There are two sides to every story

How often have you heard this expression ?  It’s frequently used to describe a situation where two people couldn’t quite get along, or when a conflict can’t be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Take the example of a motorist and some cyclists heading for the same stretch of road.  The cyclists are using a highly sustainable form of transport which is great for the environment, but are very vulnerable to the environment immediately around them.  They cannot understand why the cars never give them enough space and seem impatient.  The motorist is busy and in a hurry.  He is frustrated that the cyclists are slowing him down and feels they take too many risks by weaving in and out of the traffic.

So who is in the right ?  The answer – it doesn’t matter.  As long as they cannot appreciate one another’s viewpoints, they’ll never get along.

Like many idioms, this has a valuable relevance in a business context as well.

When telling your professional story – whether it’s a sales presentation to clients, a request to investors for funding, a new advertising campaign, or simply a pep talk to your team – it’s essential to remember that there are ALWAYS two sides to the story :

The way the story sounds to the person telling it… and the way it sounds to the audience hearing it.

But so often in business we find examples of communications where this simple truism has been simply forgotten.

We’ve all been at conferences where the speaker seems to be in a world of her own.  Or in a business meeting where the presenter is reading aloud the 100’s of words that he has painstakingly typed onto his PowerPoint slides.  What about the team meeting where everyone is so busy preparing their own status update that they don’t listen to a single word anyone else is saying ?

The simple fact is this :  if you want your story to be heard, you need to tell it in a way which is interesting for your audience – not just in a way which is interesting for you !

And that means understanding your audience, putting yourself in their shoes and thinking how they think. Not just once, but every time that you communicate.

Ask yourself : What is it that motivates my audience ?  What do they want to get from this piece of communication ? What will inspire them ?

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, or worse haven’t even thought about them, the chances are that nobody will listen to your story.

We believe that it takes up to 20 times as long to prepare a piece of communication as it takes to deliver it !  That’s a lot of preparation, but if you want to avoid wasting your own time and the time of your audience, that’s what it takes to create a compelling story.

Next time you have to give a presentation to a new audience, don’t just grab a few slides from a previous deck and hope for the best.  Next time you have to make the introduction at a team meeting, don’t just roll up five minutes before and hope that something inspiring will occur to you as you stand up at the front of the room.  Take the time to prepare and practise.

Most importantly, remember the audience will experience your story from their own perspective, not from yours.  Think, think and think again – how is this going to sound to them ?

This might sound like simple advice, but you’ll be amazed what a difference it makes.  Just watch how much more energetic your audience becomes when you communicate in a way which is relevant for them.  See how they respond when you empathise with their concerns instead of focusing on your own issues.

And this approach doesn’t just apply for presentations – it’s the same for any type of communication – from the most formal to the most informal.  Whether it’s a press release, annual report, job interview, or even asking someone for a date !  Just give it a go and see what happens.

So always remember – there are two sides to every story.  And if you want your story to cut through then you need to think how that story sounds to your audience.  Take the time to understand them and communicate in a way which they will find appealing.