leadership

Storytelling 3: Tips for a compelling narrative

Storytelling at work

In the first two parts of our series we looked at the science behind storytelling, and how to jump in and create your own. And in this post we share a few tips to help you hone and maintain your storytelling habit.

Perhaps the world's (and our own) infatuation with storytelling will fade over time, but stories themselves are no flash in the pan. They speak to our quintessentially human desire to communicate. And at their best, elevate the simple stuff of life to the utterly captivating. So here they are, a few of our top tips.

1. Start with emotion

What emotions are at the heart of the story, how do you want your audience to feel when they hear it? What do you want them to do after they've heard it? Pin them down and keep them at the story's heart.

2. Identify the narrative arc

It sounds obvious. It is obvious. And yet... structure so often goes out the window. So clarify the beginning, middle and end, and make sure your story is going somewhere.

Writing down the three or five key elements on post-it notes and switching them around may help you find the most powerful structure for your story.

3. Keep it personal

The personal is powerful. If you can show why something matters to you, you'll help your audience understand why it matters to them.

If you're like me, you'll hate doing this. You could decide to suck it up, if that works for you, or you could find a personal angle on a story that can bring it to life without leaving you feeling entirely exposed.

4. Keep it short, with options to extend

Develop and practice 60-second, 2- and 3-minute versions of your story. You can fit a surprising amount into a minute, whether or not you adhere to the rules of Just a Minute.

5. Start small, and varied

Create a few stories and try them out as soon as possible, starting with low risk situations. Review, extend, condense and adapt as you find out what works best for you and has the greatest impact on a particular audience.

Do drop us a line if you have any questions, or would like to know more about how you can use storytelling more effectively at work. Or sign up to download our free Chirp Workbook.

 

 

Why it pays to be precise

"Be precise." That was my dad's favourite phrase when I was growing up. Though infuriating at the time, it's proved to be sound advice. No one ever died from too much clarity, but lots of us have suffered the lack of it. Whether you're leading a team, collaborating with colleagues or negotiating social relationships, clarity makes everything so much easier.

Feeling overwhelmed? Try chunking the craziness

It's funny how some phrases just stick. "Chunk the craziness" appears to have lodged in my brain, and I hope it's there to stay. I'd been listening to Oliver Burkeman is Busy, an excellent series on BBC Radio 4 that's well worth a listen even if you're, ahem, busy. Its impact on me was that I chunked my personal craziness, and felt better for it.

Why we should lean into risk in Brexit Britain

"Brexit tea"  by  frankieleon  is licenced under  CC BY 2.0

"Brexit tea" by frankieleon is licenced under CC BY 2.0

I was going to write a blog about risk. I’d whip through the theory, focus on the practice, and back it up with science.

Then the referendum happened. And now, depending on your view, the country’s either deep in the mire, or free to succeed. The markets have crashed, but might bounce back. Hate crime is up, but might be a blip. We're living in uncertainty, and we don’t even know how long it’ll last.

All of that feels uncomfortable and risky. So to write about risk without acknowledging the uncertainty around us feels a bit absurd. We’re already awash with political analysis, so I won’t add mine. But whether you’re delighted, devastated or unmoved by these events, it’s an interesting moment to take a look at the parallels with organisational and personal change.

Major change throws the status quo in the air. Before it settles, as it inevitably will, we can make some choices. We can pretend it’s not happening. We can choose to step back and see where the pieces fall. And we can choose to take a risk and lean into uncertainty. These are decisions organisations are making now – as they’ve done before and will again. Individuals are doing the same.

Unless you’re very lucky, pretending nothing’s changed will leave you baffled, and your colleagues disengaged. It’s also, counter-intuitively, a lot of effort. Our ability to adapt is part of what defines us as human. So while adapting might be hard, refusing to is exhausting. Sometimes, of course, the wisest move is to hold your horses and wait for a new normal. But you forfeit the chance to shape it, and risk being left behind.

Choosing to shake hands with uncertainty can be complicated and uncomfortable. It can also be profoundly creative. If you can lean into that, there’s scope to experiment with new ideas and products, have different conversations and make unexpected connections. You might fail, you might succeed, you might create something a bit… ‘meh’. But you only find out if you take the risk. And whether or not it’s sparked by external events, embedding a culture of testing, adapting and improving will reap benefits well into the future.  

Thing is, it’s not easy. There’s a gap between intention and doing. And however much you want to, crossing it can seem boring, painful and hard work. And once you do cross it, there’s no guarantee it’ll work. Ugh. Why bother? It’s somehow easier to feel disrespected afterwards than to challenge in the moment. To feed back to your friends instead of your colleagues. To work within stasis than to venture an alternative.

But that 'ugh' is worth the bother. It’s when things shift, and when you learn. Plus you reinforce in yourself and colleagues that, whatever the outcome, you are people with the agency to create change. You’ll be more likely to do it again, helping build a culture of creativity in yourself and others.

So where to begin? Here are three initial suggestions.

1. Acknowledge fears, but don’t draw them out. Give yourself three minutes to project the potential range of outcomes from best to worst. Then begin, ditch or adapt. You’ll only find out what actually happens by taking the risk, so don’t waste time on the fundamentally unsound, or delay the great.

2. Solicit feedback; ask, listen, learn, adapt. And be specific: work out exactly what you want feedback on, and ask questions within a clear remit. This shifts the focus away from egos (easily crushed, despite denials) and towards ideas. Seeking feedback can feel like a massive risk in itself. But the more you do it, the easier and more useful it becomes.

3. Build networks. It’s exhausting taking a risk on your own and it takes ages. Talk to people who disagree: diverse opinion makes for robust ideas. And test the idea as soon as you can, drawing on your network for support. Make sure your network includes people unconnected to your idea, but who can help you reflect on progress and remain resilient. Action learning sets and peer mentors are ideal.

I’m not suggesting all ideas are sensible or risks worth taking. But change is definitely coming. New systems, new products and even new industries may emerge. I hope that as organisations and individuals we’ll be inspired to lean into risk when we encounter it. Start experimenting, adapting, innovating. The status quo has been shaken, and will rebuild. The space in between is yours to shape.

 

Learn more about how to embrace risk, innovation and experiments with our free Chirp Guide. Sign up to receive your download.

 

 

Risk-taking for Change Makers workshop at Spark 2016

My workshop for Spark the Change London is on Thursday 7th July. The session will help delegates exercise their risk-taking 'muscles' to create positive change within their organisations. The hands-on session will use singing and conducting to provide a practical experience of risk, and of leading and being led through change.

Innovation series: Marieluise Maiwald on the challenge of the new

Leadership-coach-Marieluise-Maiwald.jpg

In the second of our innovation podcasts Kamala speaks to Marieluise Maiwald, who's putting innovation into practice by challenging herself to do something new every week this year. They talk about the appeal of the new, why stepping away from comfort can reap rewards and why constant maximisation can be the enemy of innovation.

Marieluise Maiwald is an internationally experienced leadership development professional and coach with a background in consulting. She currently works as a Project Director for Duke Corporate Education in London and is responsible for designing and delivering learning programmes for executives around the world.

Alongside programme delivery, Marieluise offers coaching and workshops to people wanting to bring real change to their lives. To stay credible and authentic for her clients, Marieluise has decided to delve into a different challenge every week in 2016, from speaking at Speaker’s Corner to swimming in icy waters. She posts her experiences and learning in weekly blogs and videos on Defying Gravity.

Innovation series: Nick Parker on creativity and improvisation at work

Writing consultant Nick Parker

In the first of our new podcast series on innovation, Kamala talks to Nick Parker about improvisation and creativity at work. From autobiographical haiku to design thinking, they discuss the freedom in limits and the business case for spontaneity. Oh, and why your creative career probably shouldn't begin with naming your first born.

Nick Parker is a writer who works with brands and businesses. He helps them pin things down, and shake things up. That usually means helping them tell their stories, helping them find their tone of voice, and helping them to use writing to think more clearly and creatively.

He’s a speechwriter for Fortune 10 CEOs, has trained government ministers and radio DJs, and once wrote a paragraph that saved ten million quid. (Or thereabouts.)

Before all that, he was a journalist, magazine editor and author. His collection of short stories, The Exploding Boy, was published to critical acclaim in 2011. (‘Astonishing, proof the short story is still a public good,’ said The Guardian, which was nice of them.) And once upon a time, he was a cartoonist for Viz.

 

Risk series: Melanie Harrold on how we experience risk

Singer songwriter Melanie Harrold performing live

In the last of our podcasts on risk (at least for now), Kamala spoke to the artist Melanie Harrold. They talk about the risks Melanie's taken in her own career, and how she helps other people to remain grounded while reaching forward into the unknown. Melanie also explains the central role your voice, breath and body can play in building your capacity not only for taking conscious risks, but also for managing them resiliently.

You might want to take a breath before reading on, because Melanie is... a singer-songwriter who's performed with artists including Gerry Rafferty and Don McLean, a teacher, choral director, body psychotherapist, Voice Movement Therapist (and professional trainer) and founder of The Singing Body who has worked and performed across the world. Phew, and breathe... Which is appropriate, really, because much of Melanie's work explores how our breath, bodies and movement can help us to take more conscious risks and push the boundaries of what we think we can achieve. Alongside her private practice working with individuals and small groups, Melanie directs several choirs including Trade Winds and Vocal Chords.

 

Learn more about how to embrace risk, innovation and experiments with our free Chirp Guide. Sign up to receive your download.

 

 

Risk series: Julie Noon on working in the world's most dangerous places

Film-maker Julie Noon

Our latest podcast on risk features the acclaimed journalist and film-maker, Julie Noon. A world away from a day at the office, Julie's work has risk at its very heart – personal, professional and physical. In this podcast Julie talks about what draws her to this work, and how she weighs up the risks, both potential and terrifyingly real. She also explains why the person who isn't scared is the biggest risk of all.

Julie Noon is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker who specialises in foreign affairs and filming in hostile environments. Her career has spanned live political programming and documentaries in politics, current affairs and news. Julie has worked, lived and travelled in over 60 countries around the world, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, to South Sudan and Afghanistan, where she spent months embedded with British Forces in Helmand over the duration of the campaign.

Julie has produced, directed and series produced on award-winning series and critically acclaimed strands including Channel 4’s Dispatches and Unreported World, and the BBC’s This World. Her work has been nominated and shortlisted for awards including the Rory Peck Award for Impact and Broadcast Award’s Best Current Affairs Documentary. Many of her films have been shown in Parliament and some have prompted policy and legal change. Passionate about developing new talent in foreign affairs, Julie also teaches filmmaking for organisations including One World Media, and on Hostile Environment training courses.

 

Learn more about how to embrace risk, innovation and experiments with our free Chirp Guide. Sign up to receive your download.

 

 

Risk series: Roway Gray on risk and resilience

Business coach Rowan Gray

The second of our podcasts about risk features a conversation between our Director, Kamala, and Rowan Gray, a business coach at Relume. Ahead of their workshop in the Spring, Kamala and Rowan explore definitions of risk, and why understanding your response to it can help you lead and work more effectively. They also talk about the balance between risk and resilience, and why you might be better off not cramming exercise/mindfulness/healthy eating into your routine.

Rowan Gray is a business coach at Relume. He works with leaders who are looking for a different perspective. He challenges and supports them to find new ideas and the breakthrough they need. He uses movement - such as cycling, running and walking - to generate insights, enable more creativity and give people an increased feeling of energy. These are qualities needed to adapt and thrive in organisations that are increasingly complex, uncertain and fast-paced. Rowan brings curiosity, energy and a sense of fun to his work. He keeps himself inspired by exploring new places from the saddle of his bicycle.

 

Learn more about how to embrace risk, innovation and experiments with our free Chirp Guide. Sign up to receive your download.

 

 

Risk series: Helen Walton on gaming and business

Gamevy-founder-Helen-Walton.JPG

In the first of our podcast series about risk, we talk to Helen Walton, Co-founder and Marketing Director at Gamevy. As an entrepreneur who runs a gaming start-up, Helen encounters risk in different guises on an almost daily basis. We talk to her about the human urge to gamble, the importance of knowing your bottom line, and the biggest risks she's taken. We also hear about one of Gamevy's less conventional investment decisions!

Helen Walton is a writer and marketing manager who enjoys solving problems, trying out ideas and making things happen. She started out in Unilever, (back in the glory days when advertising budgets meant long, boozy lunches). Since then her work has included a column in the Daily Mail, naming lipsticks, saving literature (a game that won a NIBBIE) and writing an IT course. Helen is Co-founder and Marketing Director at Gamevy, an award-winning company whose games combine skill, chance and life-changing jackpots for the ultimate in fun.

 

Learn more about how to embrace risk, innovation and experiments with our free Chirp Guide. Sign up to receive your download.

 

 

Don't be a hermit – interact with impact with these five tips

Participants in a Chirp leadership and communication workshop run by Kamala Katbamna

Human interaction is at the heart of work. Its impact is everywhere – from process to productivity, outcome and enjoyment. Unless, of course, you’re a hermit.

Despite its centrality, that interaction can often feel unpredictable, ineffective and draining. After all, you can never guarantee someone else’s behaviour. You can, however, ensure your own is more influential, clear and effective.

Below are five tools to help you make the impact you choose in your daily interactions. Yes, they take practice, but they can make a crucial difference – particularly if you’re leading change. Either way, they’ll help you achieve your outcomes without wasting time and energy. No need to become a hermit, then.
 
1. Don’t look down!
Look up, make eye contact, then begin. Taking that moment to connect tells people you're fully present – and that your contribution is worth their attention. This is particularly useful in presentations and when opening meetings. Good eye contact also signals that you’re engaged with their response.

It might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many of us launch straight in, without first establishing a connection. In so doing we risk throwing away our words on a distracted audience, silently dismissing their contribution, and reducing our impact.

2. Stand your ground
Yep, even if you’re seated. If you’re standing, keep your feet hip-width apart. Feel the ground through your feet. Resist the urge to drop one hip or place your weight on one leg. Again, obvious enough, but not always easy to avoid in the moment. If you’re sitting, feel the ground evenly through both feet. It can be tricky in a skirt, but worth doing whenever possible.

Feeling the ground through your feet does what it says on the tin; it helps you feel more grounded and present. It also stabilises your posture, preventing you either feeling or looking like you’re in 'fight or flight'. And that in turn creates a more powerful presence.

3. Abdominal breathing
Imagine a pair of bellows. As the air goes in, they expand; as it leaves, they contract. The same idea applies to abdominal breathing, ideally through a slightly open mouth. As you breathe into the bottom of the lungs the abdomen expands; as you breathe out it contracts. The most important thing, however, is to breathe out first!

Breathing is critical both to how you feel we’re perceived and how you are perceived – influencing how you behave and others respond. Most people take shallow breaths and/or hold their breath, particularly when nervous or challenged. Abdominal breathing reverses this so you operate more effectively. It also helps you speak more clearly and avoid swallowing words. You’ll feel better, be perceived more positively, and imbue your words with the impact you intend.

4. Take the space
Being aware of the space around you – above, below, in front and behind – can transform the impact of your presence. Unfold into that space. Release your arms from your sides. Broaden your shoulders away from your ears. And keep your feet hip-width apart. Hunched shoulders, crossed arms and a caved chest don’t just restrict breathing and create tension. They also make you physically smaller – impacting on your personal presence and suggesting that you don't want to be there.

So take the space, expand into it, occupy it. Your posture will improve. Your chest will open and you'll breathe more easily. You’ll create a stronger presence. And you'll signal to others that you are ready to be seen and to engage.

5. Channel your inner ventriloquist
Okay, not really – but imagining that the stomach (venter) is powering your speech (loqui) can help you project without straining or shouting.

Most people reach forward with their head and neck when they want to be heard. Bring them back instead so they’re aligned with your spine. Relax the throat – it will tense if you shout – and, when you speak, engage your lower abdominals. Projection can take some practice, and works best in conjunction with the other tools. Once cracked, however, you'll deliver your ideas with impact. It's also brilliant sore throat prevention in noisy pubs!

 

Want to learn more? Download our free Chirp Guide to find out how to use your voice more effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.

 

 

Why inspiring your team is not (quite) enough

We often hear that inspiring others is a leadership essential. And yet, on its own, it’s not enough. The most effective (and inspiring) leaders I’ve come across also enable. They embody what they seek in others, and show how it can be achieved. In doing so, they help colleagues take their inspiration and turn it into action.

A few building blocks can help all of us be both inspiring and enabling leaders – particularly when experimenting or leading change. I’ve shared my top five below.

Is risk the secret to success? We could always ask Prince...

'Prince!'  by  Scott Penner  licenced under  CC-BY-SA 2.0

I’ve been running some workshops lately to help colleagues be bolder, experiment, and take a few risks. And they've neatly coincided with the return of Prince. Or 3rdEyeGirl, or TAFKAP, or TAFKASquiggle. Now there’s a man who’s danced with risk/reward ratios in his time. Of which more later.

At each of these workshops the individuals were lively, capable, and pretty confident. They were good at their jobs and high achievers. Yet even the most assured had something outside their comfort zones. Some task or action perpetually consigned to ‘to do’ list purgatory.

It’s not really about productivity, nor whether you do your job well. And, luckily, these unappealing tasks are rarely the same for everyone – be they ringing clients, making new contacts, or pitching fresh ideas.

Most of us get by surprisingly well without having to do the things that make us nervous. We use e-mail instead of the phone. We network within established spheres. We take a deep breath, get on with it, and avoid a repeat for as long as possible.

Yet, as Prince arguably knows, change is often integral to success. Rather than stick to a reliable formula, he has continued to experiment, change, test, and play throughout his long career. Not simply with music, but with his very identity. Not every risk brought rewards – many did; others didn’t. Nonetheless, those bold decisions have been instrumental in his continued success.

Thoughtful experiments won’t always pay off – though experiments that don’t work can prove equally as valuable. Either way, it’s only by giving it a bash that we find out how much better, more exciting, even easier our work could be. By shaking things up, taking the odd punt on a possibility. (Don’t fiddle the LIBOR rates, though. There are limits.)

So, while no one’s looking, why not fish out that neglected ‘to do’ list? Pitch your barmy-yet-brilliant idea to the CEO. Pick up the phone to new clients. And long forgotten ones, too. If nothing else, you’ll at least be able to tick it off that list. I will if you will!

 

Learn more about how to embrace risk, innovation and experiments with our free Chirp Guide. Sign up to receive your download.

 

 

How to avoid dysfunction at work – tips for the (fictional) BBC

My Wednesday evenings have been brightened recently by the arrival of W1A. Set in a fictionalised New Broadcasting House, the BBC comedy stars Hugh Bonneville as the Beeb’s unfortunate Head of Values. It's a gloriously dysfunctional portrayal of the BBC, as enjoyable as it is excruciating.

First, a disclaimer. I used to work at the BBC – alongside many talented, sparky colleagues wholly unlike those in W1A. Yet there are elements of the show that feel deliciously real. And, I admit, I watch with all the delight of being in on the joke.

But these characters aren’t the preserve of the BBC. In fact I’m sure their recognisability greatly contributes to the show’s success. Most of us have met them at some point in our careers, wherever we work. And, sadly, they’re not nearly as entertaining in real life.

Five tips to help your voice work at work

Five tips to make your voice work at work

I was with a client recently who apologised for sounding so hoarse. She explained she’d been in end-to-end meetings the previous day. It was all very productive, she added, until she lost her voice.

The voice is critical to who we are; it forms so much of our identity. And, unless you’re a Trappist Monk, its effective use is key to successful work.

The impact of both words and actions can be transformed with a little attention to how we use our voices. So here are our five top tips to help you use yours to excellent effect.

 

1. Breathe before you speak. It sounds obvious but, particularly in nerve-wracking situations, most of us launch right in – and swiftly run out of breath. If most of your sentence is lost, you can guarantee its impact will be too. So: pause, then, breathe, and then speak!

 

2. Have a go at speaking as if from the stomach rather than the throat. It’ll help you project your voice – and lend authority – without raising it or straining. And that can be a boon in meetings.

(You’ll still need to open your mouth, of course. We’re not advising ventriloquism – however useful you might find that in meetings.)

 

3. Don’t rush! If you have something worth saying, give it the space to be heard and absorbed. In practice that means pausing and taking sufficient breath in longer sentences.

 

4. Think about how you want your words to be received. Delivery is almost as important as content – get those elements in harmony and your words will be infinitely more effective. If you need to persuade, for example, inject your words with energy – don’t undercut yourself by sounding unconvinced. It might take practice, but it’ll help imbue your words with meaning. And you’ll deliver clearer messages with greater impact as a result.

 

5. Be audible. If you’re feeling tired or nervous it can be hugely tempting to swallow your words. And that leaves colleagues baffled at best, and disengaged or irritated at worst. So make sure what you say can actually be heard. It will smooth communications and working relationships!

 

Want to learn more? Download our free Chirp Guide to find out how to use your voice more effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.

 

 

What Sir Tom Jones knows about leadership

What Sir Tom knows about leadership

I have a confession: I’ve finally succumbed to BBC1’s The Voice. I blame the chairs. They’re huge, they light up, and they swivel on demand.

Though clearly thrilled to be picked via a revolving chair, the real draw for the contestants is superstar coaching. The chance for expert leadership from people who’ve been there, done it. And kept doing it.

Fervent aspiration with world-class authority is a compelling mix. The judges clearly know their stuff. But the big question is whether they can empower their teams to achieve the same. Essentially: will they be inspirational leaders?

Each coach has a different style, but it’s Sir Tom Jones that I’ve been watching closely. He knows his experience is an effective selling point. And barely a moment passes without another “starry collaboration” anecdote. (While we all wonder if there’s anyone he hasn’t sung with…)

Last week Sir Tom demonstrated what he's learned about leadership during all those years at the top. That it’s not enough to tell; you must also show. You must lead by example. By doing just that, he transformed his team’s uncertain, lacklustre delivery into a passionate, meaningful performance. Something had suddenly ‘clicked’, within just a few minutes.

One of my criticisms of the show until now has been that we've rarely seen the coaches up on stage. There’s something incredibly powerful about demonstrating excellence in the moment, rather than relying on previous success. Executed consistently, it creates clarity of purpose, avoids misunderstandings, and inspires observers.

Sir Tom seems to know that. Perhaps it's something he learned from all those musicians who inspired him. Either way, leading by example – modelling attitudes, behaviours and practice – is a powerful tool. And that’s the case whether you’re in front of six people or 6.95 million.

 

Want to learn more about how to be a leader who enables as well as inspires? Sign up to download our free Chirp Guide.