Learn how creative storytelling can be useful for risk management

Authors: John Watson, Elizabeth Carmichael

It’s easy to say, “tell stories to make your point,” but how do we tell the story in a way that will actually resonate with your peers? Today, we want to consider how storytelling can be used internally, to work with peers and leaders to achieve the risk management goals of the institution and the individuals who work there.

  1. Know what you are trying to achieve by telling the story. Do you need buy-in from senior leadership to create a policy on a new and emerging risk? And/or need faculty and staff to sign on to following a new policy? Having a good story about what could go wrong if the institution doesn’t have such a policy can be far more helpful than citing a regulation or statistics.
  2. Get their attention by opening with a hook to let your audience know what you are going to be talking about. For example, “Drones can create more mayhem than I ever imagined. Let me tell you what happened at ABC University recently.”
  3. Keep the details vivid and real. The details are what make the story and you want your listeners to be able to “see” or imagine what actually happened. “It was a disaster” does not convey what happened. For example, “A student saw a drone hovering outside her dorm window and started screaming. Students in the dorm went outside to investigate. When campus police responded to her roommate’s call…” Be mindful of your audience and the level of detail needed. Remember, we live in a bullet-point world; often less is more.
  4. Get to your point and, if appropriate to the story, reassure your listeners. “Thankfully he only sustained minor injuries. It turned out he was a student who was supposed to be using the drone for an approved science project. The problem was that the school had no policy on drones. Risk Management quickly convened a task force to develop a policy, and they haven’t had any problems since the policy was adopted and publicized.”
  5. Stop at the end and reinforce your objective. Don’t go back to the story to add more details or start another similar story. Ask your listeners if they agree with what you are trying to achieve. For example, “So, can we move forward to develop a drone policy for our school?”
  6. Practice and continue to develop your storytelling skills. Storytelling, like any skill, gets better with practice. Practice on your team, on your family, even on your dog. Consider writing out a story and read it aloud before using it in a conversation with senior leaders to see how it reads and sounds. Outside resources such as Toastmasters International or even an improv class at your institution can be helpful.

Storytelling is just one of the skills that a risk manager should invest in, but it’s one that can provide valuable returns.

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