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October 8, 2018 | By

Storytelling is Key to Online Meeting Success

Imagine you dial into an online meeting with your team, and the host starts by saying, “Today I’d like to discuss several ways to improve interdepartmental communication to enhance the organization’s cross-functional initiatives and ensure that our overall operational efficiencies are… blah, blah, blah.”

Two words: Bore. Ring.

Now imagine instead that the host opens the online meeting this way:

“Let me start with a brief story. About 20 years ago, Volvo faced a strange problem. Their green cars stopped selling, and nobody knew why. The car-buying public, for whatever reason, no longer seemed to like the color green. So Volvo created discounts and promos just for its green models, and they started selling again. Great news, right? Except they forgot to tell the rest of the company what was going on. So when the manufacturing team saw this sudden spike in sales, they increased their production of green cars. Of course, this meant the company was soon dealing with another batch of green Volvos they couldn’t sell without steep discounts.”

Those are two introductions to the same online meeting about interdepartmental communication. The first is a total snooze-fest, but the second is actually pretty interesting, right? The secret is that stories often represent the best way to engage an audience, hold their attention, fire up their energy and creativity, and persuade them to act. Which is why you should include relevant, memorable stories in your online meetings every chance you get. And that’s not just an opinion—it’s science.

The Research Is Overwhelming: Stories Work in Business

Harvard Business Review has reported studies showing the massive power of stories to improve employees’ productivity and creativity. And according to an Inc.com feature on the power of stories, they affect us both intellectually and emotionally (unlike stats, which can reach us only on an intellectual level), and it’s this emotional resonance that propels us to act. All of which helps explain this data point in Hubspot’s 2018 Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics: In B2B sales, the tool that helps convert and accelerate the most leads is the case study. Why? You guessed it: the case study is a story, and when it’s time to make a buying decision, nothing moves us like a good story.

Now let’s talk about a few great ways to infuse stories into your online meetings to make them more productive, effective, and fun.

Open Your Online Meeting with a Story

If you had to attend an online meeting to discuss the importance of interdepartmental communication—and you were understandably expecting it to be terribly boring call—wouldn’t you be pleasantly surprised if the host opened with that Volvo story I described in the intro?

Stories have many benefits:

  • Stories grab our attention.
  • Stories force us to focus on what’s coming next.
  • Stories tune tune out all distractions (both external and in our own heads), so we don’t miss anything.
  • Hearing stories can help spark our own imagination and creativity.

Can you think of a better way to start an online meeting with your team or a prospect?

So start your meeting with a story that’s both interesting and relevant to your agenda—and you’ll have your attendees’ full attention, as well as the creative centers of their brains firing, when it’s time to dig in to the details.

Use Stories as Anchors for Key Topics in Your Online Meetings

Let’s say you’re running a meeting online with your team to discuss planning for an upcoming tradeshow. How will you structure that discussion? You could go the snooze-fest route: just read the long list you’ve prepared of specific tasks, assignments, due dates, etc. (or show them on your screen, if it’s a video conference), and then start talking through them, one by one.

Yeah, I know: “Zzzzzzzz,” right? But do you know why that type of discussion is so boring? It’s because it doesn’t engage our “crocodile brain.”

In his book Pitch Anything, sales superstar Oren Klaff explains that the human brain has evolved over millions of years to tune out anything that doesn’t intrigue us, get us curious, or make us nervous. That’s how we’ve survived and thrived as a species. We’re always on the lookout for opportunities (stuff that can help us) and threats (stuff that can kill us). But this also means that because your long list of tradeshow tasks isn’t going to strike your online meeting attendees as novel, intriguing, or threatening, they’re going to tune you out.

So instead, start that part of the discussion with a story about the exciting experience your tradeshow attendees are going to have as they walk up to your company’s booth.

Remember to:

  • Make it fun.
  • Make it interesting.
  • Add in some suspense or even a threat—what happens if a rep at a nearby booth tries to steal your attendee’s attention away?

All of these things will engage your team’s “croc brains,” which will keep them checked in, firing up their own imaginations, and far more enthused about digging into that task list.

Tell Stories in Your Meetings About Relevant Conversations

Finally, another great way to sneak helpful stories into your online meetings is to recap conversations you’ve had that are relevant to the meeting’s agenda topics.

Let’s say you’re meeting with your team after that tradeshow we just discussed in the previous tip—sort of a post-show review of what went right and what you could improve for the next event. And let’s say your company’s executive staff was very positive about what your team did at the show.

You could just tell your team, “By the way the execs were very pleased with how the tradeshow worked out.” Nice, but, zzzzzzzzzz. Could you turn that into a story?

How did you find out the execs were pleased? Maybe the CEO pulled you aside in the hall and said, “Hey, I am really impressed at how you and your team pulled together our exhibit and our overall presence at the show. I wasn’t expecting much because I know we didn’t give you a lot of budget and you’re all working on so many other things. But you really did an amazing job anyway and you made us look great. Please pass my gratitude onto your team, okay?”

That’s a story! So tell your team every last detail, starting with “The CEO pulled me aside in the hall.” Everyone on that online meeting will be riveted. When they’ve heard the end, they’ll also feel a lot more positive about their own role and the contribution they’re making to the organization. And you’ll be a lot more likely to get their creative juices flowing for improvements to the next show.

All because you told a great story.


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