2014.11.10 How (not) to tell your story

I have discussed communication patterns before here and here.

Where the previous articles discussed signaling respect and direct vs. indirect ways to communicate, this blog is about structuring what you want to say.

American management consultants have for years and all over the world advocated for the model:

Tell them what you are going to tell them,
tell them,
and then tell them what you told them.

Not presented with much competition from local management theories, I originally thought that this was the way the audience, any audience, was most likely to learn. Only later have I figured out that this is the most likely way to keep an American audience listening.

With this blog primarily directed towards a non-American audience, know that the "Tell'em, tell'em, tell'em" model is still valid advice all over the U.S. Their school system teaches this form of argumentation so an American audience is primed for expecting this structure.

With the many other nationalities working in USA and particularly in Silicon Valley you may, however, lose part of the audience if using this form indiscriminately. You may even have experienced that this form just didn't do it for you when you were in the audience?

Or perhaps you have not pondered what it was about some presentations that engaged you and others that left you with so many questions that you just didn't know where to start?

Many Europeans 1 and Asians 2 want to understand the context and the theory of what they hear – more than they want to accept that this product/service/approach worked well somewhere else in a famous company or with some famous people; an approach that is often working very well with Americans. (Bear in mind that what is famous to you is not necessarily famous to people who grew up somewhere else.)

Simon Sinek has written and spoken about the power of the Why – understanding the rationales are big motivators for some of us.

I believe that understanding the rationales also creates room for improvising behaviors if the situation changes. Knowing the Why gives direction and as long as we move in the right direction, I for one don’t like to be told that there is only one way to get there. (Particularly not if the context has changed and the “one way” doesn’t seem to work that well.)

But I am biased because I grew up primed for asking questions. I want to have a reason. Give me blank edicts and my hackles are all raised.

However, I am not the arbiter if one communication model is better than the other except to say that if it works it is the right model for that audience. Losing the audience - either because Americans can't wait for you to get to the point or because non-Americans don't accept the credentials you present in your stories - doesn't serve your case.

So how do we hold the attention when communicating within this cultural mixed salad? Perhaps we need a hybrid model:

Tell them what you are going to tell them,
tell them the Why (the context and the reasoning),
and tell them a story.

And then be prepared that Q&A may be totally different from what you are used to as well.