How to use storytelling to influence up

Making real change in an organisation requires telling a great story. It’s important to know what to tell, who you’re telling it to, and how to tell it says Emma Bannister.

Communicating with management is a crucial part of most roles, whether you are trying to improve work-flow efficiencies, pitching new product ideas or even making the case for having dogs in the office. Having a healthy dialogue between executives and employees within any organisation is extremely important when it comes to addressing issues. To successfully get your leaders to hear your needs and take supportive actions to meet them, you need to engage them in a story. The more empathetic, succinct and compelling the story, the more likely your chances. A well told story might mean management are sold on increasing the budget, hiring more staff or having Simon the poodle in the office. Here are three storytelling ideas to consider, as you plan your influence strategy.

Find relevance

The first thing to be aware of is that you need to make the story relevant enough for it to matter to your chosen audience—in this case, the experience of your business leaders. Empathetic language and finding common ground will help your story be heard. Your leader has specific interests, passions and language that are all important to consider.

Do your research!

Who are they within your organisation? What are they currently advocating for within your company? If they have a public profile, what are the things they are talking about in the media, online and in thought-leadership? Think about how the answers to these questions might affect the way in which you craft the story you tell. Where do your needs and their needs align? Storytelling can bridge the gap between their desires and yours, helping them re-frame their strategy to include your proposal.

Outside of their professional life, think about what your leaders are like on a personal level. What kind of language do they use? Do they have a reserved or charismatic personality? While a little more psychological, understanding these personal attributes will affect the way in which you present your needs.

Cut to the chase

Now that you have a good understanding of your audience, it’s important to understand what you really want. Many CEOs and managers don’t have the time to make their way through ambiguous pitches or hear irrelevant information. They want a message that is clear and concise. When constructing your story make sure you clearly articulate the complication that you need to resolve. Make sure you provide necessary evidence for the problem and for why your solution makes the most sense. At the end of your story, give a clear call-to-action—a tangible next step your leader can understand and make a quick, informed decision in your favour.

Get the medium right

How you tell your story is just as important as what the story is. An email, a personal conversation or a letter might be the right choice. If a presentation is called for, remember that presentations can take many different forms, anything from PowerPoint to an animation—even video. These are all powerful mediums for storytelling and choosing the right medium is crucial to the success of your story. Working out which medium is right for you comes back to knowing your audience and understanding what you want to say. Do you need internal communications software because emails are getting too inundated? Maybe a PowerPoint might explain your frustrations more than an email that won’t get read. Nothing undermines your story more than the wrong medium.

Storytelling is an effective way of getting the attention and buy-in of your executives. Adopting an approach that considers their story, clearly articulates what you need and is presented in a way that cuts through the noise, should influence your leaders in a way that is beneficial for your entire organisation.