‘Let me tell you a story…’
A line that has almost, always earned an immediate interest from the audience.
Everyone likes a good story!
Be it stories that have a plot twist, a happy ending, or even the ones that wrench your soul out — a good story always tugs at our hearts.
So how does storytelling play out for a Product Manager? Or better yet, does it even matter?
The answer, my friend, is that storytelling sets you apart. It makes your product more relatable. And it makes you more effective as a Product Manager.
Let’s get right to it.
First things first — be present
That’s right, let’s kick things off with the elixir of telling a great story — being present.
Now while you’re up there and telling your story to a room full of people, exuding presence should come easily right?
Not really. While you’re pulling off a great narrative and doing all the talking, your brain is thinking of what you’re gonna say next — sounds familiar?
Well, this happens even to the best Product Manager.
Let’s take another look at it now — you’re in a meeting and you can’t seem to wait for the speaker to stop talking so that you can add your point. What’s happening now is that you’re not listening.
Yup, no presence — no good!
When you’re thinking of what to say next, you’re not delivering your story with the right energy. Psychologically, here’s what happens — your brain holds an equilibrium between the task at hand and everything else. If the task you’re dealing with is considerably easy and you are not that motivated to do it — then you are opening up the door for distractions.
Your job as a storyteller is to connect with the audience both intellectually and emotionally. You can only strike all the right chords if you are a 100% present — be in the moment, right there, right then!
Let’s talk about the ‘smart cells’ in our brains, a.k.a mirror neurons. The mirror neurons get activated whenever we see someone expressing emotions like sadness, pain, or anger. That sums up how we humans are wired to empathize.
When you’re pulling off a great story, what’s essential is that you need to be fully engrossed into it, narrating the story with all the right emotions. Your emotions are easily picked up by the audience, thanks to the mirror neurons that create a similar experience and mirror the emotions that they’re seeing. That’s how you get your story to leave on a long-lasting impression.
Having said that, overcoming the tendency to be non-present is not an easy feat. The scroll culture is upon us and it is wreaking havoc in our ability to focus. Adding to that, there is scientific proof that your brain was designed to be distracted.
Alright, hang on now — all is not lost. I’m gonna show you how you can work your way around this.
Unraveling the art of product storytelling
While for some of us cooking up tall tales and stringing a story together comes naturally, most of us are not blessed with the gift of the gab.
But hey, like everything else out there — product storytelling is only something that you will get better at with time, practice and a few tricks of the trade. Here’s are some tricks from great product managers.
> Make notes, jot ’em down:
You never know when a great idea to sell your product will hit you, so don’t let your guard down — always have a notepad handy. Note down those points that you think are relatable to your audience, that will set your product apart and throw them into your narrative to build a great story.
> Practice before you preach:
Practice has been a quintessential storytelling tool. If you want to win hearts with your story, it’s gotta be active and direct. For that to happen, you need to practice well — go through your lines in front of a mirror, get your emotions right, pick the phrases you want to stress upon, and bring in variations in your story with the right expressions and voice modulations.
> Get your lines right:
Being prepared and knowing what you want to say about your product, goes without saying. But the ‘how’ is what is crucial to selling a great story. Think about how you want to position your product and how you are gonna build that narrative.
> Embrace the pause:
Not everyone can be in the moment, not think of what they are gonna say next and just go on with the flow like a boss. It’s true that for some of us if we don’t think of what we are gonna say next, the worst of our fears come true — we stop.
Pro tip — take a dramatic pause. You not only get a few seconds to collect your thoughts, but you also let what you just said sink in with the audience.
Getting your product’s narrative right
Like all great stories, keep your story simple yet captivating. Every story falls heavily on the need for a solution, typically known as a ‘the need for a hero’.
Let me set a storyboard in place for you to get this right.
For starters, let’s tackle the motive
Why are you the product manager telling this story? What is the reason behind building your product? Ask yourself these questions before you get started. For the audience to buy your story, you need to set out the basics for them — tell them your motive behind building this product in the first place. In business storytelling, you must set out the very vision or the goal of your business and your product. When you’re giving your audience the big picture, you’re letting them ‘in the know’ and you are giving them a reason to care.
Now, this is where you step it up a bit by bringing in a rising need for your product. How do you do this?
Create user personas and make it relatable for your audience by bringing in use cases that they can best identify with. Tell them why the product or why each feature was built to suit their growing needs. Pull out instances when they will need it the most. More importantly, add in a few user stories that vouch for your product.
Conflicts make a story about what it is. Now the problems in your story will be the problems faced by the user personas you mentioned earlier. Establish the problems, talk about the pain-points, and get down to the nitty-gritty of it. Being able to interpret their problems, understanding it to the core, and playing it out before them, is half the battle won.
S for solution
Time to go for the kill. Before you give out the solution, create a build-up for your product. Captivate them and grasp their interest with promises to ease things out, make things faster, and smarter for them. Once you have your audience fully invested in your story — give out the solution. Tell them how your product and its exclusive features are designed to solve their problems. Paint a picture for them by using visual aids at this point. Do what it takes to show them that your product is the savior that they’ve been waiting for.
That perfect ending
Now here’s the deal, the protagonist of your story is not your product or the jaw-dropping features that you have designed — it’s your user. Keep it about them throughout and end it with them. Show them how your product is built to empower the user. This could also be the perfect time to introduce a new feature or tell them what they could look forward to.
When it comes to product storytelling, if you have all these elements in place — you’re all set and ready to roll!
Setting the stage for product storytelling
By now you may have a better idea of storytelling and how to use it as a product manager. Let’s move on to find out when you need to bring out the storyteller in you.
Those team huddles
Yes, start from within. Your team needs to be in line with the purpose of your product. You need to fill them in on the whys and the hows of your product. Motivate them with bigger and better reasons than just working for a paycheck at the end of the month. Get the team involved and make them feel that they are a big part of the mission. Call for weekly team meetups, tell them stories of users that are happy with the product, and inspire them to work towards finding new solutions.
Need larger budgets or a feature approval? Get your point across with storytelling and twist your product roadmap. Drop the regular presentation in black and white, where you list out the product features, the SOPs, and the ROIs. Instead, shoot for the heart with emotionally compelling points — people always remember stories that they feel connected to.
Talking to your customers
Be it product marketing materials, press releases, or even an ad — hit it off with the user by tying in a great story. Your end goal should be to meet your user’s needs and wants. Remember, you’re here for the customer — tailor your stories for them in a way that it sticks with them.
Make it clear, concise, and convincing.
So what’s your story?
A product manager dons many hats and can be a lot of things. But there is one thing that you certainly cannot afford to miss out on and that is being a great storyteller.
While we have only scraped the surface so far and have a lot of ground to cover — trust me, the journey to becoming an awesome product storyteller is truly an enriching one. So if you’re just winging it and want to dive into the art of telling great stories, just hit me up or sign up for my classes on storytelling for product managers.
Connie Kwan teaches Storytelling for Product Leaders. She has crafted and delivered thousands of stories in her 16 years in Product Leadership. Whether it’s presenting to executives, motivating teams, or convincing candidates to join a company, storytelling is at the heart of her work. She is the co-creator of the Storyteller Method that turns the art of storytelling into a science.