Storytelling In Project Management

Paul Naybour

As a project manager, you are, no doubt, continually striving to improve your skills. However, some skills cannot be easily taught but have to be learnt over time. One of those skills is storytelling. You tell a story in a certain way and the words you say are remembered – the way the words sound, the way the words are linked together, the way key points are repeated – the fact the information is given in a memorable and interesting way. Good stories always stay with you.
Why Is Storytelling Relevant In Project Management?
Because, let’s face it, some projects can be just a little bit dull but good storytelling makes information memorable, which is key when you’re trying to get a certain message across to your team, senior management or anyone willing to listen (as it can feel like at times!).
It’s Natural
It’s actually natural for us to create stories. Humans are naturally creative because we have an imagination. In a PM environment when your team hear or read data, it will translate into some sort of story in their brains – we naturally process information that way. Everything we learn has a narrative in our brains, which means when you’re telling a story to stakeholders – you’re the author and have a large amount of power over how the story ends.
It’s Memorable
If you want anyone to remember what you have said, make your messages into stories. Add a human element to the messages you are conveying. Don’t just tell your team that the project is important because of X financial value and Z organisation values – be emotional. Explain the impact of the project on people’s lives, how it will feel when people interact or use the end-product of the project.
Stories are much more memorable than simple facts, and combining facts and stories together is extremely powerful as your audience will believe in what you are saying because it is factual, but they also buy into it because it is emotional. They receive the data as a story, not just as a fact which can be easily forgotten.
Backing Up Your Data
People care about why, not just what. Factual evidence alone provides nothing but, well, factual evidence – there’s no context. When providing your sponsor with factual information alone, they will fill in the ‘why’ themselves, potentially ending in them panicking, worrying or thinking something much more dramatic than they need to. Explaining the ‘why’ when it comes to the facts means no drama, because you’re giving your facts context – you’re providing the information your sponsor really wants to know.
Project management is all about communication. You work with so many people in so many different capacities – it’s always going to be key. Stories are a form of communication that not only let us add meaning to information, but encourages us to share that meaning with others.
Add Meaning To Your Facts
Adding meaning to your facts, means helping your audience remember the facts, care about them more, relate to them and want to share them. Storytelling is a way to add a ‘human’ side to what can be a sterile working environment at times. It provides the ability for positive manipulation, effective demonstration and strong communication.

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