Storytelling is a powerful tool, not a Jedi mind trick

Tell a story if you want to produce a presentation that has impact, says Helen Simmons, finance director at the Diocese of London

Helen Simmons
Helen Simmons

Once upon a time (all right, it was a few weeks ago), I took the Realise2 online test as a guinea pig for a team exercise on an awayday.

Realise2 promises to reveal your strengths, weaknesses and learned behaviours. Having finished the test, I failed to follow the facilitator's instructions, ignored all the positives and zoomed straight to the "weaknesses" section.

I was interested to see "storytelling" as number one.

Before 2011, I don't recall even registering storytelling as a skill that charity finance directors would need to have, but it has come up several times this year, which makes it worthy of consideration.

The first time was during presentation training. How do you produce a presentation that has impact? The answer is: tell a story. We have all sat through tedious presentations - ill thought-out, no slides, tiny dense text that is read out word for word.

But have the best ones contained a good story format? Perhaps so. We have a strong start, some good characters, something happens, there is some sort of epiphany and then an ending that sums it all up, and might leave us crying or laughing. It also helps us to remember the content because there is a trail to follow in our brains.

It also came up in an impact reporting session. How do you capture immeasurable aspects of impact reporting? Tell a story. Accountants can be pretty sceptical of storytelling for impact reporting. It suggests that the storyteller is thinking: "I have no idea whether this activity gives impact or not, but let me use a Jedi mind trick to fob you off with this story about a poor abandoned puppy. Here, look at this close-up photo of his wet nose."

But it's not enough to have an impact, or even to be able to prove it. You have to convince people you have an impact; stories work well here.

The third place it came up was in motivational theory. How do you celebrate the successes of your organisation and use them to motivate your staff? You tell a story. This was demonstrated by our chief executive at a staff briefing the other day, and I do believe there is validity in this method.

If storytelling is your weakness too, perhaps we need to get practising or studying or reading more stories. It's certainly food for thought.

More at Click on finance or good practice.

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