Tag Archives: story

Write a compelling story

Write a compelling storyPeople learn by reading stories. But are your stories getting the result you want? We learned from the film industry to make a compelling story by introducing a problem, a solution and an enemy. Your story is the journey from the problem to the solution, documented in key points that form the paragraphs.

Organizations have been using story telling for quite a while but how do you know it has any results? If you’re only focusing on acquiring and publishing stories, you might get lost in producing input. The danger is that you invest a lot of time and effort that doesn’t pay back. One (of many) reasons could be that your audience is not reading your stories at all. It could be that you lost them after the first paragraph.

What makes a good story?

All good stories (Disney’s Snow White, The Lord Of The Rings, etc) start with a problem and an enemy is introduced. The story is about solving the problem and working toward a solution. The enemy is preventing an all-to-easy solution of the problem and is a guarantee for plot twists. Take any other story in mind and you’ll see it fits: problem, enemy, solution, steps to solution.

The steps to the solution are the key points, the takeaways, of your story. Each key point is something to remember and will form the paragraphs of your story, when you work it out. In this blog entry, all key points are marked in bold. This makes it easier to skip text and still capture the essence of the blog. Do you have much to share? Find the main key points and break them down. Next, do the same with the sub key points you’ve created.

Stick to the core, the essence of your story. Less is more. If a paragraph has no key points marked in bold, ask yourself: “Is this paragraph needed? Is it key to the story?”. For me, this is the biggest challenge. Also experts are challenged here not to bury the essence in too many details and paragraphs.

How to capture the attention of the audience?

Before story starts, you need to capture the attention of the audience. Create the setting for the story and make sure they can relate.

In most stories and movies the audience can relate to the main character and starts to “live” the story. The reader is compelled and is pulled into it. Remember sitting on the edge of your chair when Frodo almost lost his ring in the LOTR movie?

People have nowadays (too) much communication to read and they’re very scarce with giving anything their time and attention. You only have the first seconds when they start reading your story. Make sure that the “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM) is captured in the very first paragraph of your text. The WIIFM contains the core of your story, the main reason to convince your reader why he should spend time in reading. You might consider it as a summary of your whole text. If this doesn’t trigger into reading, he’d never have read the full story. Consider it as an acid test for your story.

It might sound odd to give it all away in the very first paragraph of the text, but this is needed to gain interest. Check your local newspaper: they do it too: a nice title and the very first paragraph is the summary of the whole article. If the summary gets you interested, you read further. If you are interested, but you don’t have much time, you skip to the key points marked in bold. If you’re not interested, you check the title and summary of the next article.

When do I start?

So knowing all this, when do you start writing better stories? As of today!

1. Next time you write a story, start with answering following questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • What is the setting, the context?
  • What is the solution?
  • What are the steps to the solution? (these will become your key points)

If you find answers to these questions, you can write the summary of your story. Consider it as an elevator pitch: you need to pitch the story to somebody new and have only a few minutes of his time.

2. Write your story: elaborate your key points to create paragraphs.

3. Check your story and remove all information that’s not core to the problem or the solution. Strip it down to the bare essentials.

4. Mark the key takeaways in your paragraphs as bold.

Additional reading

Tagged , , , ,

Show your gratitude

It started on Monday around lunch time: the message was spread on the news that there was going to be another snow storm in Belgium. I don’t know how they call in the other countries, but when there falls more than five centimeters of snow in Belgium, it’s called a “snow storm”. From the last snow storm I recalled that going to work during rush hour was key for success… if you like to wait for hours. So I made the agreement with my team lead to work at home, recently possible for all on territory Belgium.

Today on the radio the news was staggering: we’re up for a Belgian record of traffic jam. a 1440 kilometers traffic jam was record around 8 AM. I was happy that I made the agreement to work from home. My wife was less happy: she has a job where it’s not possible to work from home, so she left to join the traffic jam which was even already reaching to the road where we live. Working from home meant that I also had the opportunity to bring my daughter to the daycare center on a safe way, with the buggy instead of the car. (I know, living so close to the day care center is a luxury in Belgium, but still we tend to go with the car.)

On my way over there, ploughing through the snow and fresh in my mind the donut gift that I got from KBC on compliment day, I was thinking: “How can I repay my employer for this personnel advantage they gave me?”. (Just like my colleague Koen Vingerhoets posted last week on LinkedIn). So I thought: how would I find the message myself that I would like to spread? … My personal blog… Twitter!

In front of the day care center, I took a picture with my daughter safe in the buggy and posted it on Twitter:

@KBC Thanks for giving me the option to work at home on days like these and bring my daughter save to the day care. #kbc #homework

Dutch: @KBC Bedankt dat ik op een dag als deze thuis kan werken en mijn dochter veilig nr de creche brengen. #kbc #thuiswerk


I know that this way, many young potential colleagues will look for and find our company, hence also see the positive message. “It IS possible to work at home with KBC as employer. They are really telling the truth in their advertising.” I know this is what I would be looking for: facts, a positive employee story and proof that the maintaining a healthy work-life balance is feasible.

Did you also got the opportunity to work at how during the snow storm? Did you share your gratitude to your employer on social media? Why not?

Tagged , , , ,

Change culture by changing behavior – part 3: Story telling

Change is a process. Change is a journey. Change is exploration, thinking, mistaking, learning, testing, accepting, supporting and struggling. Change is emotion having an argument with reason. You cannot change culture if you want your employees to change their behavior. It’s the other way around: you need to change behavior to change the culture of your organization.

Big change projects have the tendency to change processes, organization, structures and training to change culture. But that’s only an illusion. New studies, like “Accelerate” by John Kotter and “Viral Change” by The Chalfont Project have arguments against this tendency which are very compelling and make sense.

There are several ways to change behavior, but I would like to discuss three topics with you in separate short blog entries: role modelling, distributed networks and story telling.

Part 3 – Story telling

Story telling has been there for ages

Story telling has been there for ages

Story telling is not new to us. For thousands of years story telling was the one way experiences and lessons learned were spread. This because the majority of human population was illiterate until the last two to three hundred years, Our brains seem to learn and remember better when the information is processed in the form of stories. Many management guru’s have rediscovered this and used it to write fictional stories like “Who moved my cheese“, “Our iceberg is melting“, the Patrick Lencioni series and real life experiences like “Leading from the edge – Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition“.

But story telling goes beyond writing and distributing books (I read of a case where the “Who Moved my cheese” book was spread to an entire organization to support the change effort). Story telling is about sharing experiences, both positive and negative experiences.

The theory of appreciative inquiry teaches us that by focusing on positive points and experiences, you can achieve better results, then when focusing on what’s going wrong. The case of OSHA mill proved a decrease in work related accidents when the power of positive story telling was unleashed. (A decrease is good situation when you’re talking about the number of accidents, of course.)

A distributed community sharing stories about positive experiences with their change efforts will have an exhilarating effect on the organization. Remember: if your need to set the organization on fire, communities are your oxygen.

But don’t write of sharing negative experiences completely. Sharing negative experiences… can be positive too. As you show you’re not invulnerable, but also human, and that you learned something from the experience.

Sharing both types of stories are signs of a mature community growing in your organization.

Additional reading

Changing the way we think about change by Leandro Herrero

Accelerate by John Kotter


Tagged , , , , , , ,

A cheesy story

Who Moved My CheeseThey asked us to discuss the “Who Moved My Cheese” management fable during a forum. I already read the book and decided to dive in the big load of information about it on the Internet.

I’m not going to be the 1002nd blog that describes the contents of the book here, but will give some insights.

What i did find on the Internet was somehow surprising.

First, the book is a big success. I found testimonials from companies like Xerox, Kodak and CBS praising it into heaven. Business executives are proud to mention that this book changed their personal and professional live….

I grabbed the book back again. Am i missing something? No, i got the conclusion. The lessons learned seem ok. Strange.

Further, there is also a lot of criticism on the book: it’s too shallow, it’s childish, it’s only a big article, …  On some websites you find statements of the readers that interpret the book as an insult. I found one blog that is almost praising it into oblivion.

I can find some logic in both opinions, but to compare it with a pendulum, I’m somewhere in the middle, perhaps more to the positive side.

What can you expect from the book?

A simple story about dealing with change. The book is written from the perspective of the one that can cope with change. The perspective of the one which has more difficulties with is, doesn’t get the attention it earns.

Essential concepts like the change management curve, dealing with resistance and organizational impact are not discussed.

Organizational change

Would organizational change go easier with this book? Well, I’m not sure. Just buying and distributing the books inside the organization will not help people through the change curve. On the other hand, it can be used for creating awareness about the challenges change can bring.

How would you sell the book?

Try to emphasize the morals, the lessons learned. How are these applicable to your organization?

Address the criticism. It is a short book, it is a simple story and it is printed in font size 18 with pictures on a whole page. But it contains some powerful and to-the-point lessons.

Did you read the book? Please share your findings with me!

PS: target reached: “cheese” and “mouse” are not mentioned once in this blog entry!

Tagged , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: