Storytelling sounds fun, but how useful is it to a product manager?

Hopefully, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find out that it’s of use both professionally and personally. Stories are tools whose purpose is to create common understanding between people, whether in the pub or around a boardroom table.

In an increasingly Agile business world it has become ever more important to be able to communicate what your product is to other people (the dreaded stakeholders). Product teams are increasingly self-sufficient and determine their own objectives, but this still needs to be in-line with the company’s vision.

Because they are the CEO of their own product, it is the product manager’s job to effectively communicate to the wider organisation their team’s progress towards their objectives, and the successes and failures they meet on the way. They have to constantly tell and re-tell their story to the everyone else in the company.

This is where storytelling moves from being a nice-to-have to an absolutely core skill. When you are presenting to an audience of internal or external stakeholders (often board-level execs keen to know where their budgets are being spent) you have to be able to sell them on your vision, convince them that what you are doing is worthwhile and highlight the progress you are making.

Here are our top tips to help you do that:

First, use your insider knowledge and network to determine who your audience is. It’s no good throwing a load of technical detail and data at people who have a strategic overview and are sitting through 6 identical meetings with other product teams. You need to tailor your context to the audience.

Then make sure you are telling a coherent story. What is your product’s journey, where you are on that road, and what lessons you are learning as you move down it? When you are presenting, use clear language and analogies to illustrate points and arm yourself with some key stats to back up those analogies.

Don’t be afraid to highlight things that went wrong, so long as you can show that you learned something. It’s a classic quest story arc where the hero is overcoming obstacles and learning what they need to find the treasure.

Using a familiar story simplifies things. Which is just as well, as you often only have a few minutes and a couple of slides to tell it to your audience and make sure it’s your story that they remember at the end of the day. And once you have established that story, you can place it in the context of the wider business, and build on it in meeting after meeting.

This is a very powerful way of communicating your successes and challenges in an accessible and sympathetic way, and crucially carrying your listeners along with you for the ride.

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