I hear you – you’re not alone. According to Atlassian, half of all meeting participants consider meetings to be a waste of time. People use an average of 31 hours every month in unproductive meetings. 91% say they’ve daydreamed during meetings and 73% say they’ve done other work.
Why is that?
One reason is that people don’t pay attention during meetings. They have a million other to-dos and so they take up their phone or laptop and multitask.
Or the information that’s shared isn’t clear, enticing, or relevant. People get bored and doze off.
How do you fix this?
Use storytelling – a method that’s been used for thousands of years to spread ideas.
Intrigued? Here’s how to make your meetings incredibly productive with storytelling.
Why should you use storytelling in meetings?
What is it that makes you remember some things people say better than others?
It’s not necessarily the speaker’s unique qualities or expertise. And it’s not just their core message. It’s HOW they say it – with stories.
You see, storytelling is the #1 way to capture someone’s attention and move them to action.
Science shows just how powerful storytelling can be. According to research, people remember stories 22 times better than they remember facts. For example, in a study where people heard facts and stories, 63% remembered stories and only 5% remembered facts.
And because of how our brains are wired, people who hear a story remember it as something they’ve experienced. With stories, you can explain things and make it concrete. You can inspire action because people understand why they should do something.
As you can see, these reasons make storytelling a valuable communication tool during meetings.
But… There’s a science and an art to telling a good story. So how do you do it?
How do you tell a memorable story during meetings?
The secret sauce to a good story is a persuasive story pattern and how it’s used.
Every memorable, “sticky” story has the following story pattern:
It begins, something happens, and it ends.
Maybe you recognize this from Aristotle’s “Poetics”. Just think of any story you remember and chances are, you’ll recognize this pattern.
But there’s a twist you need to take into account – or you risk losing your audience’s attention.
Every major story with a hero has a “hero’s journey”:
The hero goes through the normal story pattern. The story begins, they face a challenge, and eventually, they overcome this challenge and it changes their life in some way.
Mythologies, Star Wars, Harry Potter… They all use this same formula.
But to use this in your storytelling, you need to make a subtle mindset shift.
Make this mindset shift to tell a great story
Most speakers see themselves and their presentation as the narrative and the audience is just that… and audience.
But it’s the other way around. The audience is the main characters of a story. They’re the hero.
Want to use this in practice? Take a look at this TED talk by Nancy Duarte.
Your story is a tool to communicate a message
Memorable stories have a message.
In fictional stories, it’s usually some deeper truth to life. Maybe it’s the value of friendship (Toy Story) or using your gifts for good purposes (Star Wars). There’s something that people take with them and remember from every story.
You want that for your stories, too.
No, it doesn’t need to be a life lesson. It’s simply one thing that people should walk away with when you’ve shared your story.
Make your message the central theme of your story.
After all, that’s how you engage your audience and make your story stick with them.
How do you use storytelling in meetings?
Now you know why you should tell stories during your meetings and what those stories look like.
But how do you use this in your meetings?
- Create engaging presentations
Reimagine your presentations as stories and use the story pattern we discussed above.
What is the one thing I want to say with this presentation?
Then use this message to create a story pattern. Where are you at the beginning of your presentation? What’s the challenge, how does your story change? And what’s the end? What’s the one thing people have learned after hearing your presentation?
Let’s take a concrete example:
Say you’re giving a presentation on a new software you’re implementing at your organization.
And maybe the one thing you want people to get from your presentation is how to use it in their daily work.
So your beginning is where you’re now. You have this new software. It’s effective, but first, you must learn to use it.
Then you come to the middle – your challenge. It’s using the software. There are a few hacks that people need to learn to use it properly. Here you dig in and teach them.
And finally, the end. You’ve overcome the audience’s challenge. Now they can master the software and be more productive.
This formula makes it much easier to structure your presentation.
As a result, it becomes a lot clearer. You don’t have a hundred things to share – just one main point. Instead of using up time and energy to explain the benefits or particularities of your software, you mention them in a few sentences and move on to deliver your message.
- Clarify things that are difficult to understand
If you need to explain a difficult topic, storytelling is your best friend.
With stories, you give context to what you’re telling them.
And because you need a clear message, you must think hard about how you communicate things to your audience.
Thanks to the persuasive story pattern, your audience can easily digest what you tell them.
For example, when you talk about facts and figures, pair them with stories so that people remember them.
- Start a meeting by getting people to lean in and listen
What does your typical meeting look like?
My guess is that you get straight to the point.
People quickly become bored and start looking for their phones.
But what if you could instead make them lean in and soak up every word you say?
Unsurprisingly, you do it with storytelling. Use anecdotes, personal stories, or historical events.
“You might not know this about me, but 20 years ago, I used to manage a local radio show. At the time, the big shows had all the money and we struggled with keeping our listeners and offering something the big guys couldn’t. Well, we came up with this one thing and that made a huge difference for our show. That’s something we can use to improve our project here today. I’ll share it with you in just a few minutes…” (personal story).
“Has anyone ever thought about how the 8-hour work day became standard? Before the 20th century, people had brutal work hours. In North America, it was thanks to the Ford Company that companies started to realize that they’d get more productive workers – and higher profits – if they made the work day shorter. The reason I bring this up is that I want us to think outside the norm when we discuss our project here today…” (historical event).
See what a big difference it makes?
- Sell a vision
Have a stakeholder meeting? A meeting with a VC? Or a new hire? A team event?
You need to sell a vision. And that’s done with… you guessed it – storytelling.
Again, use the story pattern:
Where are you today? What challenges do you face? How can your audience be a part of a team that tackles those challenges? Where are you going?
Use this to create a vision for your company. And rally people around your challenges and goals.
As Jennifer Aaker (Stanford Graduate Business School) says:
“People want to be valued members of a winning team on an inspired mission.”
- Make people care
Let’s be honest:
Some work projects are plain boring. Some tasks feel meaningless.
But if you could get your coworkers to care, chances are they would be more productive and happier in their jobs.
So why not tell a story? After all, stories give meaning to things.
Use storytelling to explain how a project is essential for your company to achieve its goals.
If there’s one thing that makes a huge difference for employee satisfaction and motivation, this is it.
Conclusion: Storytelling makes your meetings fun and engaging
Now you know how to use storytelling in your meetings. Nice work!
At the end of the day, presenting your meeting talking points as stories does a lot for your meetings.
First, you engage people.
They understand and remember what you discuss. And that makes it easier for them to act on your meetings and your meetings become much more productive.
Second, storytelling makes your meetings more fun. If you get people to look forward to your meetings… That would make a big difference, no?
Over to you:
Have an experience to share or a storytelling tip? Write in the comments below!