In this #mtpcon London+EMEA session, Petra Wille, Product Leadership Coach and author of STRONG product people, provides some tips and frameworks for product managers to improve their storytelling capabilities and silence their inner critics.
Watch the session to see her talk in full or read on for an overview of her key points:
- Why stories are important
- What stories do
- Creating and telling a good story
- Making your message stick
Why stories are important
Perfect storytelling through childhood stories helps us get what we want. Humans love to listen to stories because they entertain and captivate us as well as trigger essential hormones. Oxycontin causes us to build trust, generosity, and a personal connection. Endorphins can make someone laugh or help them deal with fear, pain, or uncertainty. Dopamine leads to a desire to know what happens the next time you tell a story with peaks and cliffhangers.
These hormones are helpful for product managers as they can allow them to use stories to plan and solve problems. “We remember in stories and turn just about everything that we experience into a story,” said Petra. In addition, product managers can use stories to convince others to solve problems as a group.
What stories do
A story can be used to unite people as it allows one person to get others excited. Companies with iconic brands are good at telling stories, yet most organizations are unaware that good storytelling can help solve problems. “I’ve seen many products that never saw the light of day because the product managers were unable to tell a good story about what they actually want to achieve. As a result, the product team was uninspired and divided and internal stakeholders were not convinced to support,” Petra explained.
During her time as a product manager, Petra discovered this firsthand as her team found themselves in a situation where they didn’t get much feedback from users, and the metrics weren’t good. They found that they needed to improve their storytelling and ability to evangelize.
Stories are a perfect design tool since everyone can create one, they’re easy to iterate on, and they help you gain more clarity. Storytelling might be the missing piece when a product isn’t going to plan, not another addition to the roadmap.
Creating and telling a good story
A good story paints a picture of a desirable future. It makes it clear why someone should become part of this future and suggests a common goal with just enough information to make the next steps clear for listeners.
For product managers, this means getting others to buy into a strategy and make trade-off decisions during the product creation process. It also helps users and customers understand the value of the product and how it could upgrade their lives.
So, how do you create a good story?
- Make time: A good story can save hours of meeting times trying to convince stakeholders.
- Overcome the fear of the blank page: Petra suggests you start with a simple solution of “We want to ___. In order to ___. Because if we don’t, ___.”
- Decide who is at the center: This can either be the customer or your team.
- Check if the story is painting a desirable future and explains why the audience should want to be a part of that future.
- Run casual interviews: Talking to your team can enable you to get a sense of any internal reservations they may have.
- Create a sense of urgency and present information that enables action.
Making your message stick
There are three ways to get your message or story across: written, spoken, or illustrated. A short story should be no more than 150 words or 75 seconds. A medium story should be 900 words or 6 minutes long and can be broken down into three acts of a play of 300 words each. In this approach the simplest thing to do is to tell the audience what you will tell them, tell them, then repeat what you told them for emphasis. Finally, a long story can be broken down into three acts of 800 words each or no more than 18 minutes long. Here pictures and illustrations can be useful.
The key takeaways from this talk are that humans automatically think in stories and good stories trigger something in us. They can be useful to facilitate group work, and storytelling is a skill that everyone can learn; it only takes a few ingredients and structures to get started.
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