“I know I wouldn’t have never seen some of these ideas without this event.”Principle Engineer at a client I’ve been working with who was a judge at our “Pitchathon” Event
For the last two months, I’ve been working with a small group of high potential and ridiculously smart engineers on their storytelling skills. They are ridiculously smart. They are creating new and exciting technologies that will advance our lives, but for some of them, it’s a real struggle to convey those ideas in a clear and concise way. And for many of them, it’s preventing them from getting these innovations looked at by broader teams, funded, and sold to their customers.
How do you experiment with storytelling with an engineering group?
In a bold experiment, I partnered with my client to run a series of sessions in something we called “Storylab.” If you’ve seen the NBC show “Songlab,” it’s an opportunity to collaborate with artists to improve on the bones of a song. We essentially did the same thing. I ran a 2-hour session on the mechanics of storytelling, including a “why storytelling” segment based in neuroscience. This gave the engineers some data to explore on why they should stretch out of their comfort zones and use analogies, metaphors, and emotion to get their points across in a more engaging way. We covered the essentials, kept it data driven and scientific, and engaged every person in the room in a discussion.
Next, we spent a full day exploring the stories and ideas they had. We framed the experience around an actual business idea they were going to “pitch” to senior engineers in order to get support and funding. We built storylines as well as had “guest coaches” from the business join us to give input and feedback. I find when you apply skills in real time, to something practical, and maybe even add a sprinkle of competition, you build the interest in participants to actually use the information and learning in an immediate and practical way.
We finally shored up a “Pitchathon” where the engineers had 5 minutes to tell their stories and share their ideas with the senior engineering community. They got some coaching from each other, as well as the judges, prior to the session and then pitched to win! The groups were narrowed down to a set of 4 finalists, and those 4 finalists pitched to a larger audience in a final “Pitch off” event. Even during these pitch heats, the judges were excited to see how the engineers were more able to clearly articulate good ideas—and more than just the finalists had ideas that the team wanted to pursue further.
The winner and runners up of the Pitchathon dug deep. They shared specific stories on why their proposal was important for the company and connected their ideas personally, using analogy, emotional context, organized frameworks, and compelling visuals to make their cases.
As a result of our Storylab + Pitchathon experiments, this team of engineers has a new set of skills and capabilities to get their ideas across the desks of decision makers in a more compelling and effective way.