Convey your idea, mission, or project through the power of story.

One of the most powerful ideas I have heard recently is that when you share a concept, in reality, you as the presenter are not the hero, your audience is the hero. Nancy Duarte shares this concept with us in her TED Talk as she reveals her passions for presentation.  This is how she describes it:

So if you look at Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, just in the front part, there were some really interesting insights there. So there is this likable hero in an ordinary world, and they get this call to adventure. So the world is kind of brought out of balance. And at first they’re resistant, they’re like “I don’t know if I want to jump into this” and then a mentor comes along and helps them move from their ordinary world into a special world. And that’s the role of the presenter. It’s to be the mentor. You are not Luke Skywalker, you’re Yoda. You’re the one that actually helps the audience move from one thing and into your new special idea, and that’s the power of story.


I love the idea of being the mentor versus the hero as I strive to get an idea, a mission or a project to “catch” and succeed. This idea will forever more clarify the objectives and deliverables for me when I present, write, mentor or lead a team through a project or initiative.

She does an exceptional job of describing how this works for presentations and ideas, that I’ll let her tell you about that while I discuss below the application of this concept to projects and programs: watch her talk here: Nancy Duarte TedXEast : The Common Structure of the Greatest Communicators

The Harry Potter Store on Amazon

How does storytelling work in a project? Turning the listener into the hero in a talk or presentation is hard enough, how do we apply it to a project or an even more daunting pursuit, like a major initiative or mission? First, let’s talk about why we would even want to try in the first place?!  Once more we can turn to Duarte as she describes the power that stories hold to drive action.

I really think they (presentations) have the power to change the world when you communicate effectively through them.

And changing the world is hard. It won’t happen with just one person with one single idea. That idea has got to spread, or it won’t be effective. So it has to come out of you and out into the open for people to see.

…and the way that ideas are conveyed the most effectively is through story.

Nancy Duarte

In any initiative, mission or project your goal is to organize and drive action until the objectives are complete and the deliverables are brought from napkin or whiteboard to reality. Just as Duarte tells us you can’t change the world solo, you can’t single-handedly be as effective doing all the roles on a project as you can leading and organizing the action. The next time you begin a project, try thinking of it as a story you would like to tell.  Instead of envisioning yourself at the end of the project as Supergirl looking over the end state with her cape billowing in the wind, place yourself in the role of the mentor-nodding her head wisely, as the future she envisioned for her team of heroes comes to pass as she looks on.

Picture a powerful, but bumpy start where you define your project or initiative and what you are trying to accomplish.  You are seeking to take a condition that exists in the present into the future. You are attempting to overcome some sort of obstacle and you want your teammates to be the heroes that lead the way in conquering that barrier.  As you lay out your objectives and deliverables to your sponsors or the other stakeholders (people who have something to benefit or lose related to the project or mission) create an immense contrast between the two states, so it is obvious for our heroes to see why they need to follow you, their mentor, and produce the change you are all looking for.

As you start on the project, be sure to regularly engage both your internal team and your other stakeholders in the audience, rallying your heroes to own and tell their piece of the story as it unfolds. This part of the mission or project is commonly called the execution phase and you will inevitably encounter resistance and setbacks along the way.  Just as Duarte suggests, you will have to tack the project back and forth like a sailing ship to adjust to these obstacles.

You have to actually capture the resistance coming against you when you are sailing.

Sometimes we see this as slowing ourselves or our mission down.  This trap is common when we see ourselves as the hero vs. the mentor.  As the hero, we feel any resistance to our project is akin to people stepping on our cape or throwing a kryptonite necklace around our “Superneck.” However, someone with the mindset of a mentor knows the story only gets better with the angst and adjustments your teammates and stakeholders make along the way because the more invested they become, the more of their ideas that are woven into the fabric of the project, the more successful the initiative will be.

Duarte tells us that at the end of a talk or presentation we should describe a “new bliss” and this is one thing many of us are not very adept at when we conclude or get in the home stretch of the project.  As the project or initiative draws closer to the finish line we can be so exhausted that we are not thinking of ending well, we are just thinking of the next endeavor and having this “over with.” The best advice I have for this is to start thinking about how you will end the project as you begin.  Find a way to build the new bliss into the DNA of the project from the beginning when you are establishing objectives and deliverables.  Make one of the deliverables a transition plan into the “new bliss” and continually remind people along the way of where you are going-i.e. continuously tell the story of the project (with the stakeholders as the heroes).

(Jobs debuting the iPhone) ends with the new bliss. He leaves them with the promise that Apple will continue to build revolutionary new products. And he says, “There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love: ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.’ We’ve always tried to do that at Apple and since the very very beginning, we always will.”

Right about now you might be thinking that you can’t tell a story like Steve Jobs or Nancy Duarte or Martin Luther King Jr., and that is true-you are not them.  You were created with your own unique style of storytelling and your job is not to be one of these people- your job is to be fully and completely you.  Your job is to discover the story in each project or initiative and tell that story with your voice, from beginning to end and beyond to the new bliss.  How do I know you can do this?  I know you can do it because I believe we were all created to tell stories and to use those stories to make things better for the people around us.  I believe those stories are inside of you and are bursting to come out into the open. Here is what Nancy Duarte says as she closes her talk, I agree that you are created to soar exactly as she describes:

You know you can change your world. You can change your life. You can change the world that you have control of, you can change your sphere.

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