JD Schramm has a reassuring message for anyone – and that includes just about everyone, really – who frets over the prospect of public speaking. “The beautiful thing about communication is that it is part art and part science,” he told a recent gathering at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. While some people are naturally gifted storytellers, “there are strategies that each of us can employ to work for us.”
Schramm, a lecturer in organizational behavior who also directs the business school’s Mastery in Communication Initiative, gave advice to a dozen of the school’s alumni in advance of an Oct. 20 celebration of the school’s commitment to developing leaders who can address the social and environmental issues of their times. For the occasion, the school’s Center for Social Innovation and its 40-year-old Public Management Program have asked alumni social innovators to participate in “Class Notes Live” sessions. The participants in Schramm’s workshop are among a larger group who will tell, in just four minutes each, their personal stories of impact. Schramm’s job was to get them ready.
His first piece of advice: Skip the boring preamble (“Hello, my name is Marsha and I’m here to tell you about XYZ Company”) and parachute straight into the dramatic heart of the narrative. “Many times we feel like we have to do a lot of prefacing, but four minutes goes by quickly,” Schramm said. “If you spend two minutes on background, you’ve lost an opportunity to grab attention.” Far better to leave the identifying bits until the second paragraph, or to the overhead PowerPoint image, or to the person charged with giving the introductions.
Another important rule is to “follow Goldilocks” – that is, to think carefully about how much detail to include; not too much and not too little. To illustrate, Schramm showed a video from his favorite teaching website, www.TED.com. In it, firefighter Mark Bezos told a brief but colorful story about retrieving a woman’s shoes from her smoldering house. By including a few vivid details – the fact that the homeowner was barefoot, in her pajamas, standing under an umbrella in the pouring rain – he made the story come alive. But “had the fireman gone on and on about the color of the truck and the street address,” Schramm cautioned, “he would have ruined it for us.”
Among Schramm’s other “habits of concise storytelling”:
Founded in April 2009, the Mastery in Communication Initiative helps business school students hone their communication skills with workshops on business presentations, problem-solving, media relations, voice projection, and journaling, among other topics. The program also offers individualized coaching for students as they prepare to enter the world of business.
The focus on public management and social innovation at the Stanford Graduate School of Business started with the creation of the Public Management Program (PMP) by Dean Arjay Miller in 1971. Since then, the PMP has kept reinventing itself to meet the needs of new generations of leaders. The school’s Center for Social Innovation, founded 10 years ago, has extended the work of the PMP to a larger audience of executives and set on a course to develop the field of social innovation. Today there are numerous academic centers for social innovation around the world, and the White House created an Office for Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the United States.- Theresa Johnston