How to inspire and motivate others through storytelling



This guest blog contribution is from Kate Hodgson

When I first entered the workforce I took a position that ended up being outsourced to a new company within the year of being hired. This decision affected a department of about 100 people and understandably made everyone nervous. During the months of transition this sentiment was only made worse as we were invited to listen to several different speeches. The intent was to reassurance us, but instead the speeches tended more towards rhetoric and cliched platitudes that were anything but inspirational or reassuring. Instead they offered little comfort and only served to alienate us even more. The morale of those affected started to quickly deteriorate and a year after the transition, I, along with more than half the original staff left.

When used properly, stories have a way of engaging and inspiring your audience. Our brains have actually evolved to respond to stories on a biochemical level. They make us pay attention to things that are important and enhance our social bonds with the goal of increasing our chances of survival. Because stories have the unique ability to influence our behaviour, as a leader, the stories you share can have profound influence on company culture. They can inspire loyalty and motivate your staff to perform at their highest potential.

However, for a story to influence others it has to follow a dramatic arc, otherwise you risk falling into platitudes and cliches that come across hollow and meaningless. A dramatic arc creates context and triggers our natural biochemical response in our brains. But for this to happen a story must have conflict and emotion to resonate with your audience. Conflict creates tension and forces us to pay attention and emotion enables us to empathize.

In a story structure, conflict comes first because it creates a tipping point that sets up the rest of the narrative. For leaders, conflict tends to be is the hardest part of storytelling, because often in life, conflict comes from times when we stumbled, were unsure and felt the most vulnerable. For some leaders, they fear this will make them appear weak, however it’s the moments of conflict that inherently come with universal themes that can be applied to everyone. For the listener, it makes it easier to relate to the person telling the story because they can see a bit of themselves in the storyteller.

After sharing the conflict, the rest of the story describes how you overcame obstacles and triumphed, or not, but it should always reveal what you learned. It’s the details of how you recovered, of how you fought, that shows your message. For those listening, it’s easier to become intrinsically motivated because they have connected on a deeper more personal level.

Unfortunately, the tendency in business is to skip over these details, because often the struggle of overcoming obstacles involves emotion. Rarely, however, have people been inspired by numbers. It’s our emotions and relationships that make us human and allows us to see how we are alike, not separate.

Next time when you have a message to share, or an opportunity to inspire, first think about your message and recall a moment in your life when you did just that. And then share it!



This guest blog contribution is from Kate Hodgson. Kate is the founder of 9to5 Narrative a professional story telling organization based in Toronto.


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