To most, storytelling and Global Mobility are not a natural fit. Global Mobility is wrongly seen by many as an administrative role that checks boxes on policy documents. Not much room for the construction of an engaging narrative there. If you are one of those who can’t imagine how storytelling skills could become part of the Global Mobility toolkit, you may need to reconsider.

Why should Global Mobility develop storytelling skills?

Mercer rank storytelling and making a business case as two of the top three skills needed by global mobility professionals. HR Magazine sees presenting analytics as narrative as their top soft skill.

So, is storytelling just the latest must-have soft skills accessory, that will fade back to obscurity when the next fad comes along, or is there a reason that we should invest in developing our storytelling skills?

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When I was three years old, I lived in Berlin. My dad was an RAF officer and we had a two-year posting.

There were many social events that my mum was also expected to attend, and so I frequently ended up in the care of my German babysitter. She knew very little English and could read with only limited success. 

She would read my favorite book, Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter to me every time she came. To this day I can remember huge chunks of the story by heart, but in my head, it is always with a German accent.

She may not have been able to speak fluent English, but her storytelling skills were of the highest quality.

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Evolutionary programming

We are programmed from birth to listen to stories. They are the main way we learn about the world and how we interpret reality.

Hearing a good story is a comforting experience and draws us in. We want to listen to the end; an incomplete story leaves us disappointed and frustrated. 

On the other hand, statistics and data, technical information, and reports are difficult to listen to.

They seem designed to be forgettable. You can prove this with a very simple experiment.

Read this sentence once, look away from the screen, and then try to write it down.

Happiness statistics: Mary 85%, John 77.5 %, Emily 36.3%, and Robert 5.4%

Now do the same with the sentence below:

Mary and John lived a long happy life; but Robert and Emily were sad.

It may seem obvious that the second sentence is much easier to remember but if you count the number of characters, it’s longer, and actually tells us more useful information than the dry numbers.

The second sentence tells a story and invites us to ask more – why was Mary so happy? What happened to Robert to make him so sad? We get involved and curious.

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Storytelling skills and Global Mobility

We can put this in the context of Global Mobility:

Year to date budget projections per location:

Singapore +2.07%, France -0.5%, Japan -3%, Brazil + 8.9%

If you present data like this, not only is it easy to forget it doesn’t explain why and it doesn’t provoke the listener to question or invest in the situation.

It’s too abstract, too general. Boring.

Of course, some of your audience may need the technical details, so there’s no reason to leave the intricated stats off your slides if presenting, or in an appendix. Your audience is really interested in the conclusions, the recommended actions, and the trends. 

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Those are much more easily explained in narrative form:

Recently we’ve seen a dramatic change in the cost of assignments.

Three years ago, we sent the Miller family to Singapore. It was a VIP move and we spared no expense – they got the top range housing, the biggest COLA (Cost of Living Allowance) possible, and we gave additional support to get their kids into one of the top rank international schools.

They came home last month and were replaced by Mary Jones – even with our reduced benefits and really pushing down on our suppliers, the move has cost more than moving the Miller family. And in Brazil it’s even worse. We’ve had to completely review all our budget forecasting.

The secret of a good story

So, what are the key elements of telling a good story? Linguist and academic, William Labov identified a structure that is true of every story ever told – well, every successful story. Once you translate his academic terminology, we can identify what the key elements of a story are:

  • Overview
  • Context
  • Action
  • So What?
  • Resolution

Overview

You need to tell your audience why they should listen to the story. What is the pain or the issue that needs addressing?

Context

The storyteller needs to place the situation in time and place and introduce the actors.

Action

The meat of the story – what actually happens, what changes?

So What?

What are the consequences of the action? Why is this story worth telling?

Resolution

What is the end result, or what actions have been taken or need to be taken to complete the story?

Obviously, storytelling skills are not just important for Global Mobility professionals. But that function, perhaps more than most, is undervalued and underutilized by organizations.

The data and statistics they have access to are only part of the story.

Global Mobility has an insight into the mood of all the international offices. They, more than anyone can see how an organization is succeeding in one region at the expense of another. They are at the forefront of fighting the war for talent and have a clear view of the qualities and skills needed by the organization across all territories. 

Adding value

This organizational wisdom is too often lost in a pile of numbers, data, and tough-to-read analysis. To reach the full potential of their roles, Global Mobility professionals need to be heard, remembered, and believed.

We have all been conditioned to listen to stories, we want to be entertained, and we want to be involved. Cheap customer service courses tell participants to exceed your customers’ expectations: storytelling actually does that.

You attend a meeting expecting a dry list of statistics and mumbled analysis. A story brings everything to life. For Global Mobility to be heard they need to become storytellers. And not just retelling Peter Rabbit last thing at night.