often in our events the root cause of many issues is below the surface and using your story to bring this out can be really powerful.

2. Find your authentic story – Once you have this, you can build the story of your own, if you choose to.  How can you bring the theme to life, make it relevant, engage the group?

3. Your hook and way in – In building your story, find the entry point.  How do you get and sustain the audience’s attention?  Think creatively about how this could be achieved, it might not be in a formal presentation.

4. Prepare to perform! – Prepare.  Know your story or metaphor.  More often than not you will find new ways to use your metaphor, perhaps to mirror a conversation the group are having, a new issue they have found.  To do this you need to invest time in your research. That investment will be well worth it because it will give you the opportunity to embed it into the challenge. You’ll be pleased in months to come the story is still being told.

There are many ways to become better storytellers, here I’ve listed just a few principles that help me when addressing my teams and participants at client events. Next time you have a challenge to overcome, a presentation to give, a bid to win, have a think about the stories that might help you be even more successful.

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