Engaging lessons from sport: round 2

Anyone for tennis?
Continuing the topical sport theme, this time I’m turning my attention to tennis and the Wimbledon championships. For me, Wimbledon fortnight is a fabulous example of a compelling, engaging story. There are many reasons for that and, as always, for those of us who are looking to develop these kinds of stories in organisations, there’s plenty to learn.

Firstly, there’s a central question to be answered – who’s going to win? It’s something that the audience wants to know the answer to and it draws us in. What’s more, many people think they know the answer and want to find out if they’re right, so they keep paying attention to find out. If the person they thought would win is knocked out in an earlier round, a whole set of new possibilities opens up and they still follow the story to the end.

Every good story has interesting and engaging characters, with characteristics that we recognise and relate to in some way. Over the years there have been many characters who have stepped onto the courts at Wimbledon, from John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg to Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova and Boris Becker. And so many more…. We are entertained by the way their personalities play out, both with a tennis racquet in their hand and when answering journalists’ questions. When we see them as real human beings, warts and all, we connect with them and root for them.

The story builds over the fortnight, with pre-set stages that we know are coming. As each round passes, we build a picture of who’s in form and who isn’t, who’s healthy and who’s got a heavily-strapped wrist, who’s in and who’s out. We know that in the first round there will be 128 players, by the quarters we’ll be down to 8 and the final is just the best 2. Because we’re comfortable and know the structure, we can focus on listening to what is happening in the story.

So, if you’re using stories to communicate and engage in your organisation – and frankly, we all should be – these are the things to remember:

  • Establish the key narrative question that your audience wants answered.
  • Ensure that the question is answered at some point – and bring in new questions to keep their interest over time.
  • Create or identify some strong characters that your audience will relate to and be entertained by.
  • Develop and communicate a clear structure for your story (or use a well-established one) so that everyone knows what to expect and when – make the story easy to follow.
  • If you use these steps, you’ll have the basis for engaging stories that grip your audience.

    How do you build stories in your organisation? I’d love to hear what works for you. And if you haven’t used your story yet, feel free to get in touch for help.

    Until next time

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