Just tell a story

(Bijdrage aan een ophanden zijnde, engelstalig boekje voor IT professionals.)

Increasingly, I am getting convinced of the importance of telling a story. I am biased, of course. As a storyteller, creating and telling stories is what I do. But then again, I am also a trainer and consultant in IT organizations. Especially in that domain, I am impressed by the power of telling a story – a good story, of course. And I am surprised at how hard this appears to be. All too often, we tend to generalize and abstract.

“Usually, actors behave like this.”
“This will lead to an alternative flow in the business process.”
“Issues are escalated to the steering committee.”

Sentences with all life sucked out of.

A story is about a hero who aims to reach a goal and meets obstacles. As an audience we identify with the hero and we want to know how he goes about conquering those obstacles. We want to know how Joan, a data architect, managed to deal with the conflicting requirements from the two customer departments. We want to know how Andrew, a project manager, went about saving his project with a looming deadline. Tell a story that illustrates your point and you don’t have to make your point anymore. Tell a story about recognizable characters or dilemmas and it will be remembered. Tell a story about what it means to you and we will believe you.

Next time when you want us to pay attention, do not tell what actors usually do; tell about this time when that customer made a call to headquarters. Do not talk about alternative flows; tell about last week when hell broke loose because this customer sent an email instead of a letter. And please, issues are not escalated. When you want us to understand the use of the steering committee, tell about last project, where there was a big fight and tell us how the steering committee helped solving it.

Just tell a story, and don’t be surprised if this time they will listen.

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