Innovation Storytelling For Consultants: The “Chocolate & Peanut Butter” Of Delicious Client Engagements

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Ahh, the ’80’s.

Walkmen. Cowboys with chocolate. Random women eating gobs of peanut butter from the jar while walking down the street.

Good times.

Reese’s gave us an unlikely combination of flavors that changed how we look at both chocolate and peanut butter. By mixing them together, they made something better.

The same is true for consulting and innovation storytelling.

As disciplines, they might seem far apart. But they’re inseparable from any consultant’s success.

What Is Innovative Storytelling?

First, let’s get the story straight.

Innovation Storytelling is different from traditional storytelling.

The National Storytelling Network says, “Storytelling is the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination.”

That’s great. But when you’re seeking to introduce change, disruption, or even breakthrough ideas, your job is to influence the people in the room to get on board.

It’s simply not enough to be descriptive.

Innovation Storytelling is the art and science of painting a picture of a better future — and helping the listener to imagine themselves within that vision.

That’s my definition, and it requires some special techniques to help people overcome their fears and walk happily into the unknown.

Why Data Isn’t Enough

Imagine that you’ve just completed your research. You’ve crunched the numbers and are about to present them to the client. You’re armed with data, the current state of the union, projections, and a strategy to get them to the next level.

Unfortunately, data alone won’t adequately describe the problem or the solution to motivate others to act on your strategy.

According to Stanford University research, this is due to two reasons:

  • People can’t remember facts or statistics roughly 6 minutes after leaving a meeting.
  • People are 22 times more likely to remember your important data if wrapped in a story.

Innovation Storytelling is the art and science of painting a picture of a better future — and helping the listener to imagine themselves within that vision.

That’s because stories are memory-making devices.

They conjure our memories and emotions that relate to the topic at hand.

And then, they allow us to remember new facts and statistics once we hear them in association with the story we’re hearing.

Ask any public health worker or 12-step group leader who has tried to get someone to quit smoking, drinking, overeating, or gambling. Facts alone won’t and can’t do it.

Stories work because they hold the ultimate trigger: emotions. Only emotions move us into action. Feelings are the force that creates momentum.

As consultants, we need the client to remember the most critical data and to act on our strategies.

It’s why I think of stories as the best tool for both productivity and engagement. And they’re free.

We need to engross people beyond the boring PowerPoint and bring them into a world where they experience the data as their current and future reality.

So before we get to the strategy, review your most recent slides for a client and ask yourself:

  • What are the three most important data points the client must remember to act on my strategic recommendation?
  • Name one clear example or story to share that would generate a strong emotion to move them closer to accepting my strategy.
  • Assign an emotion you want your listener to feel on each slide of the presentation – fear, anger, desire, joy, jealousy, innovative, curious, etc.. If boredom arises, you’re missing an opportunity to engage the listener and get them to the best part of your talk: their role in fulfilling the strategy.

Unfortunately, data alone won’t adequately describe the problem or the solution to motivate others to act on your strategy.

Storytelling Strategy For Consultants

If you consider what a strategy is, it’s fiction.

It’s a futuristic look at what could happen over the next two quarters or the 5-year forecast.

I learned this from Chris Mattman, Head of Innovation at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, when he was a guest on my podcast, The Innovation Storytellers Show.

I asked him, “How do you plan for the next 50 years of space travel?”

He told me that he gathers futurists, science fiction writers, other innovation leaders, and NASA scientists to write a science fiction story about what space travel could look like.

They write it like a novel or a movie and then work backward to determine what’s possible — the “what if.”

And part of that inquiry is determining where the most excitement lies in the possibilities. They know they will need that enthusiasm to overcome 1,000 obstacles between here and execution.

If innovation is central to NASA’s success in making the invisible visible, imagine how powerful it could be for you.

Since your client’s strategy is just fiction until someone executes it, how can you paint the picture of the future for others to see?

Here are some ideas to start your story:

  1. History: get everyone on board by getting a consensus on the starting point – the company history, core values, and the purpose of the consulting engagement. Remind people why it’s essential for today and the future.
  2. Shift: Create drama in your story by discussing what the macro [e.g., climate change, COVID, work from home, job market, etc.] or micro [e.g., new execs, new legislation, new markets, new competitor] forces are that causing the change and need to be addressed now. Use data to support the story. Hint how a new strategy is imperative to make the change to survive and win.
  3. Message: Devise a memorable message. Use simile, metaphor, rhyme, acronym, or pneumonic device that helps people remember your new strategy. Let it paint that future vision that people can truly see themselves supporting and leading.

Next, when you’re confident in your innovation story, try it out on peers and family members to see if they would believe it and follow your client into battle.

Before sharing it broadly, find a few early adopters (like all of the greatest prophets had) for your new strategy before the meeting.

You’ll need them to help champion your approach and spread the message in their own words.

We know that User Generated Content [UGC] is more trusted, shared, and valuable in generating revenue than you sharing it alone.

Today, it’s the #1 indicator of successful innovation storytelling across all channels, from the Boardroom to social media.

Don’t be afraid to turn your incredible data into innovation stories that help sell the strategy and get people excited for their next engagement with you.

Creating an unforgettable presentation, with stories others can repeat and make their own, will make your client’s next steps that much easier.

susan lindner innovative storytelling for consultants Susan Lindner is the Founder and CEO of Innovation Storytellers, a global consulting firm helping innovation teams to become world class storytellers and the podcast host of The Innovation Storytellers Show. She is a highly sought-after keynote speaker, workshop leader, messaging strategist, storytelling coach, and the world’s leading expert on innovation storytelling.

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