Using Metrics and Stories: What is a Story’s Purpose?



October 14, 2016

Earlier this year, we presented a second “KM Conversation” with experienced library and information industry leader Stephen Abram, titled “Using Metrics and Stories: What Does Success Really Look Like?” During the session Stephen shared the real purpose of storytelling in a professional context.

What’s my purpose?

It’s easy to think that the purpose of telling a story is to communicate something important, but according to Stephen Abram, we’re doing it wrong if we work on that assumption. We’re doing it right if we know the true purpose is to engage someone and to plant a seed in the context of the listener’s mind and experience.

Why are you picking on me?

It’s also easy to think that your listener is antagonistic or negative if they ask you challenging questions, or if they confront you based on some element of your story. But it’s actually good news. It means they are engaged. Remember that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. So an indifferent listener is likely signaling that your story may be communicating something, but it’s not engaging your audience and it’s not planting a seed. Obviously you need to be prepared with a smooth communication style when you answer their questions, and your storytelling goals must be aligned with what’s in their mind and their experience.

Effective storytelling can occur one-to-one, or many-to-many

Examples of one-to-one storytelling opportunities include time with a key client, orientations for new employees, or meetings with department heads, project leaders, or executives responsible for major units or practices. If you “know your audience,” your stories will be a powerful way to communicate value and credibility.

One-to-many storytelling encompasses such strategies as tailoring the top block of your regular management reports to engage your audience with what’s working well. For visual engagement, you can develop a banner ad and place it on your reports or on your intranet sites(s). Again, leverage these opportunities to communicate your value to the organization, and your linkages to your listeners’ strategies and goals.

A journalistic approach

Put yourself in your listeners’ shoes. Ask “why should I read this?” “Why should I engage with this?” Your stories should be believable but they don’t need to be perfect. In the end, per Stephen Abram, they are meant to “connect your listener’s emotional brain with your logical brain so that the two of you can move forward together.”

Hear more from Stephen Abram and Lucidea’s COO Phil Green on this and related issues when you link to “Using Metrics and Stories: What Does Success Really Look Like?” And if you have suggestions for additional topics or speakers in our series of “KM Conversations” with such luminaries as Euan Semple, Stan Garfield and Stephen Abram, please let us know in the comments below.

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