Storytelling-makes-the-differenceAs leaders, we frequently encounter challenges when conveying information to our teams, especially when our bosses delegate the messenger role to us and expect successful understanding and results. Often, it’s quite the opposite: communicating data ends with your remote team asking endless questions. In order to successfully communicate as a remote leader, we must learn that storytelling makes the difference when relaying data and other information.

Years ago, I was managing a team of technical instructors; each individual was a master of specific technologies that I barely understood. As you can imagine, it was tough for me to evaluate them, since half the time I had no idea what they were talking about. One thing that I always looked for and evaluated was their ability to use storytelling or analogies any audience could relate to and understand.

My favorite example was back in the days when dinosaurs (and Windows 95) ruled the earth. The class was struggling with the difference between Windows and DOS (If you weren’t alive during this era, count your blessings!)  Each instructor had their own way of explaining it with tech jargon, usually received with blank stares and furrowed brows from the audience. Fortunately, one trainer, had a brilliant analogy.

“Ever go through the drive-through at McDonalds?” he asked. “Windows is when you pull up to the speaker, give your order, and by the time you get to the window, your order is there. DOS is all the stuff going on in the kitchen that you usually don’t care about as long as it gets your order to the window.” Suddenly, it seemed as if I saw light bulbs flare up above the learners’ heads.

If you think that’s too ancient an example, let’s take a look at something a lot of us have trouble getting used to: using SharePoint or similar tools. If you Google, “What is SharePoint?” this is what you’ll find:

SharePoint is a web application platform in the Microsoft Office server suite. Launched in 2001, SharePoint combines various functions which are traditionally separate applicationsintranetextranet, content management, document managementpersonal cloudenterprise social networkingenterprise search, and business intelligence SharePoint servers have traditionally been deployed for internal use in mid-size businesses and large departments alongside Microsoft ExchangeSkype for Business, and Office Web Apps.” (Ready to sign up yet?)

Let’s see how one of our clients explained it to her team: “You know how you spend fifteen minutes before every meeting re-sending documents to people you’ve already sent? How would you like to never have to do that again?”

What she did, and good leaders do, is put complex information into easily understandable language for mere mortals.

Good leaders learn how to:

  • Create analogies. “________ is like a __________.”
  • Give examples people can relate to. “If you’ve ever tried to ______, this will let you _________.”
  • Relate it to something they already know to reduce the threat of change. “In WebEx, they call it sharing applications. In Skype for Business, it’s called Sharing Programs, but both serve the same function.”

A key skill for managers, whether their teams are remote, co-located or a hybrid of the two, is the ability to translate complex information into simple language for any audience.

Storytelling makes the difference — whether you’re relaying information to one team member or an entire department – and will foster your growth as a successful, effective leader.

Wayne TurmelAbout the Author:

Wayne Turmel is the founder and president of For 20 years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology includingMeet Like You Mean It- a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Marshall Goldsmith calls him “one of the unique voices to listen to in the virtual workplace”. He works with organizations around the world to help people use technology to lead people and projects and build productive human connections in an increasingly remote work environment.

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  1. Wayne,

    As the author of three best-selling books on business storytelling, I absolutely agree with you: Storytelling does make a difference – especially when relaying data and information. However, the end of your article confused me. Are you saying that analogies, examples, and relatability are all types of storytelling?

    Stories are a unique type of narrative. They are not the same as examples,descriptions, anecdotes, case studies, news reports, profiles, and the like. Analogies are a special type of embellishment that aid in making a story relatable. You can read a piece that my colleague and I wrote on this called Ten Narrative Forms: Stories have a unique structure and set of elements: conflict, a main character (required so compassion fade doesn’t occur), dialogue (inner and outer), drama/intrigue, sensory information, contrast, layers of meaning, and a key point.

    One of the new fields within business storytelling is teaching leaders how to storify data. We put a full chapter on this subject into Business Storytelling for Dummies. This article is a short synopsis:

    I agree with your article’s premise – we need leaders to translate complex language into simple language. My reason for responding here is to shed more light on what a story is and isn’t.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Lori Silverman

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