It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

...great stories allow us to not only engage the reader, but make it easier for them to retain the information...

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People carryng speech bubble icons

After taking a short break last Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday, we re-entered full swing this week at Basically. Interviewing for sales positions created a spectacular response with almost a thousand quality responses. That’s not the focus of this post, but it does serve as the back drop for what I want to share with you this week.

For those of us who have officially been in sales (NEWS FLASH: all of us are in sales in one way or another), multiple days of 10-12 Zoom interviews per day is eerily similar to being live at a trade show. In person, people walk up to the booth and ask what you do. You ask what they do, so you can determine if you can help them, and the speed dating begins. Then they leave, and the process starts all over again. Sometimes you have six or seven “dates” at once which creates an interesting dance. By Day Five, you’ve talked to hundreds of people, gathered business cards, quickly jotted notes on the back of each one so you can recall your conversation later, and – here’s the great part – you’ve perfected your pitch for that audience. Really busy trade shows provide one of the greatest ways to quickly jump in the fire, find out what people want, how you can help them, and the best way to convey that message. You can learn more about your prospects in five days working your tail off at a trade show than you can in a five weeks of phone calls.

Having so many exceptional candidates apply for our positions stretches you. They ask a lot of great questions. It reminds me of the saying, “Smart people have great answers; geniuses have great questions.” If true, I spoke with several geniuses this week.

Just like at a trade show, certain questions kept surfacing. This week, those questions were about how we improve engagement. I found myself going back to certain stories to illustrate how we do that, and it reminded me how great stories allow us to not only engage the reader, but make it easier for them to retain the information as well.

Let’s face it – most of the content provided to employees is tepid and un-engaging. It’s sterile. With good reason in the initial stages of learning or training. Many forms of documentation detail the bare facts precisely so that they are easy to follow. For initial learning, a solid, clear reference is needed, and telling a story about how each process came to be would overwhelm the new hire and dramatically increase the time required to train each of them. The same is not true, however, when it comes to revising that same learned content.

Once a piece of content (e.g., process, limitation, guideline) has been learned, any changes made to that piece of learned content are best “adjusted” with story telling. Contrast these two pieces of content about the same process:

#1: “Per OSHA and company policy, all employees are required to review instructions posted on eye wash stations installed by each entrance.”

vs.

#2: “Last month, there was an accident. One of our storage containers split a seam, and a passing employee was sprayed with the corrosive liquid from the tank. Sadly, they’ve only regained about 70% of the vision in their left eye. When we spoke to the hospital, they said that all vision loss could have been avoided if the individual’s eyes had been rinsed within 90 seconds of the incident. This was a freak accident, but to ensure that all of us are protected in the future (and to comply with federal regulations), we have installed an eye wash station at each end of the building as well as a retaining wall around the tank. The eye wash stations are easy to use, but take a moment and read the instructions posted on them before the end of the week.”

Which one do you think will cause greater engagement? Which one will get people to leave their desks and do it right now? Which one will cement this new information into their head and instantly change their behavior? The second one is, of course, the right answer. It also illustrates why this is a good strategy for revisions or changes and not for the totality of training. The second explanation is more than 6.5x longer than the first (138 vs. 17 words), but the version with the accompanying story is consumed and retained much more easily resulting in immediate changed behavior that sticks. Putting a story around your revisions empowers your staff, drives increased profitability and compliance, and increases employee engagement.  Isn’t that what every company wants?

written by Wally Hines

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