Business Storytelling For Dummies
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No one can fight with a personal dream story you share about the future of a project, a business, a product or service, or an enterprise. It's yours. You own it. However, creating a dream story for your business must be a process that includes many team members so that as many people buy into this vision as possible.

Structure a dream story based on the past

If you're the leader who's spearheading a major change, your job is to offer people a dream and allow them to articulate their version of it. Sometimes these dreams emerge from seeing what's possible in the future. Sometimes the dream comes from the past — a video of a talk from a leader who has since died, an unrealized project, archived materials, or the organization's founding.

When sharing a dream, explain to people why they're the only ones who can do it. Signal that there isn't anybody else who's going to show up and save the day. Add the notion that you're all in it together — you're all in the same boat at sea. When you put it all together, it's really hard to say no.

Follow King's "I Have a Dream" approach

Dr. Martin Luther King articulated what he saw as possible in the future in his 1963, "I Have a Dream" speech. In just 17 minutes, his speech had a massive impact on changing American life that is still felt today. By understanding how he delivered this message, you can create dream stories that do the same.

King outlined a picture of hope utilizing a back-and-forth current state/future state structure. For the first three and a half minutes he paints a picture of the current state. Then he offers a brief glimpse into the future. For the next minute, King talks again about the current state and then for another minute about the future state.

Twenty-four times he moves back and forth between what is and what could be. To inspire people to action, he focused the last four minutes on the hopeful future.

Consider these story elements when crafting an "I Have a Dream" story:

  • Know the audience and what they need to do. Dr. King was very clear about wanting to reach average blacks, whites, and people of any color who viewed the civil rights movement negatively — in this case, anyone who viewed the movement as violent. He made sure the tone of his speech promoted movement but not anger, hatred, or violence.

    Who are the different audiences for the change in your enterprise?

    What behaviors need to be promoted? What one or two behaviors do people need to move away from?

  • Create emotional connection. King directed people's attention to hating racism — through describing the everyday lives of blacks and the daily struggles they faced — instead of hating each other, while at the same time delivering his wish for a new and better world without racism.

    What's the deep enemy in your organization? It typically isn't your competitors. It may be constraints like time, cumbersome customer-facing processes, legacy technologies, and the like.

  • Appeal to people's moral ethics to do right. King cites the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence as promises to be kept. Ethically, most people believe it's necessary to keep a promise. He also refers to the Emancipation Proclamation that President Abraham Lincoln signed 100 years earlier.

    He uses this evidence to show that those who've passed before us desired to move away from racism and into a more hopeful future. In this way, he used credibility and social proof, both forces of influence, to make his points.

    What social proof, from other sources, can you draw on that speaks to moral imperatives and sparks the desire to do right?

  • Provide context. King builds parallels between the struggles that black individuals faced to biblical references and William Shakespeare's play Richard III. Both remind people of important parts of the past. These references also allow King to build images in the audience's mind of cooperation and collaboration together, being brothers and sisters united against the evils of racism.

    What key themes need to be reinforced in your firm's change? Which historical events related to the organization, its industry, or the general marketplace can be provided as context for them?

  • Include figures of speech. Throughout his speech, King uses metaphors and similes to bring forth vivid images and numerous kinds of repetition to enhance memory, such as "We will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together. . . ."

    He says, "We will not be satisfied" multiple times. The constant repetition between the phrases "I have a dream," and "Let freedom ring," creates rhythm, connects ideas, and builds hope.

    There are several types of story embellishments. Which can be used in the dream story you're creating?

  • Use contrast. When King says, "The Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity," he effectively uses contrast. He employs it again to move us to the end of the speech when he states, "1963 is not an end, but a beginning."

    How can you employ the contrast provided by "what is" and "what could be" to enhance the distinction between the current world and what's possible in the future?

  • Move people to action. To do this, King again uses repetition. When he says, "Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana," in addition to telling people not to give up and to continue their cause, he tells them to continue to take action so that freedom can ring from everywhere.

    What exactly do people in your organization need to do differently? What actions can they immediately take?

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Karen Dietz, PhD, is a 25-year veteran in business storytelling consulting, training, and leadership, and organizational development. Lori L. Silverman offers business storytelling training, keynotes, and consulting. For 26 years, she's advised enterprises on strategic planning and organizational change.

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