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  • 5 Ways Storytelling Can Boost Participation and Performance

    Kare Anderson, 5 Ways Storytelling Can Boost Participation and Performance

    Remember how the jury consultant, played by Gene Hackman, attempted to bribe jurors in the movie Runaway Jury?  It seems that jurors can be swayed by much less – by the same cue that affects us all in other settings. Here’s how.

    A college professor of Jayson Zoller described a past class project in which students were offered the opportunity, by a federal judge to research ways to improve the jury deliberation process.  They researched factors as diverse as the mix of ethnic groups, ages, jury instructions and even the food jurors ate. They interviewed past jurors, trial attorneys and others players in the situation.

    Much to their surprise, none of that mattered as much as one unexpected feature of the jury room.

    According to Paul Smith in Lead with a Story, the shape of the table had the biggest impact. If it was rectangular, then whoever sat at the head of it “tended to dominate the conversation.”  Jurors were less open in expressing their views. Conversely they were more egalitarian when the table was round or oval. Consequently, writes Smith, it was those juries with round tables that came up with the most accurate and just verdicts.”

    Hint: When you want convivial and collaborative meetings, or dinner parties you know what table shapes to seek.

    But that wasn’t the biggest surprise.

    As you might imagine the students were excited about presenting to the judge their low-cost solution for improving justice in his district. Belatedly they learned how vital it is to get crystal clear on the goal of a project. The judge’s view of improving jury deliberation was to speed up the process and eliminate the backlog of cases that made him work so hard.

    That’s why, upon hearing the students’ recommendations he immediately did the opposite. He ordered all the tables in the jury rooms to be rectangular so that a dominating juror could push the process along.

    1. Sear Your Story in Their Minds with a Surprise at the End

    Your side benefit in reading this story is that you’ve just experienced, first hand, the power of having a surprise at the end of your story. People are more likely to remember, and this is why.

    UC Irvine neurobiologist, James McGaugh, found that rats, when given a stimulant, could learn faster how to get through a complex maze, but here’s the surprise. The rats that were given the stimulant right after the race, rather than right before running through it, were better at remembering how to get through the maze.

    So, when you are attempting to learn something new, guess when you should have that cup of coffee? As Smith writes in Lead with a Story, “The purpose of a surprise at the end is to sear the entire story in your audience’s long-term memory.

    Memories don’t form instantly in the brain like a photograph. They form over a period of time shortly after the event happens – a process psychologists call memory consolidation.”

    2. Leaders Boost Worker Initiative, Performance and Morale with Stories

    “Rule books don’t govern behavior in any organization. Behavior is determined by what is rewarded or punished,” concludes Smith. “Employees cannot possibly break all the rules themselves. They learn through the story they hear about other people’s behavior getting rewarded or punished. Make sure the stories in your organization reinforce the behavior you want.”

    3. Tell it So They Want to Re-tell it

    And if you want to pull clients or friends into your story, crafting what Tell to Win author, Peter Guber, calls a purposeful narrative in which they can see playing a role, set up the situation in their mind’s eye, saving your surprise for the end of it. Or, as in the jury story, where you can multiply moments of memorability with two surprises: set up each situation briefly with the details, – such as the perspective of the main players, that will maximize the surprise of an unexpected outcome.

    Most times you have only minutes to tell a vignette rather than a full-blown story. If you do that right the listener will ask questions or offer suggestions, re-shaping it so it makes sense for their exact situation, thus self-training to tell others, imbedding it deeper into their memory with each question, comment or other immediate action. Let your story go so they can make it their own and carry your story to others.

    4. Use the C.A.R. That Can Drive Your Story Farther

    To craft your vignette, include Smith’s elements of a C.A.R.:

    Context: Where and when does the story happen? Provide sufficient specific details so the story makes sense and no more.

    Action: What is the catalyst, first turning point, climax and final action towards resolution?

    Result: Why you told the story.

    5. Vivid Characterizations are Key to Attracting Opportunities in Work and in Life

    In this increasingly complex yet connected world, the capacity to tell the story that is most re-told about your product, service, business  — or yourself – is right up there with your need to keep honing your top talent and capacity to collaborate with people extremely unlike you., but you already know that.

    For more practical insights on how to craft the most vivid characterization, read Jonah Sachs’ Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future, Annette Simmons’ Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins,  Robert Dickman and Richard Maxwell’s The Elements of Persuasion: Use Storytelling to Pitch Better, Sell Faster and Win More Business, Steve Denning’s The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling and Peter Guber’s Tell to Win.

    Then watch Toy Story filmmaker Andrew Stanton describe the clues to what makes a great story, where each sentence he speaks is like a stepping stone to the next stage of his story. Stanton exemplifies Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s sentiment, “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

    ~ ~

    Whoever most vividly characterizes a situation usually determines how others view it, discuss it and make decisions about it.

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