Storytelling – A key skill for project managers?

This guest post is by Merv Wyeth (Project Management Consultant at Chanctonbury Associates Ltd.
Imagine my joy at being invited to participate in an exclusive event on management methods. Participants must address their coworkers using a twenty-minute TED talk format. This seems to be a rite of passage in some quarters.
The TED talk principles are refreshingly simple. They remind me of the Agile Manifesto’s ‘Simplicity – the art of maximising work not done’ principles.
A lesson in storytelling
Stephen Carver was my guest at an APM event. He spoke about project management success through telling stories, especially sticky ones.
Stephen displayed his storytelling skills throughout the evening and explained how it is an important part of project leadership.
He said that sometimes, you need to be a little more theatrical in order to win hearts and minds. Instead of using the same old, boring business vocabulary and phrases at business reviews and Board meetings, it is better to learn from others how to use compelling narratives to build commitment and paint the future.
Stephen used photos and memorable video clips as a way to illustrate his points. He believes that a good project shares some striking similarities with a good story. It:
Has characters
Engages the’mind’s eye’
Takes people on an emotional journey
Has structure
Makes an impact
embraces complexity
creates meaning – often multiple meanings
It does not tell – it displays
Change is catalysed by catalyses
It is important to be remembered.

Henry Ford, American inventor and industrialist, said that ‘Whether or not you think that you can, you’re right.’ With that in mind, Stephen strongly believes that we should practice telling our project stories.
Image is Powerful
Part of storytelling is projecting the right image about you, your project, and your message. One that sticks and one that people remember. Cameron Russell demonstrated this when she gave one her most memorable TED Talks: Looks don’t matter. Believe me, I’m a model. She changes her outfit on stage, which transforms the audience’s perception of her in a matter of seconds before telling her story, warts included.
Image is powerful when it is combined with social media. She says that even if some people were horrified when she first appeared on stage, they would be able to find out later via Twitter.
I admire the way she describes becoming a model as winning the genetic lottery and inheriting the legacy of beauty in the modern age. She admits, perhaps for the first-time on camera, that her insecurity is something she fears.
Her final remark – the story’s message – was that she hopes we all will feel more comfortable acknowledging both our successes and our failures. It was a great example of how to communicate your message in a powerful manner.
Stuart & Frank’s G.Y.M.
A motivational masterclass with Paul Browning was another event I attended during the same week that Stephen spoke. It was organised by APM’s ProgM SIIG. Another example of powerful storytelling in action was shown to me. Paul uses Stuart and Frank’s lives as examples of success and failure and their relationship to the G.Y.M. (Grow your mind) To show how it is the dynamic goal-achievers that consistently succeed in any profession or business.
He spoke of Adolf Guyer Zeller’s life and work, a Swiss entrepreneur who inspired others with his bold idea to build a railway track through two mountains to the Jungfrau summit. His leadership was a testament to his abilities.

Storytelling – A key skill for project managers?
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