Category Archives: story

Storytelling in presentations

Angelina Gan asked me if my storytelling approach is based on Peter Orton’s (wonderful!) presentation on using storytelling in business, so I thought I’d share how I started telling stories and what my favorite resources are.

I don’t know exactly why I started telling stories instead of listing bullet points. Maybe it was because of the never-ending march of bullet-ridden presentations. Maybe it was because I kept skimming through business books that were all numbers or pithy sayings without anecdotes to make those statements come alive. Maybe it was because I watched terrific presentations highlighted on the Presentation Zen blog. Maybe it was because of the books I read about telling success stories to deepen your relationships with people, influencing change through story-telling, and telling effective stories. Whatever it was, I started collecting stories and sharing my own.

I’d taken up writing flash fiction (really short stories, typically 55 words long) in 2005, and that turned out to be surprisingly useful. Reading other people’s flash fiction stories taught me that you could tell a story with conflict and character development in a paragraph or two, and that it was fun keeping an eye out for story material. I had originally gotten interested in flash fiction because it felt like a code optimization challenge, and because the stories were short enough for me to write during lunch or a subway ride, on pieces of paper or even on my cellphone. I never felt particularly literary (and in fact had gotten Ds in my English classes in university for lack of effort), but finding and telling stories (or in this case, making them up!) turned out to be a lot of fun.

So when I came across the business applications of storytelling–from social networking to influencing technology adoption–and I saw how it dovetailed with my passions, I jumped right into it. I started collecting stories. For example, I started my master’s research by collecting stories about how people used Dogear (an enterprise social bookmarking system by IBM) so that I could figure out how people were using it in their work and how they could use it even more effectively. I collected stories to help me not only convince people to try out new tools but also give them models to follow and people they could relate to. I also told stories about what I was doing and how I was doing it, and that helped me get to know a lot of people as well. Besides, I love “catching other people doing well”–telling other people’s success stories, especially when they don’t realize they’re doing well.

The results? People act on what I share. They make my stories their own. Not only that, people also tell me that they enjoy my presentations and that my enthusiasm is contagious. Giving presentations – telling stories, having conversations – has become a lot more fun.

How do I find stories? I keep an eye out for things that happen in real life, like this conversation I had with J-. There’s a seed of a story in there, and by telling part of the story, I make it easier to remember later on. I also enjoy reading people’s blogs, because they tell stories from their experiences as well. I read a lot – it certainly helps to have a public library within walking distance. Whenever I come across a particularly good story in any of these sources, I write it down, I bookmark it, I add it to my notes. When I work on presentations, I’ve got a general idea of relevant stories that I’ve come across, and then I use my notes to look up the details.

For example, I was preparing a presentation about University Relations and the Net generation. I didn’t want it to be a boring list of bullet points or advice. I could’ve rehashed the presentation I gave at the Technical Leadership Exchange, but I wanted to make the most of my opportunity to speak with a group that could really make the most of Web 2.0. I remembered that some months ago, I had come across a terrific internal blog post about how a demonstration of IBM’s internal social tools got an audience of university students really interested. I had bookmarked it as a story about Web 2.0 and recruiting, knowing that it would be useful someday. Well, that someday had come! I checked my bookmarks, went back to the blog post, refreshed my memory, and added it to my presentation. I’m sure that the story will make my point more effectively than a list of bullet points.

How can you get started with storytelling? Keep an eye out for story material. Develop a system for filing those stories so that you can find them again when you need them. Tell stories. I’ve linked to some of my favorite books in this post – check them out for more tips. Storytelling is effective and fun. Enjoy!

Passed it on!

I came across an internal blog post about making sense of the intranet social networking tools. Joseph, a communications assistant from the UK, asked us to help him make sense of the overwhelming choices we have in terms of Web 2.0 tools. When I checked out the wiki he created, I found out that Joseph was doing his Ph.D. dissertation on social computing in the enterprise. This just happened to be the area that I got my masters in, so I sent him an instant message and I shared a copy of my thesis with him, in the hope that my bibliography might save him some time. He had read some of my blog entries, but he hadn’t realized I had done my master’s research in the same area. I then proceeded to brain dump a whole bunch of tips, such as:

  • Blog about your research. This is the single best thing you can do to get the word out and to find people who are interested in this kind of thing. I can’t begin to describe how helpful people were. And if you end up falling in with the way the company does social networking (like I did!), people will help you find a great job too!
  • Build relationships. Again, the internal blog’s a terrific place to do that, particularly for this area of research. Invest time in scanning the blogs and commenting on things you find interesting.
  • Don’t worry about disappearing off the dashboard. Plenty of people use feed readers and subscribe to specific people or tags, so once you get on their radars, you’ll stay there.
  • Use a feed reader that lets you create keyword searches. That way, you never miss discussions that you are interested in. Feedreader, Omea, and FeedDemon all have this feature.
  • Get to know people. I recommended a whole bunch of people who are interested in social computing. =)
  • Read these books: Crossing the Chasm, The Diffusion of Innovations, The Tipping Point, and Influencer.
  • Check the blogs for news about interesting tools. Our internal early adopter program is good, but the internal blogs catches the coolest hacks from all over.
  • … and other tips! =)

I tried to squeeze as much as I could in half an hour, but I’m sure I’ll think of other tips! I loved just passing on everything I could think of. It was the best way to give back to all the people who helped me with my research, and I was happy to have stumbled across someone else who could learn from what I did. Besides, it was the Right Thing to Do.

Thank you, blogs, for this opportunity to help!

Blogging works in mysterious ways

When Melissa, an associate partner in Learning Strategy, sent me an instant message, I nearly missed it because I was in the middle of an energetic brainstorming session with Aaron, Jen, and Bernie. I’m glad I saw Melissa’s message when I was packing up. She told me how Jennifer (another Learning consultant) had been demonstrating the way we use blogs and wikis to a group of clients. The clients happened to see my post linking to the Lifehack post on how to become insanely useful, and they wanted to know more. Melissa knew that I had crossposted it to my external blog, so she asked my permission to send them a link to it. Of course, I was happy to help, and I was even more thrilled to hear from other consultants also doing social computing adoption and evangelism. Because of that conversation, Melissa invited me to join their Lessons Learned review. I’m looking forward to that. I’m also looking forward to swapping ideas! =)

I shared the Lifehack article because it described many things I work towards, and because I thought other people might like to read it. Looks like that paid off!

Maybe people really are generous with their wisdom

I racked my brains trying to figure out how to ask one of our clients to lunch. We were in the middle of a project and there wasn’t much time to spare, but I was impressed by the way he’d improved the presentation draft. I wanted to ask him so many questions: How did he get interested in marketing? How did he get started? What were his favorite resources? What were some tips he could share? What was his story? There was so much I wanted to learn from him… but how to get started? We were scheduled for a working lunch today, but maybe after we passed a major milestone, I’d be able to treat him to lunch and pick his brain.

I tried out different opening lines in my head as I unwrapped my sandwich slowly. If only scripts had been included in the new-employee orientation kit! I was so preoccupied, I nearly missed his conversation opener.

Without any preamble or obvious shift to a non-work topic, he just started talking to me about writing, journalism, and storytelling. I’d been reading about journalism just the night before, thanks to “How to Write Fast (While Writing Well)” by David Fryxell (good book, would recommend it), and it was fascinating to hear other examples of what I’d just read. And he saved me the trouble of trying to figure out how to ask him about that, too. Wow!

I felt even more inspired when he told me, “You have a good writing style. It’s personal and personable.” Whenever I hear this from people–particularly people who know a thing or two about writing–part of me squeals with glee and does a little dance. (Thanks to the patient mentorship of people like Stephen Perelgut, I can usually do this without actually squeeing in public.) There’s something here that I want to keep honing, there’s something I want to get better and better at, and little hints from people like him tell me I might be on the right path.

How did he have such a good handle on my personal interests, and how did he know to offer that kind of encouragement? Thanks to blogs, he could read the stories I wouldn’t have thought of e-mailing him. I knew he’d passed by my personal blog before. He’d mentioned it during one of the meetings. He must have dropped by again–wow! And he had taken the time to share some of his thoughts and encourage me to keep exploring writing and storytelling… Wow.

I don’t know why people don’t mind giving me so many tips and helping me learn so many things. Maybe most people really are just that way, and all it takes is one wide-eyed person with curiosity and and the itch to share whatever she’s learning with other people down the road. Maybe people enjoy sharing what they’ve learned with other people. Maybe people enjoy helping others along the way. Maybe people enjoy using more than just the 20% of their talents that are used in their job description. Maybe they enjoy sharing their years of experience instead of just what their current company asks for.

All I know is that I want to help the people in his company discover and develop those kinds of connections. I want to help as many people in as many companies as I can. That’s why I joined IBM to do enterprise social media consulting: because I’m learning so much from so many wonderful, unexpected connections, and I want to help companies help their employees to do even better. =)

Networking story: Being in the right place at the right time

At last night’s New Path Network workshop, Alex Sirota told us a story about how Fernando Morales networked his way to an opportunity. Fernando turned up at a New Path meeting because he was interested in catering for their events. It so happened that New Path Networks was thinking of having a summer social, so they hooked up with Fernando. New Path Networks sold 25 tickets to its members for a social event that was part of a larger celebration organized by Fernando, and Fernando’s event gained more people, visibility, and credibility.

So get out there and ask for opportunities! =)

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Domestic bliss?

I love my family to bits. Here’s a recent story from my mom:

Hi Sacha, we spent the night here in Alabang. Kathy (for the most
part) and I cooked. although papa volunteered to wash the dishes, he
was overwhelmed by the task – because we had guests :). Last night he
joked that he would like to go back to the Philippines so he could
call Jeanna to wash dishes.:D Actually, he went to bed promising to do
the dishes in the morning but Tita Liz and Jed took charge and cleaned
everything after papa went upstairs. I didn’t tell papa. ;) When he
woke up, he said he would do as promised. When he saw that all the
dishes had been cleaned, he said his fairy godmothers came to do the
work for him. But he did wash the dishes that we used at breakfast. He
is being broken in, and we’re having fun. Wish you were here.

Papa asked, “Whats the best way to wash dishes?” Kathy answered, “Dial
(our home phone number), and tell Jeanna you’d pick her up in half an
hour.” :-D Seriously though, Papa did a great job.

I love how my family jokes with each other. =)

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Picture by brooklyn on Flickr. License: Creative Commons attribution sharealike.