Everything that we do comes down to being able to tell a story… well. How you can bring a whole paragraph down to one sentence and then continue paring that down to that one nugget that will engage an audience. Then… to repeat the process… again, again, and again.
How to Tell a Great Story: We tell stories to our coworkers and peers all of the time — to persuade someone to support our project, to explain to an employee how they might improve, or to inspire a team that is facing challenges. So… let’s agree… that storytelling is an essential skill. But what makes a compelling story in a business context and how can you improve your ability to tell stories that persuade? The hard fact is in our information-saturated age, the world that we currently live in brands and businesses won’t be heard, at all. You won’t be heard, at all unless you’re telling a story. Facts and figures and all the rational stuff the things that we think are important in the business world actually don’t stick in our minds at all. But stories can create “sticky” memories by attaching emotions to things that happen. (That means leaders who can create and share good stories have a powerful advantage over others.) Fortunately, everyone has the ability to become a better storyteller. That’s right everyone… We are programmed through our evolutionary biology to be both consumers and creators of stories. It certainly can be taught and learned. So here we go… how to use storytelling to your benefit.
Start with a message:
Every storytelling exercise should begin by asking: Who is my audience and what is the message I want to share with them? Each decision about your story should flow from those questions.
- What is the core moral value that I’m trying to implant?
- Can I boil that down to a single compelling statement?
For instance, if your team is behaving as if failure is not an option, you might decide to impart the message that failure is actually the grandfather of success. If you are trying to convince others to take a risk by supporting your project, you could convey that most companies are built on taking smart chances. First settle on your ultimate message; then you can figure out the best way to illustrate it.
Mine your own experiences:
The best storytellers look to their own memories and life experiences for ways to illustrate their message. What events in your life make you believe in the idea you are trying to share? Think of a moment in which your own failures led to success in your career, or a lesson that a parent or mentor imparted. Any of these things can be interesting emotional entry points to a story. There may be a tendency not to want to share personal details at work, but anecdotes that illustrate struggle, failure, and barriers overcome are what make leaders appear authentic and accessible. The key is to show your vulnerability.
Don’t make yourself the hero:
That said, don’t make yourself the star of your own story! A story about your chauffeured car and having millions in stock options is not going to move your employees. You can be a central figure, but the ultimate focus should be on people you know, lessons you’ve learned, or events you’ve witnessed. Whenever possible, you should endeavor to make the audience or employees the hero. It increases their engagement and willingness to buy in to your message. One of the main reasons we listen to stories is to create a deeper belief in ourselves. But when the storyteller talks about how great they are, the audience shuts down. The more you celebrate your own decisions, the less likely your audience will connect with you and your message.
Highlight a struggle:
A story without a challenge simply isn’t very interesting. Great storytellers understand that a story needs conflict.
- Is there a competitor that needs to be bested?
- A market challenge that needs to be overcome?
- A change-resistant industry that needs to be transformed?
Don’t be afraid to suggest the road ahead will be difficult. We actually like to be told it’s going to be hard. Smart leaders tell employees… “This is going to be tough. But if we all pull together and hang in there, we’ll achieve something amazing in the end.” A well-crafted story embedded with that kind of a rallying cry means you don’t have to demand change or effort. People will become your partners in change, because they want to be part of the journey.
Keep it simple:
Not every story you tell has to be a surprising, edge-of-your-seat epic. Some of the most successful and memorable stories are relatively simple and straightforward. Don’t let needless details to detract from your core message. Work from the principle that “less is more.” One of the biggest mistakes you can make is putting in too much detail of the wrong kind. Don’t tell your audience what day of the week it was, for instance, or what shoes you were wearing if it doesn’t advance the story in an artful way. But transporting your audience with a few interesting, well-placed details… how you felt, the expression on a face, the humble beginnings of a now-great company… can help immerse your listeners and drive home your message.
Practice makes perfect (almost):
Storytelling is a “real art form” that requires repeated effort to get right. Practice with friends, loved ones, and trusted colleagues to hone your message into the most effective and efficient story. Remember, the rewards can be immense. Stories are the original viral tool. Once you tell a very compelling story, the first thing someone does is think, “Who can I can tell this story to?” So, for the extra three minutes you spend encoding a leadership communication in a story, you’re going to see returns that last for months and maybe even years.”
Principles to Remember
- Consider your audience — choose a framework and details that will best resonate with your listeners.
- Identify the moral or message your want to impart.
- Find inspiration in your life experiences.
- Assume you don’t have any storytelling chops — we all have it in us to tell memorable stories… we just need a little practice.
- Give yourself the starring role.
- Overwhelm your story with unnecessary details.
Now… tell us YOUR STORY.
-Collaborative of Live The Dream Media
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