Everyone loves a good story. There are people like Gary Vaynerchuk who could make a trip to the vending machine sound like an exotic epic adventure, people like Jocko Willink who have courageously fought in battles and lived to tell us about it, and people like Oprah who came from homes of heartbreak but defied all odds, disrupted their industry and changed our world.
And then there are people like me, who are naturally concise, fear misleading people with possible exaggeration and have enjoyed fairly comfortable but not exciting lives. If you were to ask me to tell you a story, I would first go silent and then stutter as I racked my brain to come up with a good one.
Early in my career, I lived in Caracas, Venezuela. Part of my job at a local economic publication’s office was to read the financial and economic news in the top five local newspapers and summarize dozens of news stories into short paragraphs for the busy, pre-internet business executive. I became adept at concisely presenting the essence of complex, messy issues in a volatile Latin American economy.
The trouble is that left to themselves, cold, hard, summarized facts seldom persuade people. Changing hearts and minds often requires an emotional connection. A great way to inspire an audience to emotionally connect with a message is through a compelling story.
I believe we are now in the day of the storytellers, and I'm having a hard time. My ordinary life seems bereft of interesting stories that will stir up emotions in anyone. The words "tell me a story" trigger my brain to shut down.
Fortunately, I learned a useful way to structure messages from author and writing coach Alexandra Franzen: feel, know, do. This structure can help you craft a message (an email, a conversation or a presentation) by choreographing what you want your audience to feel, to know and to do.
This structure has helped me articulate the right amount of detail in my message without the pressure to make a story out of it. In the process of using this communication structure, I've found that stories sometimes show up of their own volition.
This simple structure can be quite useful. If you think about how you want an audience to feel about your topic, your brain starts to deliver anecdotes and examples that could help you communicate your message.
The feel, know, do structure can help you make your message resonate with your specific audience at an emotional and logical level while specifying a call to action. These things often happen naturally when you share a good story. This structure can be a workaround when you can't think of an appropriate story to share.
Here's how it works:
What do you want your audience to feel about your message? Do you want them to be enthusiastic about a new software update? Relaxed about an upcoming reorganization (or maybe motivated to change)? Do you want them to feel inspired to adapt to new processes?
Whatever emotion you want to inspire, consider what would cause this particular audience to feel that way. If you want them to feel curious, start by sharing a little-known fact about your topic. For a message about the importance of being friendly in a job interview, for example, start by sharing some research on the subject. If you want your audience to feel excited, consider what excites you, or ask people in the audience what they're excited about.
What does your audience need to know about your topic? People tend to include too much information in their presentations. It's also not unusual for emails to include too many details. The audience wants to know how your topic is specifically relevant to them. Imagine that you're the curator of all knowledge on the topic. Carefully select the relevant material, and leave out what's left. You can always give them additional technical details by sharing a handout or links.
Consider also how your audience might respond to your message. Aim to address any potential objections to your ideas preemptively.
What would you like your audience to do as a result of your message? Most of the time, your presentations and emails need a clear call to action. If you're simply sharing information on a situational awareness basis, maybe your goal is that the audience remembers the message at the right moment.
Here's an example of how to put the feel, know, do structure into action:
You have a great idea to improve a process that’s part of your company's next system upgrade. You’re a self-taught expert, and your boss is an engineer. This situation could be called a tough sell.
• Feel: You want your boss to feel confident in this change and confident that it won't throw any shadow over his or her own leadership success.
• Know: Your boss needs to know how this will work, the direct and indirect cost of implementing the change, the cost of not changing and any perceived risks.
• Do: You want your boss to back your proposal and all that it entails, which you spell out in your presentation.
When you want your message to resonate with your audience and you can't think of a fascinating anecdote to drive it home, use the feel, know, do structure. Using this tool can train your brain to focus on how the audience will receive your presentation, email or pitch, which is one of the keys to excellent communication. This tool may even elicit a forgotten story.
By using the feel, know, do structure to focus on how the audience will receive and act on your message, you can help get yourself on the way to the communicator hall of fame.