Win Support for your Vision with a Story

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When your eyes close, you can probably see your vision for change?  After all, you are the architect for improving a problem within your organization.  Like a champion chess player or athlete, you’ve strategized about making your vision a reality.  Now, it’s time to communicate your vision to the army of people you’ll need to work on the vision.  Sounds a little daunting, yes?

When the masses fail to understand why change is coming, they will likely resist the change.  Our brains are wired to maintain the comfort of normalcy.  That’s right, there’s a structure in our brains that monitors inputs for threats.  This deep-functioning feature scans sensory inputs for threats.  This explains a little why the hair on our arms stands up when we hear a noise at night from another room

If projects need supporters and people view change as a threat, what is a change champion to do?  Well, simply stated, champions must educate and reassure potential supporters.  The fear of the unknown needs to be replaced with a clear explanation of how things will improve after the change

Many successful leaders understand the value of story telling as an art to motivate supporters.  A good story, told well, can activate hearts and minds towards a shared vision.  Let me be clear, leaders need to have a compelling story and be prepared to tell the story over and over.

Five Tips for Telling a Compelling Story:

  1. Know your Audience – Above all, heed this advice. The instant it feels like the message is for someone else, listeners and viewers will tune out.  Be prepared to create versions of your story for different audiences.
  2. Make the Story About the Viewer – Want to genuinely connect with others? Walk a mile in their shoes before you ask them to follow you.  Ask for advice from prospective supporters about what’s important to them.  Seek to understand pain points.  Connect your story to the viewer’s point of view.
  3. Be Succinct – Just the facts, please. Leave the viewers wanting more information.  Be careful not to include too few facts though.  Help audiences understand your idea has potential merit.  The initial message should be a teaser, not a three-volume trilogy.
  4. Make it Easy to Listen to the Story – First, you need a venue that your audience frequents. That may be online, in print or in person.  Maybe it’s all three.  Next, construct the story so that it’s understandable.  Avoid nuance.  Don’t try to sound important.  Just connect person to person, even if you use mass media.
  5. Have a Call to Action – Congratulations, you’ve connected with potential supporters. You may have even stirred interest in your vision.  Now, direct listeners to a place where they get their next chapter of the story.  This is key…have a drip feed strategy for helping people to understand their role in helping to achieve the vision.

As the champion for change, you are also the chief story teller.  Be prepared to tell your story often but be strategic.  Know when to speak and when to listen.  If people don’t get the story, stop talking.  Listen.  Demonstrate a genuine interest in others.  Seek to understand their reasons for objecting your vision without being defensive.

What does early success look like?  Moving from being the sole visionary, to a leader of supporters, takes time and effort.  This will not happen quickly or easily.  Large scale change may only happen when most people in your organization support the change.

Organize Your Volunteer Army of Supporters:

  • You’ll Need Generals and Privates in Your Army – Leaders need to come out of their comfort zone. Spend time with people at all levels.  Be visible.  Balance your time with senior leaders and those on the line.  Make new acquaintances while also leveraging support from trusted confidants.
  • Work in Stages – Set goals for acquiring supporters. Start small and have a plan to scale attracting the masses.  Imagine what an early win looks like.  Incorporate the win into your overall strategy.  Let prospective supporters know who else is onboard with the vision.  Ask for support and be open to compromise if needed.
  • Enlist Others to Help Tell the Story – In the early phase of launching a project, the champion will take on exhausting work. Your hands-on leadership is important to get momentum.  As things start moving, have a plan to deputize others to help tell the story.  Don’t rush the process and remember it’s ok to give feedback to your deputies about their ability to tell the story.  The last thing you’ll want is someone on your team misrepresenting the change effort.
  • Drip Feed Messages – Think about a low-dose/high-frequency communication plan. Avoid information overload but be careful about too much time elapsing between communications.

OK, champions, you know what needs to happen next.  Get to work on crafting your story and organizing your volunteer army of supporters.  Remember, getting people to change is a matter of influence, not brute force.  People are much more likely to follow you when they understand your vision for change is a positive opportunity.

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