This week’s webinar notes are from an April 30th event hosted by Sourcing Interests Group and presented by Denali’s Alan Veeck and special guest Paul Smith from ‘Lead with A Story’, a coach, speaker, and author.
The webinar explored how professionals can leverage the techniques of storytelling to build influence and communicate an important message in an effective way. In Smith’s terms, storytelling is simple, timeless, contagious, and memorable, and it works across demographics.
Within the context of procurement, Denali has been incorporating storytelling into the training they provide to category managers. With the wide range of responsibilities being handled by category managers today, they have to function within an operating model that allows for proper division of labor. Coaching them is like cross training, bringing together a range of diverse skills that will help them become more strategic.
The lessons from this webinar combine to create something like ‘communication theatre’ that you can leverage to get your message through – as long as you are willing to put in the effort up front. What the speakers did not directly address in this event, but that should not be underestimated, is the time and planning required to apply storytelling. You have to know your audience, craft a story in such a way that it has the desired effect, and choreograph the execution carefully.
Here are a few specific learnings from the event:
A Touch of Emotion: Storytelling is an appropriate vehicle for injecting a desired emotion into decision-making. By identifying your audience and combining the relevant facts with the right emotions you both reach your audience and allow the message to resonate. Smith shared a story about the state of Texas and how they were having difficulty with littering. After a few failed PSA attempts, and some research into who was most likely to litter, they realized that to reach their young male audience the story they needed to tell would equate littering with ‘Messing with Texas.’ And that is something a good Texan does not do. By connecting with their audience through the right emotion (state pride) Texas was able to bring about a desired change in behavior (less littering).
Leading your Audience: Sometimes the best way to deliver findings is by helping people reach the same conclusion you did by leading them down your logical path through a story. This can be particularly effective when a story would otherwise be heavily laden with numbers. Smith used this approach himself to help a CPG company understand why revenues from sales of disposable diapers were off target. He clearly presented the numbers in a visual format that told a story by including the right trends and related information. The executives participating in the meeting were able to see the story in the data and draw the same conclusions he had about flat demand. Depending on the level of complexity in your data set(s) the challenge with this approach is to strike the right balance of show and tell.
The Timing of Surprises: Everyone loves a good surprise, but where one falls in the course of a story will have a different effect. A surprise at the beginning of a story gets the audience’s attention, but a surprise at the end seals the message into the memory of the audience. Usually this technique is applied by withholding the key piece of information and telling the story around it, revealing the final detail at the end. Smith’s story for this was a spot on match for a procurement audience. Jon Stegner, a senior procurement executive working for John Deere, wanted to centralize responsibility for glove requirements and purchases. In preparation for the initial team meeting, he collected one of each glove in use – 424 in all – and put the cost on each. He then brought the team into the room and stood back as they looked at the enormous pile of gloves (and the range of prices) sitting on the table in the middle of the room. (FYI: You can read another version of this story as written by Rob Handfield here).
If you are interested in applying storytelling as a communication method in procurement, you may also be interested in the following posts: