Everyone loves a good story! Just think about it. That commercial with the Clydesdale horses and the Lab puppy? Admit it…you watched the whole way through. You might even have shed a tear at the end…for a beer commercial! Or that enjoyable movie you just watched? Then the words “Based on a True Story” flash across the screen and suddenly the movie is much more meaningful to you. When someone starts telling a good story – whether the ending is happy or sad – you can be mesmerized and drawn in.
Most successful politicians use storytelling – giving specific examples to rally a crowd around an issue. And salespeople will use case studies of other businesses who have successfully used their services to help sway a potential new client. Even comedians use story telling. Some of the funniest jokes are not one-liners, but instead, a detailed story about a funny incident.
So what does story telling have to do with our government jobs? On any given day, you may have to “sell” a new idea to your team; take an item before your Board or City Council for approval, or get your colleagues on board with a new initiative. The issue at hand may be difficult to discuss or take some effort to obtain approval or gain concensus. A good story may be the answer.
Most government reports deal with numbers, states and an explanation of the “how” something will be done. However, the “why” behind the facts can be just as important. For example, when purchasing playgroucnd equipment for a local city part of school system, the factual information about the purchase – cost, timeline, and scope of work is crucial. But the Story behind the purchase can be impactful. For instance, include background information on when the park was founded, how many children enjoy the park each year, a description of one of the special activities hosted at this location, and the advantages of the new equipment. Your audience begins to suddenly visualize the part, the people who use it, and might even identify through their own children’s use of a local part. Sounds like its getting closer to a Clydesdale horse and Labrador puppy story to me! Much easier to obtain approval when they are enjoying the story behind the purchase.
You might argues that telling a story about playground equipment is easy. What about something not so straightforward? Okay, let’s take Ferric Chloride…a chemical used in a wastewater treatment process. Except for a plant operator, chemicals and sewage is probably not an exciting topic for the rest of us! So, here’s the story behind this purchase. “Wastewater Treatment Facilities are built to remove biological and chemical waste from water after it is used. To maintain a healthy environment for organisms and people, they remove potentially harmful material and kill pathogens that could easily spread through our community. Ferric chloride is important to the process because it helps remove phosphorus. If it was not used, this phosphorus would be discharged after the process and can cause hypoxia, meaning it takes all the oxygen out of the waterways. This could negatively affect any animal or plants dowstretam of the discharge location.” Do you see the visual? It makes the topic more understandable. A reasonable person can see why the chemical is needed and might follow your recommendations for its purchase and use.
Being able to tell a story is important. It gives the all important “why” behind the message. Think back to the last conference you attended and remember the speaker who had the most impact on you. You might not remember their name, what they wore or even the title of their presentation. However, you most likely remember their story, or an effective part of their message. Be like that speaker in your job. Take on more of the role of a story teller. People will listen, follow and remember you!