Storytelling – An important skill that most business leaders have ignored - why innovation!

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Storytelling – An important skill that most business leaders have ignored - why innovation!

Alice Yu Yuebo 3 min
Storytelling – An important skill that most business leaders have ignored
We all tell stories all the time – whether it’s a night-time fairy tale for our children, or a presentation in front of our potential clients. However, as reckoned by the best-selling author J.K. Rowling, “No story lives unless someone wants to listen.”

In my previous role as a newspaper reporter, the first thing I learnt was that the key points of writing a good article are the same as telling a good story. Besides capturing the essential information “5W + 1H”, namely, “who, what, when, where, why and how”, we have to capture the reader’s attention through an attractive header and opening, maintain their attention through well knitted sentences, provide an exciting climax, and finally make a powerful CTA (Call-To-Action).

I soon realised that these guidelines don’t only apply to journalism, but also every aspect of our life. I will share some examples below:
Storytelling for Product Teams: Develop Great User Stories

Ever since joining why innovation!, I have been meeting and interacting with the highest volume of technology professionals in my career. Their skills range from Agile Coaches, to IT/Product Managers, to Software Developers, to Cybersecurity Specialists, to Tech Startup Founders. I used to think that they were familiar with only coding and technical talk, but was surprised to find out that the word “story” is also very familiar to them – usually in the form of “user stories”. In comparison to a creativity-driven story, the user story in product management is usually based off a specific format:

“As a [role] I can [function] so that [rationale].” (User Stories Applied, by Mike Cohn)

The user story allows Product Managers/Owners and Team Members to set clear goals and work towards them effectively. “Writing good user stories are essential for building successful products,” said my colleague Lam Vuan experienced Agile Trainer, “as a bad user story can make people feel lost.”

Read "The Key to Product Owner Success in an Agile World" by why innovation!

By thinking about the essence of storytelling, we can also use these to improve the way user stories are written in product management. The main purposes are:
  • Presenting ideas clearly, concisely and confidently to specific audience
  • Inspiring and compelling the target audience to take desired action

​We can then effectively identify that

“design a brochure”

is a user story that addresses no business value, no specific expectation and is hard to implement. There is much more value to write it in the following style:

as a sourcing specialist,
 I want to find a range of vendor products and services on the brochure
so that I can evaluate if they are right partner for my company’s needs”


which is more goal-oriented and can spar immediate action.
Defining User Stories | why innovation! | Alice Yu Yuebo
why innovation! consultants Pedro and Humble are helping clients design user stories with post-it
This is just the tip-of-the-iceberg about nailing storytelling skills for professionals.

Storytelling for Project Owners: Get Leadership Buy-in

One day, I was standing in the basement garage of our office building, trying to persuade my Managing Director to speak at a conference, when he just about to head to the airport in five minutes. I knew it was a rare opportunity, and the registration window was about to close within 24 hours. The problem was – how would I get my MD to feel the same importance and urgency?

We all encounter circumstances like these where we need support from our managers, be it a company-sponsored training, additional project funding, extra team capacity, or the green light to proceed with a new initiative. 
Design Thinking for Product Owners | why innovation! | Alice Yu Yuebo
Getting leadership buy-in through effective storytelling
Felix, my colleague in Hong Kong, shared a real-life example from his days as a senior Software Engineer in a large airline company. “When I was to present ideas to my senior management, I often felt nervous about the pressing time and wondered if I was giving them the right amount of information. Even if I could describe my ideas completely, it was more important get them ‘into’ the context of my intentions.” Felix was empowered by the power of storytelling to:

  • Get his managers’ attention
  • Engage with them
  • Connect with them
  • Stay relevant
  • Inspire them to act

To put it into practice, Felix had to: build a roadmap for his story, clarify his end goal, stay concise and focused, find strong evidence and use a little bit more “future backwards” thinking. 
60s to Ask Y! | why innovation! | Alice Yu Yuebo
We have recently launched “60s to Ask Y!” – a video interview series telling the Y! Story
Oh, by the way, I did successfully catch the attention of my MD – we ended up finding a time to sit down and develop a pitch together…and we ended up winning the speaking opportunity! As a result, he spoke to over 500 people at the conference and walked away with at least 10 potential business inquiries – not bad for a basement garage idea. ?

Download Yann Hamon’s Speech at the Chief Digital Officer Summit 2019

How to Uplift Your Storytelling Skills

We all tell stories all the time. Now, it’s time for all of us to start telling better ones, be it the next email you write, or elevator conversation you start.

There are several prominent platforms where you can watch speeches from powerful storytellers, such as TED.com. I love one especially - Tim Urban’s talk about procrastination – where he perfectly blends humor and insights to encourage people to rethink their waiting habit. If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend you to do so!

If you’re looking for tips to improve your own storytelling skills, do join the “Why, How, What, & the Power of Storytelling” 
webinar by my colleague Kalyani Mehendale, who is an excellent storyteller with over 12 years of experience in enterprise innovation and human centered design. She will share a range of powerful tools for telling impactful stories that could resonate with any group of audience and drive desired actions.

I would wish I have learnt them earlier back when I was a young journalist – to help me tell more compelling stories! But it’s never too late to improve oneself…so don’t procrastinate, enroll now!

Storytelling Webinar | why innovation! | Alice Yu Yuebo
The “The Why, How, What, & the Power of Storytelling” webinar by why innovation! is FREE and will come soon in October 2019. Pre-register your seat here: https://www.why-innovation.com/storytelling-webinar.htm
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