Five Steps to Lean Storytelling

Stewart Bewley

I was coaching a client today. Their story was full of unnecessary information, half sentences and was slightly mystifying. After some coaching, he shortened it and sharpened it up. I said this: ‘When you tell your story well, you invite your audience to think about what they need from you. But if you tell a story badly they won’t know what to focus on.’

That is what lean storytelling is all about. Excess or wasteful storytelling is where the audience’s energy gets wasted. Too much information is shared, everything is laid out on the table all at once and the message is deeply confusing. Lean storytelling is about connecting, getting to the point and winning.

Toyota are the masters of lean production. Kaizen is a Japanese concept involving making small incremental improvements – no matter how small – to help achieve a lean goal.

Here are five small, incremental steps to helo you achieve your lean storytelling goal.

01. Kill the unnecessary words.

Tell the story of the problem. Most people in presentations jump to bullet point solutions, which are full of jargon. To stop that – to kill the jargon of your solution – imagine that you are presenting to someone who is 13 years old. They don’t know the industry you are talking about, but they do know language and they do have a fully-functioning brain.

Record yourself explaining in one minute the story of the problem that you are trying to solve. It will bring your story alive. Then keep recording and tell the story of your solution. There will be no bullet points and (hopefully) very little jargon.

02. Pull the red cord.

In every Toyota factory there is a red cord that any employee can pull at any time if something goes wrong. It stops tiny mistakes becoming huge errors that could destroy the final product.

This is vital when it comes to storytelling. Just like the finished product of the factory is the car at the end, the finished product of your hard work and rehearsal is the story at the end. Often, when we are rehearsing a story, we think it has to be perfect and we carry on, even if we know what we are saying makes no sense. This is a huge mistake to make. It is much better to stop, to breathe, to go back a step and then carry on.

When you are presenting your one-minute solution to camera, if you find yourself flustering, getting stuck on a word, if you are sweating and feel something has gone – pull the red cord. Start that sentence again. If it happens a few times, it’s okay – just re-frame what you are saying. Rehearsal allows you to be playful, so be playful. No one is going to judge you. Then you are ready for the finished product.

03. Just in time.

Instead of over-buying parts, Toyota developed a ‘Just in Time’ system, where part were only available when they were needed – and only then. In storytelling, this is crucial. You need to feel the pressure, but you also need to know the goods will appear. Don’t over-prepare. When I coach cohorts from Techstars and other accelerators, I only go in a few days or weeks before the final pitch. Why? Because if I go in sooner and give them everything they need, they will hit their peak too early.

Pressure and adrenaline work well at the right time. So work out for yourself when is just enough time to prepare. It is a fine line but an important one. Then use my Storytelling Academy (password amplify) to help you with content and delivery. That’s what it’s designed for!

04. What does the customer want?

This is the question Toyota ask themselves all the time: what does the customer want? In storytelling you need to ask this question and answer it correctly. The customer doesn’t want the facts, or a great bullet point or a slick side show. The customer wants connection – genuine connection between you and them. You need to use your voice, your body and your storytelling ability to connect.

What this looks like in reality is: speaking in short sentences, using as many pictures as you can, smiling and speaking (generally) 5% louder.

05. Embrace the spirit of challenge.

Toyota embrace what they call ‘The Spirit of Challenge’: ‘We accept challenges with a creative spirit and the courage to realize our own dreams without losing drive or energy. We approach our work vigorously, with optimism and a sincere belief in the value of our contribution.’

If we were to embrace the act of storytelling like this for every presentation it could genuinely change our lives. It requires effort and discipline but you will see the value of your contribution when your audience thanks you by listening and responding.

Stewart Bewley

Stewart founded Amplify back in 2011 from an acting background, believing that if you unlocked people’s voices you would unlock their story and their businesses would thrive.

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